Catching Myself in Faux Forgiveness   2 comments

Oliver Sacks is dying.  This brilliant and eloquent neurologist is one of my favorite authors, and reading excerpts from his autobiography this morning reminded me of one large reason–he is a man of profound, lived, empathic grace.  I have often tried to forgive others by brute force, knowing it is the right thing to do and willing myself into a gentler mindset, but without off-setting any of the blame I levy against them.  This “forgiveness” requires no understanding, empathy, or reconsideration of my valuation of them and their behavior. They are bad; I am good–so good that I even forgive their sin against me. Instead of using their failure to reflect on my own shortcomings, on how we are similar, I use their faults to contrast with my virtue so that I understand neither them nor myself any better than before.  I “forgive” from a place of moral superiority rather than from a humble view of our mutual sinfulness so that my very forgiveness becomes a source of distancing and shaming rather than true reconciliation.   Their role is to humble themselves, admit how bad they are, and then I will magnanimously agree with their estimation–“Yes, you are bad, but I forgive you.”  As long as I don’t hold a grudge or wish them ill, I can claim to have forgiven them even if I continue to think badly of them.

But Sacks, by just being himself in relationship to others, showed me how inadequate my supposed grace is.  He not only forgave those who had deeply wounded him, but showed his understanding of their human struggle.  He could see why they reacted to him as they did and could empathize with their situation and viewpoint.  He did this without devaluing his own pain or pushing himself to engage more deeply in a wounding relationship than his soul could well maintain, but he found a way to protect himself without maligning those who injured him.  To understand and empathize with others does not require us to then subject ourselves to ongoing harmful behavior.  In fact, it is when we keep healthy boundaries that we are most able to empathize freely with those who behave in hurtful ways.  I learned first from Kimberly that the justification for my boundaries lies in my own needs, not in the other person’s faults.  Assigning blame is an entirely different consideration than what boundaries I need for my own well-being.  Taking full responsibility for my own boundaries frees me up to give grace with much more abandon because my love is no longer an opening for their hurtful behavior.  Forgiveness is not a moral power struggle, it is an acceptance of our mutual frailty and fallenness.

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Posted May 26, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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2 responses to “Catching Myself in Faux Forgiveness

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  1. Yes…so very deeply yes… and so healthy and healing to talk about boundaries within the context of forgiveness, grace, and love! Thank you!

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