Love and Forgiveness
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Corinthians 13
Corinthians 13: 4-7 is far more than a beautiful verse to be read during a wedding ceremony. In this verse, love is defined for us in terms of what love is and what love is not, what love does and what love does not do. What a difference it would make in our world if each of us made it our practice to apply this verse to every aspect of each day and especially in our relationships with others.
Unconditional love is clearly defined for us in these well-known verses, yet too many times, we see people who claim to have a faith based view on life, behaving towards others in ways that are more similar to hate than love. No one is perfect, so chances are you have fallen short in this area just as I have. I am guilty of sometimes behaving in a less than loving or patient way. I have also been the target of another person’s anger or resentment. Neither of these experiences brought me much peace or joy. Love was certainly nowhere to be found in those situations. What was present was an unwillingness to forgive.
What do you do when you feel hurt by a friend or family member’s words or actions? Do you recall all the things they have done that are good and react in a loving way, by extending kindness and patience? My guess is that for most of us, responding in a loving way is the furthest thing from our minds. We are far more likely to sulk or lash out with sarcasm and anger. Often, we recall past situations where the same person did or said something similar to us. When we do these things, we add fuel to our anger or hurt feelings and we distance ourselves from love.
Revenge and retaliation become the dominant thoughts. We can’t get to our mobile phone to call or send a text message fast enough. We’re determined to rally support from our friends or other family members. In short order, we have our “troops” gathered and our virtual heavy artillery aimed at the offending person or persons. We are ready to obliterate them from the face of the earth or at least make them suffer for their actions.
Guess what? The other person is probably going to react with sarcasm, anger or silence too. They might rally people around them who see things their way and of course, they will find them. Each side will dig in their heels and stand their ground. If this happens, it’s unlikely that either person will grasp the opportunity they have been given to develop a greater understanding of the other person, themselves and maybe get a glimpse of the true meaning of love.
Why do we react that way? What is really driving our response? It’s because underneath it all, when we refuse to forgive and let go of our reaction to the other person, we are acting out of fear. Fear that we are not loved, fear that we’ll be seen as weak, fear that they will “win”, fear that we’ll be abandoned, fear that we are not good enough, fear we’ll be taken advantage of, or simply fear of being hurt. So, we lash out and hurt them or push them away before they can hurt us.
A Course In Miracles tells us that only love is real and that fear is what exists when there is an absence of love. When we are fearful, love is absent.
Next time, before you react to another’s seemingly bad behavior, remind yourself that every action is either done to extend love or is a call for love. Ask yourself, in this situation, “Is this person extending love or asking for love?”
When someone we care about does or says something hurtful to us, he may in fact be seeking love. He may simply be going about it in a clumsy or strange way. If you set aside your own beliefs (fears) about the incident, take a step back and look at the other person’s actions through the eyes of love with a sincere intention to understand the other person, you just might hear their call for help. If you could hear that call for help/love, would that change your response to the comment or behavior? Are you going to punish or inflict further pain on someone who is already suffering or are you going to offer compassion and forgiveness?
When we extend forgiveness to another, we are not condoning bad behavior or letting them off the hook. We are letting go of our need to control the other person and we are releasing ourselves from carrying the burden of anger or resentment. We are choosing to see past whatever they did that upset us, so we can see the core goodness in that person. We are removing the self-imposed blinders of our ego. We are acknowledging to the other person that we know the offending behavior was out of the ordinary for them and that it is not the way they usually “show up” when they are interacting with us.
This does not mean that we must tolerate on-going bad behavior from others. There have been people in my life, who have shown me again and again that they choose not to exercise control over their emotions. Their “go to” method for dealing with difficult situations is to blame and strike out at others. These are the people that I have forgiven and released to walk their own paths. I wish them well and I remember them in my prayers. However, I either have no contact with them at all, or when avoiding them completely is not possible, I limit my contact and keep conversation to casual topics.
It does not require any effort to love people who are like us or do things the way we want them to do things. When we are challenged by another’s behavior or differences, it is an opportunity for us to open our hearts and minds just a little more. This is where real world change will take place, at the individual level, one person at a time.