Lying on my back on the floor of the hotel hallway, I’m not yet wondering how I got here. I’m just taking stock of whether I can make a quick escape before someone sees me.
Face numb, but quickly starting to turn sharp and edgy. Glasses seem intact, nose may not be.
Finger jammed, but not broken.
Knee hurts. I won’t realize for a few weeks how jacked up it is.
Tailbone feels badly bruised. I envision strangers peeping out from their rooms while EMTs flop me unceremoniously onto a rolling stretcher, one of them shouting through the static of the walkie-talkie: Overweight middle-aged female, found stunned and mumbling on hotel floor, busted ass. Prepare the glue for a cast. We’re going to need a lot of it.
“No no no no no no no” I mutter as I haul myself off the floor, text my husband for help, and start stumbling back to my room.
Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor’s injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath,
who will forgive his sins?
Remember your last days, set enmity aside;
remember death and decay, and cease from sin!
Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor;
remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.
I had been distracted. There was a lot on my mind. The latest addition and last straw was my presumption of someone else’s incompetence. I was certain, absolutely positive, that they weren’t doing their job, and my kids were the ones suffering the consequences for it. I was going to see their sorry dawdling carcass with my own eyes, prove it, demand that the situation be rectified. I don’t mind so much when someone slights me; I’m kind of a jerk, so it’s not a surprise. But when you mess with my kids–
And I walked, full stride, into a glass wall.
“His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
“From your heart?” I read these words lying on my hotel bed, an ice pack on my tush.
Crap. From your heart. How can I do that? I can make a decision not to act catty or seek revenge. I can, to another’s face, pretend to be kind. Maybe take some deep breaths, yoga or something, so I don’t walk into walls. But….I still feel anger in my heart. How can I possibly control what’s in there? The heart wants what the heart wants, and all that?
I ask google to find Bible verses that mention heart, hoping for a clue. I should have known better.
MT 6:21—For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
You suck, google.
I don’t want my treasure in other people. I’m an INTROVERT, for Pete’s sake. My treasure is my own family and books and maybe some chocolate or wine and, oh yeah, of course Jesus. He probably should have been first. I blame the blooming headache behind the blackening bridge of my nose for my forgetfulness.
I pick up Heather King’s Holy Desperation. I am feeling pretty desperate, but not very holy. (Who builds walls out of glass?) I open to the section where I left off, in which she quotes Oswald Chambers:
“God loved me not because I was lovable, but because it was His nature to do so. Now He commands me to show the same love to others by saying, “….love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) He is saying, “I will bring a number of people around you whom you cannot respect, but you must exhibit My love to them, just as I have exhibited it to you.”
OK, so my idea of showing outward respect while still feeling resentful appears to be bruised-ass-backward. Fine. That still doesn’t tell me how to exhibit love to someone when I don’t respect them, much less love them. It hardly seems Jesus-y to just fake it.
I go back to that first reading.
Wrath and anger are hateful, but the sinner hugs them tight. Nourishes anger. Cherishes wrath.
Sounds like a mother with a baby. A creepy, unholy, Rosemary’s Baby-style baby.
But if I’m treating my wrath and anger like a baby….where does that leave my actual children?
I mull this question over the rest of the day, while we enjoy the company of family. I mull it over the next day when we spend 12 painful hours in the car driving home. (The ice pack I’m sitting on leaks and I walk around at rest stops looking like I’ve wet myself.) It continues to flip-flop and marinate in my brain over the next few weeks, as I feel repeatedly stung, hurt, and angry over various times my children are insulted, slighted, and left out. Who hurts a kid? Isn’t that pretty despicable? And how many times should I let it happen before I just give up?
Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”
Oh, Peter. I love Peter. He asked the question that prompted this parable in the first place. He was rash, and didn’t always think things through. He is, in fact, the Satan stand-in in the notorious “Get behind, me, Satan.” He didn’t have Paul’s pedigree, but he had a fisherman’s cred: he was there, early, ready to work. Smelly maybe, and a little loud. Perhaps not full of grace, but fillable. He caught up eventually, though sometimes a few steps behind the younger and more nimble. I imagine if there had been glass walls in ancient Palestine, Peter might have introduced himself to a few of them nose-first. I have to wonder at what point Peter took the Lord’s words, turned them over, and realized that it was just crazy. It didn’t make sense. I wonder if it was before or after God took it one step crazier, and instead of forgiving the debt, paid it himself and didn’t even make us cut up the charge card.
And this is when the thing that has been flicking the back of my brain finally comes to the front. The witty and erudite Mary Pezzulo wrote a piece in November of last year that discussed some pretty ugly reactions she overheard to an endearing commercial that featured a friendship between a priest and a rabbi. The whole thing is worth your time, but the part that stayed with me is this:
The enemy of the Christian is never a human being.
I have been taking the love, affection, tenderness, and energy that was given to me to share with other human beings, and I have used them to nourish, hug, and cherish resentment.
No matter how justified I am in my feelings, no matter how understandable they are, no matter how completely unbelievably horrible it may have been for someone to hurt my children, holding onto my hatred of them is dead wrong.
Does this make my heart feel suddenly happy and light? Nope. Are all the feelings of resentment and anger going to dissipate? It’s highly unlikely. Should I keep putting my children in the same situations, to be hurt again? Hell no. Forgiveness and masochism are not the same.
So back to the original question—how do I forgive someone from my heart, when my heart still stings and I find it hard to respect them?
I still don’t really know, but I know it’s my job to keep trying. Instead of feeding that devil-child of anger and resentment, hugging it tight, singing it songs, replaying a grotesque patty-cake of other people’s sins, I need to at least acknowledge that my enemy is not actually the human who has done me wrong. It never, ever is.
Every time I genuflect before the Eucharist on that jacked-up knee, I will remember how it started, the aches providing a reverse GPS back to the beginning, urging me to stop feeding the wrong baby.
Marybeth Chuey Bishop lives in Annapolis with her husband and five children, two dogs, and some scruffy plants. She’s pretty sure the hamster is gone for good. She likes to walk, wear socks with kraken or Poe on them, and check more books out of the library than she can possibly read. She frequently thinks about writing but is often interrupted mid-se—