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Broken Vase

Posted on March 13th, 2007

A few nights ago, I read something in Henri Nouwen’s The Dance of Life that stirred up some emotions that I have been juggling. It goes like this:

“I have often said, ‘I forgive you,’ but even as I say these words my heart remained angry or resentful. I still wanted to hear the story that tells me that I was right after all; I still wanted to hear apologies and excuses; I still wanted the satisfaction of receiving some praise in return – if only the praise for being so forgiving!”

That, in a nutshell, sums up how I behave so very often when I “forgive” someone. By doing this, of course, I haven’t really forgiven anyone for anything, since I am expecting something more to come out of it; I am expecting to receive compensation or to deliver justice or to see guilt. At some point I will eventually forget, but I doubt that my connection with the other party will be as strong as it once was.

At some point over the last 23 years, I’m sure that I have fully forgiven someone. I can imagine a person trying really hard at something and coming up a little short, and I’d accept it and let it go. This becomes much more difficult when a person doesn’t try or comes up really short. Sometimes, it is easy to determine when someone has put effort into something, but I can often misinterpret a lack of effort with a lack of ability or support or reason or whatever else. And when people “come up short”, they are short of my expectations.

So maybe the other party isn’t the one in need of forgiveness; maybe I need to be forgiven for being too exacting or too impatient or too demanding. I’m reminded of the “plank in my eye” and, quite often, it turns out to be a pretty big plank. (At time, I never seem to see it or grasp how large it is.)

There is, then, often a need for me to forgive myself. I need to realize that I am also riddled with shortcomings, biases, imperfections, and prejudices. I have my insecurities and weaknesses. And it’s not like I don’t know these things when I think about it, but it’s just that I don’t think about it very much. At various points in my life – be it weekly or daily or hourly, depending on the situation – I need to accept these flaws and have compassion for myself. Certainly, I should strive to improve myself, but I can’t go on living my life and treating other people as if I didn’t have them.

It goes without saying that I have done and said plenty of stupid and inconsiderate things over my entire lifespan, and I’m sure that I have said as much several times before. But I’m starting to realize that I shouldn’t spend too much time wishing that I hadn’t done all of that. Being stupid and inconsiderate was being me.. the real me. And I’m learning to forgive myself because I can’t really move on unless I’ve come to terms with where I am now.

I’ll conclude with a little prayer that Nouwen wrote:

“Please accept my distractions, my fatigue, my irritations, and my faithless wanderings. You know me more deeply and fully that I know myself. You love me with a greater love than I can love myself. You even offer me more than I can desire. Look at me, see me in all my misery and inner confusion, and let me sense your presence in the midst of my turmoil. All I can do is show myself to you. Yet, I am afraid to do so. I am afraid that you will reject me. But I know – with the knowledge of my faith – that you desire to give me your love. The only thing you ask of me is not to hide from you, not to run away in despair, not to act as if you were a relentless despot.

Take my tired body, my confused mind, and my restless soul into your arms and give me rest, simple quiet rest. Do I ask too much too soon? I should not worry about that. You will let me know.”

God, help me to accept me and others as you have accepted me and others.

3 Responses to “Broken Vase”

  1. Jasmine Says:

    I’m coming home this weekend to see my grandparents who are visiting from Edmonton. I’m hoping to get to Embassy on Monday night. Will you be there?

  2. Sarah Says:

    Hey Justin,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on forgiveness. As I was reading your entry I couldn’t help but think that perhaps we have a hard time forgiving others because we haven’t fully yet received God’s forgiveness. What do you think?


  3. Justin Says:

    Hey Sarah,

    Depending on what you mean by “received God’s forgiveness”, I might agree with you. The way I look at it is that His forgiveness is always offered to us, but we are either unable or unwilling to accept it. Part of it, I think, has to do with a lack of understanding of love. I know that, for me, I can’t fully wrap my head around the kind of love that God has for us and, similarly, that we are striving to have for Him. With this kind of shortcoming, I’m at a loss for really loving other people, which is a roadblock for me to really forgiving them (and myself, I guess).

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