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Since the beginning of this humble blog, there has been one post that is always the most popular in Google searches. It was written by our SueBE a few years ago, yet every single week, it’s a topic that new visitors seek out. It’s called, “Which Word is Right in the Lord’s Prayer – Trespasses or Debts?”

So I thought it might be time for us to re-visit the subject. It also relates to the wave of men accused of sexual impropriety in the news lately. Most of the offenders seem to be using a template to (sort of) admit wrongdoings, and it goes something like this:

Offender Template

𐄂 It was ___ years ago

𐄂 I don’t remember it

𐄂 But if it did happen, it was probably:

  • All in good fun
  • Crossed signals
  • Semi-consensual
  • Inadvertent

Caveat:

✅Some of the accuser’s facts are not accurate

Part of the problem with these statements is the fact that the offender never really owns up to the offense. It negates the apology, if you want to call it that. In fact, not one of the men in these situations has said, I was completely wrong. I’m so ashamed. I hope you can somehow find it in your heart to forgive me.

And that’s the thing that always gives me pause when I reach this line in the Lord’s prayer, “…And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

What if the person who wronged us hasn’t asked our forgiveness?

What if they don’t think they did anything wrong?

Or worse, what if they don’t care that they’ve caused pain?

So that’s been on my mind as we deal with these unsettling revelations in the news.

Can you forgive if the offender doesn’t even acknowledge the offense?

What do you think?

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The #MeToo movement has reached ubiquity: We all know what it means when a woman (or man) posts these words to social media. Ruth gave a powerful breakdown of the situation. In fact, she changed the way I thought about my own history. I believed I could never forgive the men who have harassed or assaulted me over the years. But then a funny thing happened — I made a list.

I listed all the times I could remember someone making me feel unsafe, or someone physically or verbally assaulting me. Over the days, the list grew. It is now quite substantial. But in making the list, the power these people had over me dropped to zero.

Maybe it’s seeing their names, or the lack of them — some names I never knew, some I’ve forgotten, like “Warehouse Creep” and “King of Bear Country.” Just faceless, nameless ghosts. Not even worth remembering. In other cases, it was a matter of perspective. I can look back now on the man who kept calling me “Kiddo” and rubbing my thigh on a car ride home from the first (and last) time I babysat his 6-year-old son, who spent the entire night talking about big breasted women — as if such a thing could mean anything to a child that young — and think, “How little he must have had in his life!” It’s almost sad.

Ruth is dead right: These people aren’t brimming with machismo and confidence. They are insecure. A real man doesn’t need to harass women to get attention. How frightened they must be! How alone! I found myself praying for them: That they find ways to get the attention they want through other means; that they can learn to feel important not by subjugating others but by doing positive things.

But most of all, I pray for a world where no girl or woman has to make a list like mine. Because although making it was cathartic, it’s not a task I would wish on anyone. Because no woman should have to have a list. Because it shouldn’t happen to begin with. Because being sad and pathetic is no excuse.

Forgiveness is divine. But wouldn’t it be nicer if there were nothing to forgive?

Anybody remember Weebles? That little egg-shaped toy that would wobble back and forth but land upright? I felt like that two days ago, when I woke up leaning to the left. It’s one of the symptoms of MS that happens only rarely for me, but when it does, I focus on a fixed object, sit upright and wait for the dizziness to pass. The key is never to lie down; that’s when things really start spinning. I know it has to do with brain function, but I don’t quite understand the whole process.

The mind is a mysterious thing, isn’t it? Just yesterday, I thought of some terrible social faux pas I made in third grade, of all things, and it brought me down.

What’s the name of the ocean on the east coast? “Atlantic,” I wrote.

As I looked at it, I remembered that I’d gotten a simple answer wrong on another test the previous day and started to doubt myself. I crossed it out and wrote, “Pacific.” The teacher told the class I got it wrong and the other kids looked at me, shaking their heads and snickering.

And I wondered why something from so many years ago still echoes in my mind.

Balance is so important in life, isn’t it? Not just physical balance, but emotional balance as well.

As I went about making my coffee this morning I had an epiphany. If it were someone else, I’d say, Give yourself a break. You were just a kid. It’s nothing to beat yourself up about. I’m completely supportive of everyone else when they make mistakes, even complete strangers. But myself? Not so much.

So I’d like to propose that we think of ourselves in the past as another person entirely. Someone else, in a different era. That way, you’re more likely to regard yourself with compassion.

Maybe that’s the lesson of those days. Perhaps in releasing the need to have done everything perfectly correctly and within the bounds of social decorum, you’ll unclench and be less likely to make the same mistakes. And even if you do make mistakes, maybe you won’t see them that way. Maybe instead of mistakes we’ll call them human foibles. It sounds less painful. Almost cuddly!

Foibles. They could be the distant cousin of Weebles! They wobble, but they don’t fall down. This could be our motto: Foibles. We fumble but we don’t fall down. 😉

So I dropped something the other day – it made a loud noise, and I got annoyed because my teen-age son didn’t bother to check to see if I was okay. Out of nowhere, I experienced intense anger, and a real moment of unforgiveness. The place where my heart usually was felt like a stone.

Normally, I’m as pleasant as pie. So pleasant, in fact, I’ll bet some crotchety-types might find it annoying! Hey there! Turn that frown upside down, grumpy cat! 😾 There I go with the emojis again. I heart smiley-faces!! 😍

So that’s my default setting. Finding myself in such a foul mood was jarring. Now, it lasted less than an hour, but what an intense experience it was. I really had to ask pointedly in prayer, “Take this from me, Lord. I don’t know how to release it.”

The negative narrative was running in a loop: How could he not have heard such a loud noise? Doesn’t he give a heck? Haven’t I raised him better than that?

Even trying to forgive felt forced:  Why have I always got to be the one to let things slide? After all I’ve done for him! I just couldn’t let go of this anger.

In a previous post about Hugh Jackman (my next ex-husband-to-be, only he doesn’t know it yet. Yes, I’m willing to re-locate to Oz-Trailia) I said that it’s possible to find wisdom in unexpected places. This time it came from a roots Rock band called “The Record Company.I gotta pick myself up off the ground. I got the answer to my biggest question. Got to lose where I was to get my direction.

Staying in the moment that had hurt my feelings meant I was stuck in it, as if time stopped there. There was no present anymore, only this past pain.

I talked to my son again after I’d cooled my jets. He’d had his headphones on halfway, so it’s possible he didn’t fully hear the loud sound. Still, I reminded him: we watch out for each other. Because I don’t want to be emoji-less again! 🌈😊😺

“I had to break away from her,” my friend Alice tells me over the phone about someone she once called a friend. Alice isn’t the only one. Lots of folks lately seem to be dealing with toxic people. You know them. We meet them everywhere in the jungle of life. Some are outright predators; others hang back, like vultures, waiting to sink their talons into the weak and weary. The hardest part of dealing with toxic people is that maybe only you see that person for what they truly are. The rest of the gnus keep grazing, blissfully unaware. Yet God commands us to love everyone. It may take time to find a way to love our enemies — difficult things always do — but it also demands of us a certain primal common sense. To wit, the following poem:

This is not a litany of sins.
You have taught me things,
a veritable National Geographic
special. Some creatures,
for whom all touch is enemy,
strike — even if the stroke
is light, a caress.
Some people know pain,
and let it go, others
grow it and sow it,
sweat it from their pores
like tropical frogs or
hold it in their craws
like komodos who will
pursue you, slash you with their claws,
consume you or, in a pinch, lick you,
(a flick of the tongue, breathlessly quick),
let the poison in their maws do its work.
Whichever way they come for you, you die.
How do you love a komodo?
From afar, perhaps, and pityingly.

There’s an old children’s rhyme (quoted famously in “Singing in the Rain”) that goes like this: “Moses supposes his toeses are roses, but Moses supposes erroneously.” It’s a bit of doggerel that keeps popping into my mind as I reflect further on the subject of forgiveness. For aren’t we all a little like Moses in this way?

We are quick to excuse, expunge, understand and let slide our own sins because they are ours. We know our own motivation. We think ourselves to be, at heart, good people. We cut ourselves slack. We suppose our toes — or our sins, in this case — are roses. But we suppose erroneously. All sins stink.

Imagine extending the kind of compassion we show ourselves to others! Instead of mentally berating the mother who is shrieking at her children at Walmart, perhaps we could recall the last time our own tone was harsh — understandably so, because of the day we were having! What has that mother’s day been like? Or among our own families: Do we not sometimes take for granted that our families will love us no matter what? And does this assumption sometimes carry with it the further assumption that we need not try as hard with our own kin as we do, say, with outsiders? Again, we suppose erroneously. Our families deserve our first fruits, not our leftover scraps.

I’m not advocating beating yourself up for every error you make. Rather, loosen the purse strings on your bag of mercy in the same way you would for yourself. You remember that you are only human. You know you get tired, frustrated, out of sorts. But you forget that other people do, too. You want your own opinions to be accepted and understood, but you’d rather others not express opinions counter to your own. If your own toeses need a little compassion, so do everybody else’s — whether or not they smell much like roses.

I am feeling my way around the subject of forgiveness because it seems to be a prominent need in my life. But it’s prominent for all of us. Forgiveness is not only a gift we give others, it is a gift for ourselves, a letting go of pain and anger that can drag us down and make us stink just as bad as the person who sinned against us. For the health of our own toeses — as well as the toeses of others — maybe we should remember: We are all sinners, and we all smell. Mercy, grace and compassion are just what we need to cover up the stench.

I’ve been struggling with a word lately. Nothing polysyllabic, mind you. Just two little letters: AS. Oh sure, I can spell it. I can even use it in a sentence (and often do). It’s the repercussions of those two letters in one particular context that have me thinking: Their use in the Lord’s Prayer.

Here’s what I’m talking about: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It’s a pivotal part of the prayer that Christ himself gave us. And it is here that semantics come into play. “As” can mean “while” or “at the same time as” — as in, “forgive us our sins while we forgive others their sins.” But it can also mean “equally” or “because” — as in, “forgive us our sins to the same degree we forgive others theirs, or only because we forgive theirs.” See what I mean about two letters being thought-provoking?

The first interpretation is the easiest to parse and live with. It’s rather a tit for tat situation: You do your part, God, and we’ll try to do ours. But there’s no commitment to “keeping up with the Joneses” here — no promise to forgive to the same extent as God does. The second definition (“to the same extent as”) poses a trickier quest because it does ask us to do as God does, in the same way and magnitude that God does. That’s one tricky commitment.

“Because” also holds its challenges. It requires that we go first: We forgive to be forgiven. Can I do that sincerely, without feeling like I’m taking my spoonful of castor oil only so I can have a lollipop afterward? Can I do that without demanding the reward of forgiveness in return?

Forgiveness is tough, and it gets tougher depending on the degree to which we love the person we need to forgive. So, if we want forgiveness for ourselves — and who doesn’t? — it behooves us to think hard about those two little letters. What did Jesus mean by them? Which interpretation would he choose? Or would he choose “all of the above” — the toughest challenge of all?

God created language, and God knows (and delights in) its intricacies. So I’m reasonably sure of my answer. Jesus gave us just one prayer in all of scripture; he knew we would be picking it apart and analyzing it for centuries to come. I’m far from the first to wonder about it. I certainly won’t be the last.

So there’s my task: To be forgiven AS I forgive. Whatever that means. Whatever it takes. Boy, that’ll require some serious prayer.

Scanning the headlines this week, I found myself leaping to conclusions and making assumptions. Before I knew it, I was psycho-analyzing public figures I don’t even know.

Governor Paul LePage of Maine found himself in hot water last week when he left a profane, threatening voicemail for a Democratic lawmaker. He’s ignited a lot of controversies lately, most of which are exacerbated by his brash style. I came to the conclusion that LePage was still fighting battles from his hardscrabble childhood. Okay. Figured him out. Next subject.

Flipped over to the Entertainment Section and read that actress Blake Lively had a baby shower that singer Taylor Swift attended. Hmm. That Taylor Swift has been collecting famous friends for years now. Probably a direct result of Kanye West ruining her VMA award moment.  Must be trying to prove that people really do like her. Okay. Figured her out. Next subject.

Of course, it did occur to me that these are people I’ve never met, and never will meet. The only “facts” I’ve got at my disposal are those found on the internet. I have no degree in psychology, so everything I’m assuming is just my own best guess.

One of my favorite sitcoms is The Odd Couple with actors Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. In one episode, Randall’s character, Felix Unger, says, “Never assume. When you assume, you make and ass out of u and me.”

We all make assumptions about each other, but we don’t know the whole story. It’s a good idea not to take our own meanderings too seriously. Lest we forget, people are making assumptions about us, too.

So even as I find myself putting on a judge’s robe that I never earned and banging a gavel in my own mind, I’ll also send up a quick prayer. “Bless them,” I’ll ask. “And forgive my little lapses.” I’m more grateful than ever that God’s grace is such a big umbrella!

Clean and Clear PostAlways Do Your Best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
Don Miguel Ruiz
The Four Agreements

So I was in the kitchen washing dishes yesterday, when, for reasons unknown to me now, I started to think of a time years ago when I made mistakes as a mother, and it left me feeling sad.

How could I do that? I asked myself. Before long, I was in tears, still scrubbing away at plates.

At just that moment, I noticed some marks on the wall where the trash bins used to be kept. There were little flecks of debris that I’d never noticed, as this wall was behind a door we always kept open.

The garbage can was gone from that spot. All that was left was the residue.

Just as the things I was beating myself up about were well in the past, and all that was left was the regret.

It isn’t here anymore, I said to myself, wiping down the wall. It’s been removed.

Odd as it may seem, I felt that God was speaking to me through the grungy grime!

The things we can’t forgive ourselves for are echoes from a bygone era. If we’ve truly changed our ways and have brought it to God in prayer, the only thing left to do is release it. Not forgiving yourself is like saying God doesn’t know best. If he’s forgiven you, there’s nothing left to forgive. It doesn’t exist anymore.

When I was done with the dishes, I realized that I felt lighter, as if a burden had been lifted. As I cleaned in the kitchen, my conscience had cleared. I did my best at the time, I reminded myself, and I’ve learned to do better over the years.

Well. Laundry is next on my to-do list. I wonder what life-lesson I’ll learn from fluffing and folding?

The Lord's PrayerThis particular line in the Lord’s Prayer has always made me cringe.  Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. That’s the translation that Presbyterians use. There is also the one more commonly used in the Catholic church — Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Or a third version — Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Not that the translation is as important as the meaning.  We will be forgiven as we forgive others.

The problem for me was that I grew up with someone who was verbally abusive.  This person wasn’t always a part of my life.  It depended on who lived where.  But when we were together, I knew what would eventually happen. As if the abuse wasn’t bad enough, I was taught that to truly forgive it, I had to put myself back into the situation time and time again. I knew what was coming and so did the adults in my life.  But that’s the way it goes.  God wants you to forgive no matter how many times you have to endure this.

Somehow, deep in my heart, I knew this was wrong.  God loves me.  Sure, God loves my abuser too, but that doesn’t take away from his love for me. Christ stopped the woman from being stoned. He didn’t tell her to suck it up and shrug it off.

A few weeks ago, our adult Sunday school was doing a session on Biblical forgiveness. In this session we learned that forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things.  Forgiveness can be accomplished by one person. I’m not going to act against you. I’m laying down my anger and my hate. Reconciliation takes two because it requires restoration of trust.  You don’t need to achieve reconciliation to be forgiven.

My family was less than thrilled when I made it clear that my participation in this was over and done.  It changed the family dynamic, but that was okay because it was a dynamic that needed to change.  I was a young adult when I took this step.  I am still coming to an understanding of reconciliation vs forgiveness.  I suspect it will be a life long lesson.

Don’t hold back on forgiveness because you can’t expect reconciliation. Give yourself this gift.  Lay down the hate.  Lay down the rage.  Once you are free of these burdens, God can and will take you into his forgiving embrace. It’s what He’s wanted all along.  Forgive us our Debts…

–SueBE

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