Every Sunday when I’m in church, we say the Lord’s Prayer. And every Sunday, when the Reverend gets to the part that goes, “and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those that trespass against us”, I feel like a total hypocrite – I want to disappear down a hole.
I have problems with forgiveness – I am not a person who forgives, at least not easily. And I know this character flaw goes against all of Jesus’ teachings, and I have prayed and prayed on it, but the fact remains: I have a problem forgiving people.
Some examples: I’ve written about how my first love, my greatest love, committed suicide. Though a part of me still loves him, and I continue to grieve for him, I have not forgiven him for killing himself. Yet if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gone on to lead the life I’m currently leading, a live I love and am thankful for.
Then there’s my father. Once I hit puberty, the relationship with my father grew complicated. He hated the way my sweaters hugged my breasts and the way my minis displayed my legs. He hated my music – he was into jazz & R&B: Coleman Hawkins, Wes Montgomery, Lou Rawls, Sarah Vaughn; I was a devotee of rock ‘n roll: Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa. There were numerous fights, some of them physical, as enraged by what he saw as defiance and disrespect, he reacted violently. There was a final fight that saw me not speaking to or seeing my father for 17 years, and I don’t need to tell you how that affected my mom and the family gathering at Thanksgiving. By the time I got around to forgiving my father, he had six months left to live. Those last six months we had together were good, but I am left with a residual anger for some of the things he did to me, my mom and my siblings, and I am left with regret for those lost 17 years. And yet, if Daddy hadn’t been the way he was, would I have grown into the strong woman I am now?
At the moment, I am struggling with a particular forgiveness issue. Two – perhaps three weeks ago, a man was robbed on the steps of my church. Of my church, which is not only my church, the place where I worship God and find sanctuary, but my place of employment as well. And last Sunday, one of the city’s many homeless – a man I have given money to and tried to help – stole the wallet of a visitor to the church. It’s common knowledge who did it; the congregation knows, the police know. But the man whose wallet was nicked refused to press charges. He forgave the guy, so why can’t I? It wasn’t my wallet, it wasn’t my money, so why can’t I forgive him?
I’ve always given money to the homeless. I did it when I lived in the US, and I did do it here in Dundee, much to the dismay of my partner, who is of the mindset that most of them are just con artists. Having given the guy I write of money once – for “bus fare to the hospital” – only to see him coming out of Tesco’s 20 minutes later with two bottles of cider, and then discovering that he’d nicked the wallet of a visitor to my church – not only enraged me, but it proved my partner was right in his refusal to give the homeless money. I am angry, sad, and disillusioned, and I just can’t forgive this person for that.
Because now, I don’t give anyone – homeless people, buskers, people with charity buckets on street corners or in the mall – money anymore.
Wait – I gotta take that back….I did give an old woman £2.50 yesterday in Tesco’s. But she was a nun; at least, she was dressed in a nun’s habit. She gave me her blessing and a hug, and I responded with “God bless you, Sister.”
And I was feeling pretty good, until, on the ride home, I had a horrible thought: nuns stopped wearing habits in the eighties. Was that a real nun, or some old woman in a nun costume?
Gandhi once said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
Guess I’m not as strong as I thought I was. I shall have to pray harder for this attribute.