For my class on scripture this semester, each student collected texts that were personally significant to him or her -- song lyrics, aphorisms, short stories, quotations, poetry, jokes, and the like. Then their collections were given to groups of other students, who had to use them as source material to create a text that said something about the group's values, conveyed a message, or told a meaningful story.
Today each group gave a presentation that communicated the theme of their texts, both to the group as a collective and to each member individually. One group passed out their text, divided into five books, and taught each one to us through Sunday-school type activities. We drew pictures of what love meant to us, and took turns reading from the scripture.
At one point, we were asked to write down a list of people who had hurt us, or at least descriptions of what they had done. I thought and thought. But I couldn't get past the certainty that I'm more the sinner than the sinned against in my life. I think I've hurt more people than have hurt me.
Now I don't think I'm a cruel person. But the longer you live, the more the pain you've dealt to others weighs upon you, perhaps. I was struck by the way the task was framed in the opposite direction. Sure, the theme of the exercise was forgiveness. But we were asked to try to forgive others and let go of the bitterness in our hearts, rather than to imagine ourselves as in need of forgiveness from others.
Maybe when you're nineteen and twenty, like these students, the pain inflicted by others in those intense relationships of the teenage years is so fresh that one assumes the position of the victim by default. I know that when I was their age, that's how I would have felt. You brood on the injustices done to you, and rehearse your own innocence to yourself and to others. For me, the balances probably didn't begin to tip in the other direction until about age thirty.
I couldn't help but wonder whether my sense of being more in need of forgiveness than entitled to forgive was related to my personal history, or to a stage of life that others might experience in the same way. If you were asked to list people who've wronged you, would you feel like you were looking through the wrong end of the telescope?