Thursday, December 13, 2007

The book of forgiveness

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?

12 comments:

Victor said...

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?

Absolutely. I'll go farther than you, Donna -- I'd call the very act of making such a list an invitation to self-righteousness, to narcissism, and to rationalizations that "the other guy did it."

Eric Grubbs said...

I'd list people who I felt have wronged me, but I should also add what I might have done as well. I say don't play the victim, but don't blame everyone else either.

This isn't looking at the wrong end of the telescope; it's looking at painful memories and embracing how you felt at the time and how you feel about them now.

abc said...

I'm suprised by how much I still feel the stinging remark someone had made to me when I was 16. She was a teacher of a playwrighting workshop I was taking and I was going to her for advice. I won't say what she said but it felt cruel and unjustified and totally off base. I looked up to her and she blew me off. I don't feel it is narcisstic of me to recoginze that she hurt me if I then can say: okay, she didn't know you, it wasn't about you, it was almost 20 years ago. Move on. Whew, feel better. (Now on to #2)

I agree that after 30 more perspective comes in to play. Those nighttime visitations of past wounds suddenly include a lot more of the wrongs we have done to others.

Jenn said...

As I'm currently experience the fracturing of a friendship, I've been asking myself this question. I feel like I did all I could to try to save it, but I still have this niggling feeling that I've done something wrong that I'm somehow missing. When things like this happen, I try really hard to look at the situation objectively--I recently decided that I handled another situation wrong and that I should try to make amends for it...

Andrea said...

Donna, you're right. The task of making such a list would make me think of everything I have done to others too. I don't think it's self-righteous to make the list, (especially since it WAS the assignment) but most people would write this list and find that it is instead a mirror.

doafy said...

Knowing my own students, this sounds about right for the age group. My students feel persecuted by everything, to the point where I had to explain to them that a career test was not some torture device that our school was *making* them do, and in fact, was a fun exercise that would help them know about themselves.

At age 27, I am more upset at things I've done to others than things that have been done to me. However, I remember the most reflective Lent I ever had, when I was a junior in high school and fighting with a friend. I decided that for Lent, I'd give up being mad at her. I simply couldn't allow myself to feel those feelings. It was the most spiritual exercise I've ever done, and really started me down the path to forgiveness.

I'm not sure that you can realize the things you've done wrong until you stop blaming other people for your problems. If that's true, then the first step in asking for forgiveness is to let go of bitterness (forgive) so that you can *stop* blaming others.

As opposed to Victor, I don't think that true forgiveness amounts to blaming others, but really and truly letting go.

That said, I think this is an awesome assignment, and I'm going to figure out how to work it into my own curriculum some day.

Anonymous said...

As opposed to Victor, I don't think that true forgiveness amounts to blaming others, but really and truly letting go.

No ...

Victor thinks "making a list of people who wronged you" is "blaming others." Which it is ... pretty much by definition. "Wronged you" = "grounds for blame," no?

And it is almost the opposite of "true forgiveness," which is something people need, whereas constructing "true forgiveness" as something people grant leads to scenarios like the one in the new Korean film SECRET SUNSHINE.

Victor said...

That last comment was Mine.

doafy said...

Ok, Victor, I think I assumed you made a connection that you didn't.

However, I am curious as to how one forgives someone if one does not acknowledge at some point that a wrong has been done against you. We all need forgiveness, but in order for that to happen, someone has to do the forgiving, right?

Or do I misunderstand you again?

doafy said...

Also, please forgive my mid-sentence pronoun shift.

Victor said...

I was responding to the action Donna described -- "to list people who've wronged you." That doesn't have anything to do with "exericising (in fact, it's the opposite of the classic Confession, specific or general, and the opposite of an examination of conscience)


I am curious as to how one forgives someone if one does not acknowledge at some point that a wrong has been done against you.

Presumably, the acknowledgement of wrong comes from the other person. One's own acknowledgement is not needed. As to how ... one does the act in your first clause while paying minimal attention (ideally, none) to the state of affairs in the second clause.

Victor said...

Some dolt forgot to finish his thought.

That doesn't have anything to do with "exericising

should go on to say "...exercising forgiveness, whether truly or otherwise. It's an act of demanding forgiveness from others."