Today I drew a gigantic circle on the my whiteboard, and I wrote one person’s name at a time that I needed to forgive. My old ballet teacher with her black stick and cruel comments about how my wearing glasses ruined the look of the entire company. My friend’s rich mother who traveled with us to Mexico one year, then took a gorgeous bouquet of handmade tissue paper flowers a street woman had made, and refused to pay her the one dollar per flower she asked. A self-tanning, Harley rider boss who verbally disparaged and ridiculed me in public over my religious belief when I refused to drink with the team in the big city.
Those were of course the small things, and most of them were small, I found. The big stuff I’d seem to have already forgiven, some of them stories so sensational they’d made local and national headline news. And private pains too, the likes of which put me through what St. John of the Cross so aptly called The Dark Night of the Soul. Too big to carry around, I’d done all the horizontal and vertical work of forgiveness, and they were gone.
Yes, the stories which showed up mostly seemed small and insignificant, stories I thought I’d forgiven until the slight pang of their memory let me know I hadn’t. At least not completely.
After I scanned my life and couldn’t think of another name to include, I began my list of people of whom I needed to ask their forgiveness. Clearly every person on the first list would be included, as I realized I had held these people in contempt for even small infractions with no release for this many years. And there were others too, many of whom I’d not given the benefit of the doubt in the moment, and people I’d misunderstood.
I spoke each person’s name aloud, and through the redeeming power of a loving God, asked them to please forgive me, and offered my sincere mercy in return. I wrote notes too, a few specifically apologizing, and others simply expressing my love and gratitude.
What happened next surprised me. My circle of names began to shine, one-by-one, revealing the stunning gift and lesson they had given me, and that’s when I began to cry. My ballet teacher, for example, taught me poise, grace, and exactitude, and instilled in me a love of dance and the arts that I have passed to my daughters to their great benefit. My friend’s affluent mother taught me that the generosity of compassion is needed not only for the poor woman in the street, but for all of us in this grand sweeping adventure of life. And while I may never own a Harley, I won’t ever forget that smack talking slick selling big city dude who taught me how to close a sale with panache, illuminated my courage, and showed me something about the thrill of the ride.
How about giving it a whirl? It’s actually fun.
Make a quick list of a few people you need to forgive and ask for forgiveness.
What gifts and lessons have they given you?
Can you include yourself on that list of forgiveness?
Can you see the gifts you’ve given others too?