Forgiveness. Really?

Redemption. We’ve talked about this before, yeah? You and I, you and your spouse, with your daughter, your boss, your neighbor, your therapist, your lover, probably even your cat.

     What is redemption anyway? The act of saving or being saved from error or evil; the action of regaining possession of something in exchange for payment; clearing a debt; release from the consequences of an offense for the person who committed the offense.

     Okay then, what is forgiveness? A conscious decision to release feelings of resentment toward a person(s) who has harmed you.

     Interesting. In the program, we used to talk about forgiveness is not forgetting, it is not condoning, it is releasing. Lewis Smedes noted “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”


     Last year, in one of my sojourns to work with the kids in Juvenile Justice, I told the Haitian story from Diane Wolkstein, “One My Darling, Come to Mama.” It goes like this: A mother has four daughters, she loves and dotes on the first three and despises the fourth daughter, Philamandre. Every night when the mother comes homes, she sings as she is coming up to the house door, “One my darling, come to Mama. Two my darling, come to Mama. Three my darling, come to Mama. Stay Philamandre, stay. Stay where you are.”

The three daughters would let their mother in, they’d eat dinner together. If there were any scraps left from dinner, then Philamandre could eat.

     One day, the three daughters were kidnapped. When the mother came home, she sang. No answer. She sang again. No answer. She opened the door, saw the daughters were gone, and ran away like a madwoman, singing the song frantically. Philamandre realized she was on her own, went to the town and found work. Eventually she came to work in the palace of the king, and over time, the prince and she fell in love and were married.

Years passed. One day, she heard the maids talking about a crazy woman singing a song out in the street. Philamandre, now queen, went to the window to look out. Yes, it was her mother. Her clothes were rags, her hair was wild – filled with sticks and bird droppings.

     The queen went outside, brought the her mother in. She bathed her, gave her new clothes, and trimmed her hair. “Mama, the others are no more. I am here. You did not take care of me. Yet now I will take care of you.”

     I said nothing more for a minute or so, looked at the five young women sitting in a semi-circle in front of me, dressed in the standard-issue orange trousers and blocky shirt, and then said, “I’ve never understood that story. How someone mistreated could then turn around and take care of the one who mistreated them?”

     One of the girls looked me in the eye, “Maybe she didn’t want to be like her mother.”

     I’m three times as old as this seventeen year old, yet she has wisdom like that?

Honeysuckle 5-31-2020
Honeysuckle in the rain 5-31-2020

I have often pondered how abused children, when adults, re-establish relationships with their abusive parents and often take care of them, specifically with a couple people I know.

     I have been thrown under the bus, as they say, for things I did not do yet got the consequences as the person who did the action would not take responsibility for it. I have been lied to, stolen from, betrayed, mislead, as we all have, sometimes by my own family members. I was bitter. It wasn’t right, where was justice? I was resentful.

     In looking up Lewis Smedes, he was a professor of theology and ethics, and author of fifteen books. “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”

That young woman who responded to me may have been in custody for an illegal act, yet she had certainly learned a few things along the way. Indeed, there is hope for the future.

Years ago, one of my siblings did some egregious things. I believe I have forgiven them yet want no contact with them. One of my cousins chided me for that, saying, “But they’re family.” In my head, I am going, “Yeah, but…” Recently I came across another wisdom of Professor Smedes:

“You can forgive someone almost anything. But you cannot tolerate everything… We don’t have to tolerate what people do just because we forgive them for doing it. Forgiving heals us personally. To tolerate everything only hurts us all in the long run.”

Oh my.

So tolerate is now in the mix. Forgive. Permission to not tolerate. Redemption. Significant issues for me in my life, as many changes are being presented. Some of them being who am I now in my life, who do I strive to be, who do I wish to be with? How do I do this? Where shall I live? How do I pursue what gives me meaning?

I leave you with this from Hans Z and Lisa: while I go redeem my coupon for the turkey taco. Let me know what you think~