The Reciprocity of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is not often a two-way street. Ideally, when given, we hope for that response (e.g., reciprocity). And more often than not, we don’t receive it. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. Not. Even. Close. In fact, many times at the core of anger is a spirit of unforgiveness,” usually stemming from very real circumstances that happen to us out of the blue that we, most likely, will never fully or partially understand.

I read a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. last night that got me thinking about the subject of forgiveness again. It was quoted in the book, One Simple Act,” by Debbie Macomber, that I mentioned in my last blog post (titled, appropriate enough, One Simple Act). The quote is found on page 58 in her book and also at this link. Here’s the quote:

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

Debbie Macomber made the following statement after quoting the quote above: “I hope you caught these words: ‘develop and maintain the capacity.’ It sounds as if, according to Dr. King, forgiveness is a discipline that requires practice” (p. 58).

Well, after over five years of trying to deal with it, I have found that forgiveness is, indeed, a discipline that requires practice. And it requires us to both “develop and maintain the capacity to forgive” over and over and over again (e.g., “seventy times seven” as Jesus stated in Matthew 18:21-22). And I only know one Person who can give us what we need to be able to do it. That person is Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus’ last words on forgiveness came when he was dying on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Most of the time, we really don’t know what we are doing, which is why forgiveness is so important. Oh, we think we know (we humans have an amazing capacity for excuse making, denial, and deceit), but ultimately, we really don’t know. We just go after what we want however we can get it and often regardless of the cost to others (e.g., whether it’s with those we know or those we don’t know well or at all). And yes, that includes some folks who consider themselves to be Christian as well as most everyone else nowadays.

While I’m not sure I have mentioned it in a previous blog post, I’ve never been able to get Texas out of my mind. Texas, and specifically Houston, is the place where the worst event of my life unfolded over five years ago, and it is that event that led me to start writing this blog back in July 2010. In fact, the theme of this blog stated at the top right hand side on the main page is “Living It Out . . . on” Living what out, you ask? Living out my Christian faith in the midst of a massively trying circumstance–long term unemployment–and all of the ramifications that come from it. And the ride as been messy at times, just like life. And it’s still ongoing. But it’s become so much more than just that specific ride down the long and winding road of long term unemployment. It’s about how genuine Christianity is really supposed to be lived out in a messy world. And living it out gets messy, too. And we are all a part of it.

I have often written across these pages that it’s not an “us versus them” mentality that we so often have a tendency to come from (and mostly from a “self-preservation” point of view). Yes, evil exists, but just as Dr. King stated above, “There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” We often fail to acknowledge any evil in ourselves while pointing fingers at the evil in others. And, we are great at justifying ourselves, too.

When I look back on what happened to me during those seven months I was employed in the worst job of my life in Houston, one thing I remember vividly at the time I was fired was what I felt when I was walking out of the building for that final time. I felt both a mixture of great relief and a sense of fear. The relief came because the horror of what happened to me there was finally over, and the fear came because I had just lost–as in immediately–both my job and income (not to mention the other benefits that come from full time employment) in a city and state that I had recently moved 1000 miles to work and live in seven months earlier.

Now before I go any further, this post is not about what happened to me at that job in Houston or even the fact that it has left me unemployed for over five years now. My story can be repeated innumerable times across America and in the rest of the working world around the globe, and countless others have worn those very same shoes that I was forced to wear at that time. As I stated in the first paragraph above, we will oftentimes never fully understand the circumstances behind what happened to us when we are hit full force with something we never saw coming at us in the first place. Had I known what I was walking into, I never would have gone in the first place. Neither would have any of the other folks who have experienced this particular trial or any other trial if they had known what was in store for them . . .

. . . And that’s exactly the point. We don’t know.

forgiveWe think that evil is “out there somewhere” and that we aren’t a part of it and therefore it can’t hurt us or we try our best to avoid it (and oh, the games we play trying to do that). However, world history tell us over and over again that that isn’t true, but we still think it won’t happen to us. And when it does we are shocked, hurt, angry, and unforgiving . . . .

“There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.” Dr. King was absolutely right. There is some good in the folks who did that evil to me back then, and there is definitely some evil in me in the way I’ve reacted to what they did. I may never completely know why they did what they did to me. However, it’s the propensity for evil in me that makes it so hard to forgive them. I keep looking for some kind of justice from having been left unemployed for over five years now that keeps getting mixed up with the forgiveness part. And I’m disappointed in the fact that some of those folks called themselves Christian and yet they were anything but Christian in what they allowed to happened to me. I went there to do a good job for them and it just didn’t matter. Another agenda was playing out, and I wasn’t a part of it. And my career got derailed as a result.

Those last few sentences were painful to write. Therein lies the reason it’s been so hard to forgive them and have it “stick.” It’s not that I haven’t forgiven them many times over in the past five plus years, but I still live with the consequences of what happened to me at their hands to this very day.

The truth is this . . . I liked each and every one of those people who did that damage to me at that job. I liked what I saw in my boss and with the others, too, when I was interviewed for that job. And I loved the environment and was looking forward to being a part of it. In fact, I was never as excited about any job in my entire life as I was about that particular job when I was offered it. While I was driving the 1000-mile trip to Houston with a moving truck loaded with all my possessions following a few hours behind me, I couldn’t have been more excited about this brand new opportunity in a new city in another state that I was heading to on I-10. And I never had even the slightest clue that what was about to unfold over the next seven months was going to happen to me. And why would I? I had almost twenty years of successful professional work experience in the field at the time I was hired for that job.

When I think back on the good times I had while I worked there (with other folks who worked in the same building outside of my own department), I regret that it didn’t work out. That may seem odd considering what I went through, but I don’t easily give up on people or things. I wanted to make it work out in the best way possible. I gave it everything that I had. And I am not a quitter. But it was bigger than me, and it had been going on long before I showed up. And stuff like this happens in workplaces all over America. I just never thought it would happen to me.

I can’t get Texas out of my system because I’m looking for reciprocity. I’m looking for a “two-way street” on forgiveness. Maybe I’m asking for the moon.

I have never hated anyone involved in what happened to me at that job. In fact, I liked all of them. I probably would still like them if they had given or would still give me half a chance again. I know that in the business world there is this really horrible but often said phrase that goes like this (see article in Forbes at this link by someone else who hates it):

“It’s not personal, it’s business.”

Well, I feel much like Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) in a scene between her and Joe Fox  (Tom Hanks) in the movie You’ve Got Mail (1998) after his mega-bookstore ends up putting her small children’s bookstore out of business (see YouTube clip of scene available here):

Joe Fox: It wasn’t… personal.

Kathleen Kelly: What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s *personal* to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?

Joe Fox: Uh, nothing.

Kathleen Kelly: Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal. (Dialogue source here).

I totally agree. There are too many brutal ways that people get fired in America today. The movie, Up in the Air,” (2009) starring George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizer,” has classic examples of that sort of brutality. And if you don’t believe me, just ask anyone who’s ever been pink slipped through no fault of their own. There are plenty of folks out there from the past decade who have experienced it.

Debbie Macomber quotes a poem written by Reinhold Niebuhr on page 61 in her book mentioned above that talks about tracing love back to it’s final form–forgiveness. It goes like this:

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. 

Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. 

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. 

No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”

 Reinhold NiebuhrThe Irony of American History
    (quote source here)

My trips back to Texas are done for now. If someone wants to invite me to go back there, I’m certainly open to going back, but my trips taken by myself with the hope of some sort of reconciliation or even to look for employment (after all, I’ve heard Texas is THE place to look for employment opportunities) are done.

balloonsFor the past five plus years I’ve been trying to “develop and maintain the capacity to forgive” (as stated above by Dr. King). Truth is, if I were to run into my old boss or even the HR director or any of the others involved in my demise at that job in Houston, I’d invite them to lunch at my expense. While I’ve been unemployed all this time I wouldn’t trade the things I’ve learned over these past five plus years for a job paying five times (or even ten times) as much as they paid me. And what I have learned during this time has been worth every cent I didn’t make at the job I’ve never found since I was fired, and part of that “learning” has been written across the pages of my blog. And since truth is stranger than fiction, I have all of them to thank for that. We just never know where that silver lining is going to come from in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Offering forgiveness doesn’t come with any guarantees. That would be nice, but it doesn’t often happen. But when it does happen, it is truly a blessing for all parties concerned. However, even when it doesn’t happen and isn’t reciprocated, it is still a blessing to those who have learned to truly forgive others.

So if we’re in need of a lighter heart attitude . . .

Start with a check-up on who we haven’t forgiven . . .

And start there . . . .

YouTube Video: “Perfect World” by Huey Lewis and the News:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here