I will probably make some people angry with today’s post, but I will risk it, because there’s an aspect of forgiveness we usually don’t talk about. That is: what is truly worthy of forgiveness? What I mean by that is, Which actions or words are hurtful enough that they must be forgiven? When should I simply brush off a comment or make allowances for an action?
I guess the real question is: When am I being overly sensitive or interpreting events through such a skewed filter that the hurt or offense is really my problem, not the other person’s? Some offenses are minor or unintentional, or both. How long am I going to be angry because someone took my last protein bar? Or didn’t fill the paper tray in the printer? Or was honest enough to say that she liked my hair better when it was an inch shorter?
Yes, it is possible to be too sensitive. Sometimes I’ve just had a rough day or week, and so I’m more likely to take offense at someone’s remark or even the look on her face. But she probably isn’t doing or saying anything differently from how she usually acts or speaks.
And in some situations, a person has spent a lifetime learning to be suspicious and critical, and you just can’t win. You’ve met this person: he or she gets offended about five times a day. Even if I haven’t developed those bad habits of attitude, there are times when I am just more likely to put a bad spin on whatever happens. I am hurt or disappointed or angry about something specific, and that emotion distorts the way I perceive everything else that happens around me. So when somebody hurts my feelings, the issue is not, Can I forgive this person? The issue is, Why did this act or comment bother me in the first place?
Sometimes we need to grow up a bit and take more responsibility for our reactions. Sometimes we take offense because we are foolish or self-centered or vindictive.
And when we develop an attitude of mercy and compassion toward others—this is a lifelong project, and we must practice it daily—we discover that there are fewer events that require our forgiveness. Instead of getting offended, we consider what kind of circumstances this coworker is dealing with at home to cause her to be short-tempered in this meeting. Instead of staying angry for days, we pray for that neighbor to experience the kind of love that will free him to be friendlier and less prone to gossip. Instead of interpreting someone’s words in the worst possible way, we will remember that there’s a vast cultural and/or personality difference between us, and much of the time we do not understand these conversations accurately.
- Can you remember a time when you took great offense at something, only to realize later that you were reacting out of proportion to reality?
- How do you cultivate mercy and compassion toward people in those quick, daily situations that can become so irritating?
- What are clues that a problem is more with you than with the other person?