Sunday, March 25, 2012

No problem?

March 25, 2012

Dear friends,

Some of you who read last week’s blog have raised thoughtful questions about forgiveness and the function of forgiveness in relationships. “Instant forgiveness”, as I phrased it, does not serve the persons or the relationship well. What then makes forgiveness an authentic and healing response?

Relational issues around forgiveness are not easy to sort out. For one reason, the significance we assign forgiveness sometimes reflects an unconscious sense of entitlement. In life or relationships if we believe that we are entitled to pain free experience, we are likely to find ourselves struggling to forgive most people and most things (including the weather) most of the time. Life, as Scott Peck wrote, is difficult. Consequently, if we believe that whoever or whatever causes us any discomfort at any time should be forgiven, then the instructions Jesus gave (forgive seventy times seven) seriously understates the size of our daily forgiveness task.

Most of us understand that such an approach trivializes forgiveness into semantic nonsense. Most of us also understand intuitively that authentic forgiveness processes cannot be generalized into a “one-size-fits-all” response. When and why then, we ask ourselves, should we forgive? And, equally difficult, what are the crucial defining factors that mark authentic healing acts of forgiveness?

In blogs to come, we’ll consider these tough issues in the context of effective relationship skills.

I observed an incident this last week that provides a useful beginning point.

By bad planning and worse management, I found myself in a busy supermarket at one of the busiest times in the day. Tired people were struggling with market baskets and tired hungry children while attempting to navigate around each other and the end of aisle displays that offered the sales of the week.

One frail white-haired woman while seeking to avoid another customer turned her cart sharply and caught the edge of a display of cans of tuna fish. As the cans began cascading down into the aisle, the woman backed up in dismay and bumped into a display of breakfast food boxes that obligingly began to join the tuna fish on the floor. By the time a store employee reached the disaster area, the woman was trembling and her eyes were filled with tears.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Please forgive me—I am so sorry.”

The young man calmly surveyed the chaos, then turned to her and smiled.

“No problem,” he said cheerfully. “No problem." Then responding to the distress in her face, he added comfortingly, "Life happens. Don’t worry about this. I can clean it up.”

Was the woman’s request for forgiveness appropriate? What was the nature of the gift that young man gave that frail frightened woman? Do you think “No problem” meant “I forgive you?”

Was forgiveness the point here? How does your sense of forgiveness lead you to understand this story?

Thinking with you about both the self-knowledge and social skill necessary to distinguish between “no problem” and injury for which forgiveness is the only way to relational growth.

See you next week.


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