The forgiveness racket

My child has figured out that there’s no winning in forgiveness.   I was hoping we could have put that off a little longer, like the Santa Claus and birds-and-bees talks, but no.  It turns out that these days they’re teaching empathy at school, so when someone, say, teases you, you can get mad and you can get hurt, but you are also supposed to try to figure out what’s going on with them that would make them do that thing to you.  And then, if you live in our house, you also have to work on forgiving them.

I realize there are adults who could stand to learn this lesson, adults like me, for example.  I also realize that forgiveness is pretty much the cornerstone of what Jesus had to say.  And I believe that the only way families and marriages and societies survive with spontaneously combusting on a bad day is by the power and practice of forgiveness.

Still, it’s a hard lesson for at least one nine-year-old I know.  Because she now also realizes that the onus of forgiveness lies with the one who got hurt.  It’s so NOT FAIR, as she would say.  Yes, I would say, it is so not fair.  There’s no guarantee that when you forgive someone they won’t turn around the next day and be mean or hurtful again. The hurt person has to become the bigger person and dig up some empathy and work on staying in relationship with that other person, even if “staying in relationship” means not pouring water all over their diorama and not tripping them when they walk by.  It’s the elementary school version of reconciliation.  But it’s a start.

I believe this lesson about forgiveness will come in handy one day, when she has to forgive me for something truly awful that I’ve done, as opposed to the unpardonable sins of giving her the mom look in church or embarrassing her in front of her friends by saying hello.  It may also come in handy some day – and the lesson may actually stick – some day when I forgive her for something awful that she did.  Because I suspect that day is coming, and in the less than distant future.

So we’ll work on the injustice of forgiveness.  Maybe I’ll learn something, too.




Wrestling with my angel

the-vision-after-the-sermon-jacob-wrestling-with-the-angel-1888A year or so ago the story of Jacob wrestling the angel came up in the lectionary.  My husband preached that day, and as he read the scripture I sat up at the last line: “And he was limping because of his hip.”

I limp because of my hip, and a limp is a hard thing to hide when you process up and down long aisles in a church and you go up to the table and the pulpit and the like.  I smiled when he read that line, and the congregation did too.

Since then the image of Jacob wrestling that angel has stayed with me, and I often go to an earlier line of the story: “I will not let go until you have blessed me.”  I’ve found that a helpful image as I wrestle with something, picturing myself continuing in the struggle, and not giving up, and not giving in, until a blessing has come out of it.

Today I asked someone what he would say to God or ask God when he died and presumably went to heaven.  I heard him talk about something he struggles as he tries to live out his faith.  It brings him some anguish, this issue, and part of that anguish is the uncertainty of it and the fact that he would even dare to question God.  So I encouraged him to continue to wrestle with it until he had received a blessing.

I have no idea if my great wisdom made any sense to him, because that’s the thing about wisdom: what seems deep and powerful to us ends up as a poster with the picture of a kitten for someone else.

So maybe the wrestling is just for me.  I’m still waiting to receive this blessing, and most days I wake up feeling like some devious angel has punched me right in the hip joint.  But I will not let go – not yet.  There’s a blessing just around the corner.

Or at least a kitten poster.




Sometimes we have to let each other fail

Train_wreck_at_Montparnasse_1895My spouse and I are four and a half years into our adventure of co-pastoring.  Will it be our last such adventure?  I have no idea.  Other married co-pastors have written great things in the last four and a half years, and I am grateful for the wisdom they have shared.  As we move further along in this relationship, new and subtle facets of working together emerge, and I think about them, and sometimes share them my husband.

There’s a meeting tomorrow with the city about some of our building issues, and one of our great members is going and said one of us needed to go with him.  It’s in an area I’ve been working in.  As my husband and I were going over the calendar, he said, “I think both of us should go.”  It seemed a reasonable statement.

And then I started wondering.  Does he think I can’t manage it?  Because it deals with money and property, which are more his areas, does he want to be there?  Or really, does he think I can’t manage it?  When I told our member that both of us would be there, he said only one of us needed to be.  So I told my husband I would go, since this involves a project I’ve been working on.  But a larger question looms.

One of the benefits (I think) about having co-pastors is that you get people with complimentary gifts and skills.  In a nutshell, he does numbers and I do words.  More than fifteen minutes on a financial statement and my head starts to spin.  Writing a sermon, or a newsletter article, or an annual report is his idea of hell.  You get the picture.

Still, it occurred to me that for the sake of our pastorate – and probably our marriage – sometimes we need to let the other one fail, or not do as great a job, or work in those areas where we’re not as strong.  We won’t learn if we always let the other do the heavy lifting, whatever the area of work may be.  It may also be a good model for the larger staff or congregation, to explore what it means to be not-gifted at something, to struggle with something, or even to deal with that which is usually tedious or confusing.

Maybe it’s just that none of us can be strong and talented all the time; if we were, we’d be walking around like arrogant snobs.  Maybe.  Or maybe we would get out of touch with what it means to be ignorant (in the best sense of that word) or an amateur.  Maybe it would help us expect less, and encourage more.

So failure is an option.

But so is grace.