Thursday, March 17, 2005

Forgiveness: Not an Option

As mentioned in my previous post, I have managed to almost completely alienate two people whom I care about very much, and have apologized to both. One has accepted my apology, the other...much more resistant.

I can understand that. Some things are harder to forgive than others. For me, there are four things I have struggled with over and over again: (1) my mother's abuse of me and my brothers when we were growing up; (2) my mother-in-law's repeated attempts to sabotage my marriage; (3) the neighbor we had, when our kids were little, who lodged a complaint of child abuse against us; and (4) the various teachers my son had throughout his school career, who made no attempt to get to know him and made his life miserable, who knows why.

It's hard to know which is the hardest to live with. Attacks on your kids are always more painful to live with than attacks on yourself, but ultimately, attacks on your kids are attacks on yourself, since your children are you. The neighbor who reported us for child abuse -- ultimately, her allegations were proven false, but colored the whole of our kids' upbringing, since we lived in constant fear of its happening again, and I knew of cases where kids had been forcibly removed from the homes of loving, caring parents whose chief "crime" was bringing up their kids in a Christian home. The little snipes and digs my mother-in-law excelled at were difficult enough to bear, but the outright lies she told my husband about things I'd said to her were almost beyond belief (such as telling him I was planning to send our son out of the house when he was 20, after I'd expressed to her the hope that he would be able to spend junior year abroad). As for my son's teachers, all I can say is, if you want cookie-cutter kids, go bake cookies. Chris was so far outside the mold that the only way to interact with him was to take him on his own terms. Those teachers who could, said he made their whole career worthwhile. Those who couldn't, made his life a misery, and by extension, our lives.

As for my own mother...after 35 years of thinking about it and talking about it, intellectually I can grasp that her own background ill prepared her for motherhood, and that she did her (limited) best with what she was given. The fact remains that my entire childhood was filled with terror, between the sadistic nuns at school and my sadistic mother at home. And this experience colors my entire relationship with God, as I struggle to believe that I have worth in His eyes.

How do you forgive these kinds of things?!

The author G. K. Chesterton wrote of having been slapped in the face so hard, by one of his schoolmasters, that he was deafened in that ear. When he was 80, he wrote that he felt he had finally completely forgiven that schoolmaster. All those years, 70 or so, and at least 30 or 40 of them as a Christian struggling to live life in Christ -- and it took him that long. His secret was that every time he thought of the injury done to him, he made a conscious decision to forgive -- for the sake of Christ. That it didn't happen overnight, was his gift to all of us who struggle to forgive wrongs that assault our innocence.

Then there's my personal model, the Theotokos. I read once that it wasn't her Yes to the Angel Gabriel that mattered, it was her Yes at the foot of the Cross. If you read some of the Stavrotheotokia of the Church, there can be no doubt in your mind as to what went on in her heart. And she had to forgive those who put her Son on the Cross. She has to forgive -- us. Our sins, those things that occasioned the necessity for the Cross. Worse, we actually ask her to intercede for us. What a nerve, to ask such a thing! And, to my eternal amazement, she does. She actually forgives us the pain we have caused, not to her -- though that's bad enough -- but to her Son, the worst pain any mother can be called on to endure.

Well then -- forgiveness is not an option. It's a requirement. It's a struggle, and that's OK; but it remains a requirement. So I'll just keep on struggling with it, as I hope others will with me.

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