Saturday, October 25, 2014

Relinquishment as a Bargain

October 26, 2014

Dear Friends,

In the course that I am teaching on the forgiveness process, we have reached the difficult point that I term relinquishment. When we have been injured—or have injured another—in the early stages of the experience we are preoccupied with our pain, and obsessed both with understanding what happened, and assigning (and/or evading) responsibility. 

However, usually through slow nearly imperceptible movement we come eventually to a place of decision. We sense that if we are to regain our balance and re-engage life and people in a productive way we must in some fashion “let go” of the initial experience. We have come to the point of relinquishment.

But how can we “let go”?  What can we release? We cannot make the memories or the consequences vanish as though they had never occurred. And we cannot still the inner voice that raises the issue of justice. Even if we are willing to abandon our effort to achieve personal pay-back, does not the common good require that the perpetrator (myself or another) pay a just penalty for the injury inflicted? 

At this point, it is difficult both to get the question right, and then to find a good answer.

Coming to a peaceful place of resolution requires, I think, understanding the relinquishment task as both one of laying-down and picking-up. And it requires as well acceptance of the reality that the laying-down/picking-up process is a life-long commitment.

In the class I have used a personal story to illustrate some of the complexities of the forgiveness process, and this week unexpectedly had an experience that taught me all over again the point of relinquishment that I am seeking to teach my class.

The personal story in short entailed my father’s failure to attend my eighth-grade graduation at which I was to be recognized for high achievement. This event held great significance for me, and I was both angry and hurt at my father’s decision. 

My father explained that he was putting up hay, and the urgency of the farm work prevented him from attending. At some level I understood his reasoning, but, in the vernacular of my rural faith family, I “held it against him.”  I believed he had wronged me by making the farm more important than my celebration. The event lay unverbalized, unresolved, a root of bitterness between us for many years.

Even now, it is painful to acknowledge the quiet hateful ways I made my father pay. I remember “forgetting” to send him a Father’s Day card. Just too busy, of course.

But in time, with the stimulus of beginning spiritual maturation and God’s mercy, I chose to revisit the incident, and to relinquish the injury. 

What could I let go of? The memory? No—the aloneness of that day, of celebration with no family in attendance, was archived in my neurons; forgetting was not an option. Nor was denial an option—injury, intended or not, had occurred.

But what I could release was my personal pursuit of justice. I could lay-down my effort to “even the account.”

This required me to place the event in a clearer context that included more than my experience of being devalued. I was not the only person involved.
I remember when it first occurred to me that perhaps one of the reasons that my father did not choose to go was the painful matter of appropriate clothing. It is quite possible that he had no “good” clothes to wear, only the clean patched overalls he wore to go “to town”.  He may have felt that he would be ashamed to be seen in patched overalls, and that I too would be ashamed of him.
Was I hurt and devalued? Yes.
Was his decision not to go a good one?
Any attempt to answer to those questions requires a timeline longer than the event itself. The following winter was a hard one, but we did not need to buy hay in spring. We had enough in reserve. As a result, there was money enough for groceries and some extra so that I could buy new Easter shoes, frivolous fancy shoes with tiny heels.
Who can balance justice and mercy in matters like this? Human wisdom cannot reach this far.

But at length I came to see that the only reasonable solution (and the only way to peace) required me to lay-down my efforts to set things right. God has promised to do that. Consequently, if I left the accounting up to a God who does both justice and mercy—simultaneously and perfectly—I had not abandoned my pursuit of justice. To the contrary, I had chosen the only option that absolutely insured that both justice and mercy were fully done.

But I learned, too, that there was a responsibility for me to pick-up.  I was responsible to deal with the wound I had received. I could continue to rehearse the injury, to pick at the scab, and to embrace an identity of victim. 

Or, in contrast, on the basis of God’s promise to me, I could bring the injury to Him for healing, and move on into the new thing God had promised to do in my life.  I could lay down my efforts to put things right and trust God to do that. I could then pick up hope and joy anticipating that God would faithfully enter into the consequences of that old injury to bring good into my life.

Over thirty years (not always cheerfully) I continued my part in the laying-down and picking-up process.  And God did His part—faithfully, generously, and, I think, with joy.

My father did his part too. He risked his first plane ride and time away from the farm to share the graduation celebration when I received my doctoral degree. After the ceremonies we shared a long car ride back to the city where I lived. Crowded for space, my father held my academic garb on his lap. I remember his calloused farmer hands folded carefully on my robe as he fingered the velvet and gold fringe.

This week a young friend invited me to a party. It will be a splendid affair with interesting beautiful people who will hold great conversations. There will be wonderful food, music and laughter, and the very best kind of memory making.

I was truly honored by the invitation (I exceed by a number of years the age of those who will be in attendance), but I declined gently. I cited the realistic context of my present life—eyes that see less well after dark, the inelegant necessity of a cane, and other various indignities accompanying this stage of life. But there were things left unsaid...things left covered, unspoken even to myself. Did my young friend sense these things? Perhaps. I do not know.

I can only hope that what I did say was enough, and that my young friend was not injured by my choice not to come. However, the consequence of my choice now lies beyond my control.

But I can continue my own slow journey toward wisdom.  In the “put-right-by-God-world” in which my father now lives, I trust that my father knows that I know now what I did not know then, and we are both at peace.

I will see you next on November 9. I am spending next weekend with my sister’s children and friends and will be out of the WI-FI world.

Blessings as you work at the lay-down/pick-up process.


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