Thursday, May 21, 2009

Loren Gets a "D" on the Forgiveness Test


God doesn't require us to succeed; he only requires that you try. -Mother Teresa

There are two movies that have made me cry like a baby in public: Sophie's Choice, and Mel Gibson's version of The Passion of the Christ. They hit a chord in me as a mother. In Sophie's Choice, a Polish, Catholic woman is sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII with her two children. She is forced by a Nazi doctor to choose which one will live and which one will die. The children, a little girl and a little boy, are screaming "Mama!" and crying. Sophie, played by Meryl Streep, is mentally tortured for the remainder of the film over the decision and her inability to forgive herself. The movie is based on a novel written in 1979 by William Styron. The Passion of the Christ portrays Jesus' journey to Crucifixion. The whole movie is difficult, but important in my opinion, to watch. The part that always tears me up is when Jesus meets his mother while carrying the cross. In the movie, Mary flashes back in her mind to a memory of Jesus falling and getting hurt as a child. She cannot protect her son this time. As a mother, I'm gripped and frightened by both of these womens' experiences.

Becoming a mother has changed me a bit. Never before have I felt so fiercely protective of another human being. My children, although they drive me insane because they are so needy, are like walking versions of my heart. My heart is raw and exposed to the dangerous world three times over. This is scary.

Mary, the blessed mother of Jesus, is a role model/helper to all mothers, and all of God's children for that matter. As a Catholic, this is my belief. Her reaction to the torture and death of her son is hard for me to fully believe, until I read the scripture more closely. What I realize in the middle of reading The Gospel of Matthew is that the apple does not fall far from the tree, as they say. Mary was Jesus' first teacher, Jesus was her greatest teacher. This is the duty of all mothers, to teach their children about their faith. Mary's faith was radical, but no one noticed in that society because she was a woman.

Turn the other cheek? If someone was torturing my children I'd be like a raging lion. Yes, sweet, soft-spoken Loren can get quite scary when she chooses to do so. I can see myself dying to prevent harm to my children without thinking twice about it. Pray for your enemies? Really? Forgive me, I think I might rip them apart in that case.

Imagine the grace required to hold yourself back from hysteria, as Mary did, while watching your children harmed. Imagine the faith and FORESIGHT present in a person who can trust God through such a trial. I hope that life test is never put on my plate. I'm not strong enough.

When I was a freshman in college, Sr. Helen Prejean, the author of Dead Man Walking came to my campus to give a talk on Capital Punishment. If you have read her book/seen the movie, then you know that she is against the death penalty and has worked in prisons as a spiritual counselor to some of the most horrid criminals: murderers, rapists, child abusers.

On a table to the right of the stage was a contract that she invited those in attendance to take and fill out. It was a legal document stating that in the event of your own murder, you would not want the accused and convicted person to be sentenced to the death penalty. Sr. Prejean's speech moved me. I walked up to the table, took the contract and went back to my seat to fill it out. Many other people were doing this too. Then something stopped me. I thought of my mother and father, (I was unmarried at the time), suffering because of my murder. I pictured the crime that could involve torture and rape. Walking to the student lounge, I crumpled up the contract and threw it in the garbage, with tears in my eyes. I was sad because I knew I might not have the capacity to forgive someone who hurts and kills me, and I call myself pro-life. I didn't want to take the free choice of forgiveness away from my family in that case. I thought, It's easier to forgive murderers when the crime doesn't affect you personally. I hope life never puts this test on my plate.

Christians are taught: forgive, don't hold onto anger, pray for your enemies. As a Catholic, I give myself a "D" on these life tests thus far. I grumble while praying for those who annoy the stuffing out of me. I get mad at strangers, acquaintances, my friends, my spouse, basically EVERYBODY, and hold on to the anger sometimes. From what I've read of Mary in The New Testament, she lived up to these forgiveness challenges. So I should be able to forgive people who hurt my feelings, reject me, etc. in the very least! I need to do this as a person who calls herself a Catholic. I need to do this as a mother, as a role model. I'm a role model whether I like it or not. I'm going to try to forgive more. I can't skip ahead to the really hard trials, but I can handle the small everyday interactions with people and work my way up to the bigger hurts.

With the commitment to try to forgive comes a sense of peace. Holding on to anger not only gives me a bad grade in the faith department, it makes me sick physically, mentally, spiritually. I don't have to carry all that invisible weight around. I don't have to let these feelings chew on my brain.

What happens to me when I refuse to stay angry, when I actively try to forgive? Then I anger other people who don't understand why I'm acting so differently, so "righteous," so boring. That's their issue, and I have to pray that they will understand. I'm not going to stop trying because I know I can do better than a "D."
Picture is Bleeding Hearts plant from my garden.

7 comments:

Milk Man said...

I give you an "E" for effort, you are always reflective and are the kindest person I've ever met.

jen said...

Such a sweet comment from your hubby.

I love what you've written about Mary - how she was Jesus's first teacher and then he was her greatest teacher. I have such a special relationship with my son, Sully. I can't imagine watching him shamed and ridiculed.

I get a D, too. Sometimes, maybe an F!

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

As usual you are so honest, baring your own soul to illustrate these profound truths.

Todd Lemieux said...

OK, this was a really cool post. Granted you are going to be open to all types of annoyances now that you have asked for the opportunity to forgive... but hey!

Loren Christie said...

Thank you for all of your encouraging comments. I'm really seeing a lot more reading Matthew's Gospel again. It so cool that every time I read the Bible I see something new.

Anonymous said...

As usual, your words are enlightening and inspire thought, Loren.

In reading your commentary, I pose this question - why does there have to be a link between forgiveness and punishment?

I think it is entirely possible for your parents to forgive the one responsible for your nightmare scenario that you laid out, while at the same time advocating for the proper punishment to address the crime committed.

Foregiveness doesn't imply that a person is no longer responsible for the actions that were committed. The person doing those deeds should very much be held responsible for those actions.

GT

Loren Christie said...

Hi G. In response to your question: The Catholic stance on Capital Punishment is that it is wrong. Only God can take a life and by playing God, humans promote a culture of death. I agree, the act of forgiveness and the feeling of forgiveness are two separate parts of the equation. However, the act has to come before the feeling. Supporting the death penalty does not reflect the act of forgiving. I struggle with Capital Punishment mostly in the situation where it becomes personal- i.e. my children are victims. I know my urge would be to attack the murderer with my bare hands. That's not Christ-like, or saint-like. I'm suggesting that perhaps I don't have to worry about that hard test of forgiveness, but just start with the small, petty things that I hold onto anger about. Happy Memorial Day weekend.

Dear Internet Traveler,

Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.

Fondly,

Loren Christie

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