The Irreplaceable Gift of the Heart
Brothers Anne described finding freedom through forgiveness in another post. Many people have found that same freedom from the pain of injury or perceived injury by another. In Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, the bishop is robbed by a thief named Jean Valjean. When Valjean is caught, the bishop chooses to save him from legal consequences and give him not only the stolen merchandise but silver candlesticks as well. In real life, we wouldn't expect the victim of theft to do that and would reasonably question someone failing to protect society from such a character. But the fictional bishop sees in someone who has wronged him, not a mere thief, but a brother. He addresses Valjean, expressing confidence in his fellow man's ability to change his life, calling him "brother." “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.” Hugo's story is fiction, but there are extraordinary real life stories that inspire. We marvel at the experience of Corrie ten Boom, author of The Hiding Place, who lost her sister in a concentration camp. She described her struggle to forgive a man who introduced himself as a former guard at Ravensbrück and sought her forgiveness. Difficult though it was, she found the strength to do what seemed impossible. She accepted the outstretched hand of the man before her, saying, remarkably, "I forgive you, brother, with all my heart!" The New Testament includes the account of Saul, who "was consenting unto [Stephen's] death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judæa and Samaria, except the apostles." (Acts 8:1) During this time of great persecution of Christians, we read that "Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on [Saul] said, Brother Saul, the LORD, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. (Acts 9:17) Imagine the man who went to the home of an enemy and saw a brother. Most of our displeasure with our fellow men is much less dramatic and over less significant injury than Corrie ten Boom's or that of those who have forgiven grievous injury or loss. We are annoyed by someone else's habits, insensitive comments, their politics or their lack of consideration. Sometimes, we are forced to face genuine injustice, and that challenges our ability to extend good will, especially when involving an offense toward a loved one. We want things to be "right" and for justice to be satisfied. It is in our nature. Part of maturity is learning to value justice, to balance justice and mercy, to come to understand that we won't always see justice come to be in our imperfect world, and to learn to find peace in a world where it doesn't. The Disagreeable Mr. C. I once encountered the most disagreeable and unpleasant man I had ever met. He had hurt people I love. I'll call him Mr. C. I had heard that Mr. C. was difficult but was still surprised by how truly nasty and obnoxious he was. In an afternoon spent with him and a number of my relatives, he was loud and overbearing and had no concept of social propriety. I found that even after our experience, I continued to nurse the negative feelings throughout the day and the next day or two. I liked most people and recognized that I truly disliked Mr. C. and resented the way he had treated my loved ones without justification. Not only did I not like the man, but I didn't want to like the man. My husband refused to allow Mr. C. to negatively affect him and looked on him more charitably than I did. Though we wouldn't have need to interact with Mr. C. in the future, and I knew that the experience would be in the past soon enough, I wasn't ready to follow my husband's lead at first. For a couple of days, I dwelt far too much on what a despicable human being I felt Mr. C. was. But then I realized that I had an opportunity to be better, and I realized I had a responsibility to be better and that I had to do the right thing. The Choice I decided to consciously try to feel more positively toward Mr. C. I stopped replaying the details of the unfortunate experience with him. I stopped thinking of clever ways to insult him. I stopped dwelling on my distaste for his personality and imagined the loneliness of his world, how difficult human interaction was for him, and how hard it must have been for him to see everyone else in such a hostile way. I think he may well have felt very defensive in a world of people that perhaps seemed threatening and that didn't understand him. I wonder how often people felt the way I had about him, and how often he recognized that we felt that way. I wondered how he might have been hurt in his past. I let go of the way I felt about the man I had found so worthy of disdain and hoped that he would be blessed to find more love and see more goodness in the world. I considered that I didn't know the man's heart, didn't see him day by day, and didn't know his trials and sorrows and demons. Mr. C. would never know and would not likely care how I felt, but I benefited from looking at the man in a different way. It was, as Anne described, freeing to consciously choose to feel good will toward the man so challenged in navigating the social world. I don't know what became of Mr. C., but I found that I wished him well and had no desire to find that he experienced some comeuppance for his behavior. I felt no desire for revenge, no need to see justice meted out, and no need to mentally revisit the event. I came to forget the details of the event and to remember only the words that describe how I felt the day I encountered Mr. C., not the feelings themselves. By choice, I don't remember very much about the encounter with Mr. C., and I don't feel any of the emotions that I did at the time. I am not burdened by that anger or those feelings. I simply don't feel the way I did. This event was so little compared to the more dramatic stories I have heard, and yet the feelings were strong at the time, and overcoming them was a small but not insignificant achievement. I wonder how I might feel had I replayed that now nearly forgotten event over and over, nursing the anger that I felt. I wonder how I might have responded to some subsequent experience. After that time, my future brought more challenging opportunities that would call for overcoming painful realities, and my choice to refuse to hate Mr. C. prepared me for times to come.
The Gift I don't know what trauma, what hidden wounds Mr. C. had endured over his life. But the day I chose not to hate him when I wanted to hate him, I reminded myself that Mr. C. was my brother. Mr. C. is my brother. Writer Wayne Gerard Trotman offered this insight. “Wounded people tend to wound others. To break this cycle of spiritual, mental, emotional and physical injury, we need to forgive. If we don't heal in this way, we will continue to suffer and create suffering until we die.” That's a bleak legacy for any human being, to suffer and to create suffering. What a blessing to forgive, allowing ourselves to heal, and giving to others an irreplaceable gift of the heart.