In all honesty, I really struggle with laying my heart bare before others, in any form. But around the Thanksgiving table I especially struggle because I’m sharing before an audience. I find myself feeling very naked and exposed. Usually I try to casually chuckle through it, while in actuality I imagine that I appear to bumble around awkwardly.
I didn’t grow up in a family that shared emotions (personal thoughts and feelings) with each other. I grew up in a family of jokers, of cheesers. We endlessly searched for a punch line. We had fun together. But aside from all of our silliness, our conversations consisted of small talk or conveying information and facts or maybe giving direction to one another, followed by a heart felt "I love you". We showed big, fiery emotions from time to time but not sensitive, personal emotions. When we got our feelings hurt, we were a touch passive-aggressive and our deepest, truest feelings would have needed to be tortured out of us. Thankfully all of us have matured quite a lot in our emotional intelligence.
Once a week, I hang out with a group of amazing moms. These girls are uplifting, they're community, there’s yummy food and it’s time away from my little guy/gals. This week, in an effort to help us moms prepare for Thanksgiving, someone spoke on forgiveness. At the time it seemed to me like an odd and burdensome topic to be drudging up right before Thanksgiving. Forgiveness is a rough one for me. Some people really easily forgive and move beyond hurts. Others (like me) find it harder. Forgiving is a constant effort for me. I’ve always found it so irritating to hear people casually say things like “just forgive!”, as if it’s as easy as swallowing a mouth full of food, or “just let it go” or sometimes the hardest: “just give it to God”. So, without fail, every time the topic of forgiveness is discussed, my Pavlovian response is a heavy sigh followed by an instant desire for my ruby red slippers. If only I could speed-click my heels together three times and escape!
This woman from my moms group (the one speaking on forgiveness) asked us some unpleasant questions. Questions like: “What are you dreading about Thanksgiving??” and “Who do you need to forgive?” This wise lady understood how wounds can poison relationships (particularly family relationships) if they aren’t tended to. I pride myself on being self aware, but this silly girl (me) hadn’t ever thought to prepare for family time by forgiving my family for the things they’ve done through the years that I’ve been hurt by.
What a revelation! All the reasons I’ve ever had for not looking forward to seeing a specific person (or persons) have been because of some “thing” I’ve been holding against that person(s). Maybe it started as something kind of minor (some slight insensitivity), but then it happened more than once and maybe it heaped up over time in my heart. Now there’s a persistent feeling of dread when I imagine being in this person's company. These past hurts now poison all my thoughts towards this person and my negative feelings bleed into our family conversations. I’ve always been a terrible liar, so pretending that I’m not struggling when I am is like telling my 2 year old not to touch something. It’s bound to not just get touched, but overly handled.
So maybe my anger is really justified. What then??? Well, the wise woman reminded us girls of a story in the Bible. I grew up with this story and I know it well, but ironically the true meaning of it never really struck me until now.
The story is about a man who owes a lot of money to his boss (lets call him Bob). Bob owes so much money that he's up to his eye balls in debt and can’t afford, nor will he ever be able to pay off his debt. When his boss (Jim) asks that Bob pay back the money he lent him, Bob begs for debt forgiveness . Bob knows he’ll never be able to pay it all back. His debt is massive and crippling. Jim immediately forgives ALL that Bob owes. Soon after having his debt forgiven, Bob finds someone (Pete) who owes him a very small amount of money and demands that it’s paid back immediately. When Pete begs Bob to forgive his small debt, forgiveness is denied, and Bob has Pete thrown into jail for not paying back his loan. Soon Jim hears of Bob's unforgiving attitude and decides to take back his forgiveness and immediately has Bob imprisoned till his debt can be paid off.
It suddenly struck me: when I choose not to forgive my family members for the stupid and insensitive things they do or have done, I become that nasty employee denying forgiveness, even though I’ve been forgiven for mountains more than I could ever repay. And when I choose not to forgive, I end up jailed; held captive by my bitterness. The instant I realized this, all of my anger…it just fell away. I’m sooooo thankful that I’ve been forgiven for everything I’ve done. It humbles me, and I don't want to hold onto the pennies that others owe me. Yes, they did owe me (and maybe they'll continue to rack up debt), but I owed more than I could ever repay. I was forgiven much.
(Dog photo courtesy of kensingtoncafesd.com)