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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Caught in the Act

The other day, I found myself praying; not an unusual thing for me—well not exactly praying but talking with God. I do that a lot—often in my car or when I am sitting in a quiet place outdoors, on the beach, in a park—anyplace where I feel his presence. It is what I was talking to him about that was unusual. I was asking him to help me forgive someone. The person I was trying to forgive had done nothing to me directly, he had just acted to cause a friend of mine a lot of pain and grief. In what was undeniably a condescending and patronizing manner this man had spread rumors, diminished and demeaned my friend to the point where he had no choice but to resign his position—one he loved dearly.

So why was it that I had to forgive him? Well in the first place I harbored a good deal of anger towards this man and what he represented, and I was prompted to pray on it by someone who loves me-- and I always listen when a loved one gives me counsel. Let me tell you I was having a hard time coming round to even think about this fellow, much less excuse his behavior. And then it hit me—I had a sudden insight into what must have been the reason for his uncharitable act. He wasn’t a bad person—he was a wounded one. It occurred to me that something had to have happened in his life to so scar and diminish him to the extent that the only way he could feel worthy was to see those around him as less so. Once I saw him that way, I felt only sad for him and a wave of compassionate forgiveness came over me.

Now don’t get me wrong—I am not excusing this man for what he did. It was wrong and hurtful, and at some point there will be a reckoning I imagine, but it isn’t for me to administer. He already did that to himself. But I am responsible for letting go of the anger I felt now that I have this understanding.

You might be saying, well how do you know he was wounded—how can you know he was diminished? Ask yourselves what other explanation you could conjure up for his behavior? He isn’t the devil personified, just another one of us flawed humans –with some good and some not so good. All of us, myself included, have done something at some time that wasn’t charitable, maybe even outright cruel or unthinking. If you are honest with yourself, few of us are without blemish. Much of the time we are blind to what we have done—but occasionally we have a moment where we realize with sudden clarity that we too have hurt another, done harm, however unintentional. It is at those moments when we are freshly painted with the light of conviction, when we are caught in the act, that we begin the journey to compassion and forgiveness.

You see, the trick is that we are no better than anyone else when it comes to doing hurtful things. All we are doing when we express our outrage is to momentarily hide the truth from ourselves—we have been there and done that. So when we stand on our moral outrage, wag our fingers at others who have offended our sensibilities we need to take a slight step back and remember that we are not so different. I am very unlikely to invite this man out for a drink or a cup of coffee—our paths no longer cross, but were I to run into him I know I would not be able to hate him. Now that I have seen him as he really is—he is too much like me to despise him.

Perhaps this is what it means to forgive those who trespass against us, as we ask God to forgive our trespasses. He will, you know. In fact he already has.

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