by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.
Every Easter Sunday, I’m reminded of a lesson I learned well over 20 years ago. This was a lesson that taught me how to forgive and, in the many years since, showed me the power of forgiveness to transform a relationship completely and permanently.
My neighbor had an “I know best” attitude on everything, and frequently shared his unwanted viewpoints with me. I found him opinionated and arrogant. You might be wondering why I couldn’t just ignore him or not associate with him. Well, he was a relative, and avoiding him was impossible.
One warm and sunny spring Saturday — the day before Easter Sunday — he finally overstepped his bounds one too many times, and I accused him of such. He staunchly defended his behavior with his own angry outpouring of accusations. The scene ended with hurt feelings on both sides. I walked away in tears, ready to pack up and move far away, much to my husband’s dismay. I felt he had spoken to me in such a way that was unforgivable and irreconcilable, and I could see no other alternative.
As I said, it was the day before Easter Sunday. When Sunday morning arrived, I welcomed the opportunity to get away from the ranch (and my neighbor) for a few hours.
Have you ever attended church and felt like the sermon was directed right at you?
The sermon, of course, was all about Christ Jesus — his enemies crucifying him, his friends deserting him. The fact that he never stopped loving — friend or foe— astounded me. I sat awestruck and humbled. Jesus made forgiveness look natural and easy. In fact, he instructed, “If ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them” (Luke 6:32).
Clearly, Jesus intimately knew divine Love — and this knowledge healed and transformed the lives of multitudes. His life proved love’s power over hate, violence, apathy and fear. And Jesus’ love enabled him to conquer death and the grave. His unconditional love enabled him to forgive all those who directed evil at him.
Love for my neighbor was most definitely missing from my heart. I was full of self-righteousness as I justified my actions and feelings toward him. Now, sitting there listening to how Jesus loved even his enemies, I asked myself: Where was my love? I suddenly had a deep desire to love as Jesus loved. So, I prayed to stop judging and critiquing this man’s every action and word. And I forgave him.
Here’s the thing. As I forgave, I felt free from the effects of another’s wrong intentions. Forgiving wasn’t erasing history or exonerating. But forgiving was relinquishing the destructive power of anger that would have continued to imprison me and determine my actions, thoughts and words. I wasn’t putting the heavy baggage of another’s bad behavior on my back. Forgiveness dared me to imagine a better future with my neighbor — one that was based on the blessed possibility that my hurt would not be the final word on the matter.
Yes, by the end of that Sunday service, I was feeling nothing but compassion and love for him. The power of Christly love and forgiveness filled my heart and replaced my hurt. I felt resurrected from anger and self-justification that had prevented me from seeing a solution. I knew I could choose a new basis for my relationship with my neighbor grounded in unconditional love, understanding and gentle communication.
I wanted to learn more about love, the unconditional love God gives all His children. I felt like I had gained a glimpse of what Christ Jesus referred to as the second great commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Mark 12:31).
I returned home from that Easter church service transformed and later that day received an apology from my neighbor. I apologized, too. We made a mutual commitment to promote harmony. And, you know, I can’t recall harsh words between us in the 25 years we’ve been neighbors since.
Forgiveness may be the most powerful step that people, and even nations, can take to bring about transformation, progress and growth. Forgiveness can change our world.
by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.
“You are your own worst enemy,” my mamma told me many times in my life. And she was right. She rarely had to punish me when I did something wrong because I did a good enough job punishing myself. My guilt-ridden conscience would unleash a floodtide of remorse and anguish over my mistakes and shortcomings. I have often found it easier to forgive others than to forgive myself.
Certainly, condemnation by another person is hard to swallow and contend with, but self-condemnation can be even more difficult to bear and is destructive. In self-condemnation, we condemn ourselves by our own harsh judgment. We condemn our failure to do or be something we feel we should do or be. The trap we too easily fall into, however, is that we incorrectly think self-condemnation is the same as self-examination or self-knowledge. So, we either avoid examining ourselves and gaining the insight that helps us change and grow, or we stay so focused on our past failings that we can’t move beyond them and progress into a lesson well learned.
The horrific events at Virginia Tech continue to tug at the hearts of our nation, and especially the students. My own heart shuddered when I heard a discussion on how individuals who experience traumatic events often struggle with guilt. This guilt was not only described as survivors’ guilt but also guilt for actions not taken. This type of guilt would make one believe that their lack of action was responsible for, or at least contributed to, the endangerment of others.
Dear students, please don’t walk down the crippling path of such self-condemnation. It is a dead-end road that serves no good purpose and definitely does not help or heal. It’s a road you can only drive in reverse; it will never take you forward.
I’m reminded of my own college days. I wasn’t faced with a troubled student like Cho Seung-hui, who decided to take the lives of many fellow students before taking his own. I was, however, faced with two individuals who committed suicide, an individual who stalked me and another who sexually harassed me. In each case I felt guilty, wondering what might have happened if I had responded or acted differently.
Twice, I had conversations with individuals who took their own lives a couple of days later, and I accused myself of not saying what I should have or could have said or of saying something I should not have said. I rebuked myself for not expressing my concern or fear to anyone.
My answer to being stalked was to change jobs and move, rather than to report the person to the police. Nor did I turn in the professor who tried to sell a good exam grade for sexual favors. For years, I struggled with guilt, wondering if my non-actions resulted in other lives harmed. My stalker and harasser never made local or national news, but that didn’t lessen my self-condemnation.
It was a fresh read of the story about Jesus and the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11) that taught me I could love and forgive myself, and it showed me how. I had always viewed this account as a lesson about condemning others — “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.” The Pharisees are portrayed as arrogant — presenting themselves as judge and jury for this woman and obviously considering themselves impeccably qualified to do so. But they are soon convicted by their own self-condemnation.
It was the end of the story that brought home to me a life-altering lesson — a lesson on loving and forgiving myself in spite of my failings. Jesus addresses the woman, “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?” She answers, “No one, Master.” Then Jesus says, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
If Jesus didn’t condemn her, then neither should she condemn herself. And I saw this was true for me, too. It told me I could continue my life journey, learning from the many lessons along the way and doing my best to not repeat mistakes.
We live and act in the present. We make decisions to the best of our ability based upon our knowledge and values at the present moment. We may not always make the best choices. And sometimes we totally fail in our judgment. But the paradox is that in failure, we change. The important question is more about how we handle and react to failures.
Hindsight fuels condemnation and never helps us improve our life right now — mostly because in hindsight we can only look at the past and judge the past, never the present or future. I now see that the only view that can help us in the present and give us hope and promise for the future is God’s point of view.
And it’s His view that helps us gain self-knowledge. The fact is, the better we know ourselves, the better we can know and understand others, too. Self-knowledge is an awareness of the self that God sees in us — good and worthwhile, made in His image and likeness. This spiritual understanding helps us discern the self God created and helps us discover our potential and fulfill our life purpose. God has given us the ability to be everything He created us to be, and this includes making good and wise decisions.
A loving and forgiving God asks us to do the same for others and for ourselves. So, we must give ourselves a break from time to time on this life journey. We can’t change the past, but we can keep learning how to do a better job living the present, and we can alter the path of our future. Self-knowledge — not self-condemnation — will keep us from repeating mistakes and enable us to put to good practice the lessons learned.
by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.
There’s something about Easter.
Maybe it’s a time for ending? A time to let go of long-harbored anger and hurt.
Perhaps a time for beginning? A time to make new friends, exchange marriage vows or explore new opportunities, new career goals, follow new dreams.
Or maybe it’s a time for renewing? A time to resurrect relationships fallen by the wayside.
One Easter long ago became a time for me to learn about forgiveness and love. The kind of love so beautifully exemplified by Christ Jesus life example. A love that is powerful enough to heal and transform lives. He showed that love is stronger than hate, violence, apathy and fear. Jesus made forgiveness look natural and easy. I have not always found it so. Yet Christ Jesus instructed, “If ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them.”
Others have given insightful instruction on love and forgiveness. Mother Theresa advised, “If we really want to love, we must learn to forgive.” Alexander Pope declared, “To err is human; to forgive, Divine.” And Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “Love your enemies, or you will not lose them; and if you love them, you will help to reform them.”
So what about forgiveness? How can it be natural and easy to forgive someone who has caused hurt, pain, disappointment? And why should I forgive, especially when I am the innocent one and justified in my anger, hatred, and resentment?
A neighbor spoke to me in such a way that I thought was unforgivable. The entire event revolved around what appeared to be an on-going irreconcilable situation. The only obvious solution was to move. Something I really did not want to do. Thus, my dilemma. It was the Saturday before Easter Sunday.
Have you ever attended a church service and felt like the sermon was directed right at you?
I sat there listening to readings about Christ Jesus, his enemies crucifying him, his friends deserting him and yet…he forgave them all, he never stopped loving – friend or foe. I longed to love in such a way. I thought perhaps it was his love that enabled him to conquer death and the grave and all the evil that had been directed at him and inflicted upon him. I can only say there came a moment during that Easter service when I felt nothing but compassion and yes, love for the one who had wronged me.
Mary Baker Eddy in her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, describes the “universal solvent of love” as what’s needed to dissolve self-justification. I had certainly swallowed a big dose of that! I had been focused on being justified in my reactions and in being “right”. Consequently, love was nowhere to be found in my heart or in my reasoning.
And here’s the thing. As I forgave, I felt free from the effects of another’s evil intent. Forgiving wasn’t erasing history or exonerating. But forgiving was relinquishing the destructive power of anger that would have continued to imprison me and determine my actions, thoughts and words. I wasn’t putting the heavy baggage of another’s evil behavior on my back. Forgiveness dared me to imagine a better future. One that was based on the blessed possibility that my hurt would not be the final word on the matter.
I returned from that Easter church service transformed and later that day received an apology from my neighbor. We made a mutual commitment to make things more harmonious. And so they have been. Never again were harsh words spoken. We’ve been neighbors for over twenty years now. I have continued to learn more about love. The kind of unconditional love that God gives to all his children. And what Christ Jesus referred to as the second great commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
I am now convinced that forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. And furthermore, that forgiveness may be the most powerful step that people, and even nations, can take to bring about transformation, progress and growth. So most definitely….Easter is a time for forgiveness. A time for love.
by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.
I fell in love with John while standing in line for an amusement park ride. City girl meets country boy. Seven months later, we married. I had found my Mr. Right.
But soon I found out he thought his first name was “Always.”
He always knew best—where we should live, what we could spend money on, what we would do for fun. My opinion didn’t seem important. Compromise? Not an option.
We immediately moved into the old farmhouse John’s parents owned on their Texas ranch—and right next door to my in-law’s brand-new house. As resentment built in my marriage, my hatred of our home grew.
We rarely had an amicable discussion about how to spend our finances. With John as the primary breadwinner, I often felt I didn’t have a say in how we spent our money.
I’d end up in tears of frustration.
I thought he showed little appreciation for the work I did in the home. He dropped his dirty clothes on the floor by the hamper. He left his coats and shoes wherever he took them off. I’d often end up in tears of frustration as I cleaned up after him time and time again.
I also became increasingly frustrated with living on a ranch, far from the city activities I liked. Going dancing or out to the movies became extra-special treats. And when I suggested these outings, John showed little interest.
I often resented his absence.
Years passed with me spending a lot of long days caring for our young daughter while John worked equally long hours at his construction job, an hour’s drive from home. I appreciated his hard work, but I often resented his absence.
Eventually, I realized I didn’t like the person I had become—the critical, angry, quick-to-judge person. Maybe my husband had room for improvement, but was I really so perfect?
I did love my husband. We spent many happy family moments together. John and our daughter, Jennifer, developed a close relationship. He always took time to talk to her—especially during the long drives to her weekly dance classes. And he taught her to appreciate the outdoors and to fish—so well that Jennifer can outfish him now. When she was older, she used to cook our supper while John and I took care of the ranch chores.
I began to see how disconnected I’d become from my spiritual identity I learned about during years attending Christian Science Sunday school. I had learned about a loving, wise, forgiving God—and as a child of God, I reflect those attributes.
I wanted to be a new “me.”
I had also learned that if I wasn’t happy with the way I viewed myself, I could pray to see myself as God’s reflection and start afresh without guilt or self-condemnation.
I wanted to be a new “me” and toss out the “grouchy me.” I wanted to love. To feel love. To think lovingly. To be loving. Could I do this? Could I love in spite of my circumstances or surroundings? Could I love in spite of how I was treated? Could I love first?
A statement Mary Baker Eddy wrote in the chapter on “Prayer” in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures gave me renewed hope: “Desire is prayer; and no loss can occur from trusting God with our desires that they may be moulded and exalted before they take form in words and in deeds.”
Since I have always believed in the power of prayer to transform and heal, I found great comfort in the idea that prayer based on good desires can lead to healing results. I took my desire to be a more loving “me” to God in prayer.
I turned to the Bible to see what Jesus taught.
I started by looking for an example of a truly loving person—someone I could emulate. Jesus came to mind first. So I turned to the Bible to see what he taught about love and also to examine his relationships with others. I found lessons of forgiveness and unconditional love for both friend and foe. In awe, I wondered if I could truly love this way.
Then I came across Paul’s definition of love in his letters to the Corinthians. Every line defined love in a different way. Patient. Kind. Not proud. Not self-seeking. Not easily angered. Keeps no record of wrongs. Always protects. Trusts. Hopes. Perseveres. (See full reference below.)
Well, I didn’t change overnight, but I took these ideas to heart and worked through several years of progress, prayer and tender lessons. Eventually, though, it hit me. Truly, God is Love. The source of love. And my husband and I are children of Love. We both are unique and individual expressions of this Love.
Love is a choice.
But even more, love is a choice. Jesus chose to love. And I too could choose to love. Besides, as a child of Love, how could I not be loving, act lovingly, think lovingly?
With love as my center, it became very natural to choose patience instead of frustration. Empathy instead of criticism. Joy instead of sadness. Peace of mind instead of anger. Trust instead of doubt. Forgiveness instead of condemnation.
Tears and resentment disappeared along the way. Looking back on these years, my husband commented to a friend, “I realize it was tough for Annette in the beginning—living near my parents and in the country. There was some friction between us, but Annette worked through it with prayer. She became more tolerant, well-adjusted, less judgmental—and I hope I did, too.”
I enjoy the time I spend with my husband.
As I began to realize and appreciate John’s goodness—and the goodness of our home—my perceptions changed. Our communications grew into a sweet interchange of openness and respect.
Today we still live in the same house on the ranch, but I love it now. And I enjoy the time I spend with my husband, regardless of what we’re doing.
In fact, now I find my reactions to everyone around me come from my desire to love more and to think lovingly. I want to love. I choose to love.
John and I will be celebrating our 24th anniversary in March. I can honestly say we share a mutual consideration, thoughtfulness and tenderness for each other’s needs and feelings. I have an equal say in how we spend our money and our time—and now we go to movies or out to dinner weekly. John even joins me for the annual Nutcracker ballet.
So what about my Mr. Right? I’ve found him.
Gratitude and forgiveness
by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.
My husband John and I lived with our 3-year-old daughter Jennifer just a stone’s throw away from my in-law’s house on the family cattle ranch. Jennifer spent nearly every day with her grandparents and I wanted them to be part of her life. But their proximity suffocated me at times. After four years of daily exposure to my father-in-law’s “I know best” attitude, my resentment was building up. I found him opinionated, arrogant and domineering. Especially concerning my daughter. And this time things went too far.
It was a warm and sunny spring Saturday—the day before Easter Sunday. Jennifer busied herself building sand castles in our fenced-in back yard. I helped with the building until the phone rang. I stood at the back door where I had a clear view of Jennifer while I talked.
My father-in-law arrived and took Jennifer off with him.
In the middle of my call, I watched as Pa-Pa, my father-in-law, suddenly arrived (he didn’t see me) and took Jennifer off with him without letting me know. Mind you, they often went for walks to pet the cows and feed the ducks and catfish on the farm, which delighted Jennifer. But his actions infuriated me. How could he take her without asking? After all, I’m Jennifer’s mother—I’m the boss here.
So later that day I confronted my father-in-law. I accused him of overstepping his bounds and disrespecting my authority. He staunchly defended his behavior with his own angry outpouring of accusations. The scene ended with hurt feelings on both sides. I walked away in tears, ready to pack up and move far away.
But I knew moving wouldn’t solve my problems. In retrospect, I think I wanted to find ways to prove him wrong—to assert my authority over his. And being the mother of his granddaughter seemed the only avenue I had for establishing my position in the family and gaining some respect for my viewpoints.
I welcomed the opportunity to get away.
Easter Sunday came. I welcomed the opportunity to get away from the ranch for a few hours. I had recently started attending church again and I loved the way I felt there: accepted, welcomed, unconditionally loved. But I dreaded coming home. I knew my in-laws would have Easter goodies for Jennifer and would want to come over. What would I say? How would I act? How could I face my father-in-law again?
In church, I listened to Christ Jesus’ life story. The meaning behind his teachings, his enemies crucifying him, his friends deserting him and the fact that he never stopped loving—friend or foe—astounded me. I sat awe-struck and humbled.
Clearly, Jesus intimately knew divine Love—and this knowledge healed and transformed lives. His life proved love’s power over hate, violence, apathy and fear. He instructed, “If ye love them who love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.” Jesus’ love enabled him to conquer death and the grave; his unconditional love enabled him to forgive all the evil directed at him.
Mary Baker Eddy, in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, describes the “universal solvent of Love” as what’s needed to dissolve stubborn self-justification. I was certainly full of self-righteousness as I justified my actions and feelings toward my father-in-law. But through my study of Christian Science I knew the question I needed to ask was: where was the love?
I prayed to stop judging.
That Easter Sunday service left me humbled. I prayed to stop judging and critiquing my father-in-law’s every action and word. And I had a deep desire to love as Jesus loved.
Then, toward the end of the service, I began to feel nothing but compassion and yes, love, for my father-in-law. The power of Christly love and forgiveness filled my heart and replaced the hurt.
I felt resurrected from the destructive power of anger that had prevented me from seeing a solution. I knew I could choose a new basis for my relationship with my father-in-law—one based on unconditional love, understanding and gentle communication. The day took on a whole new meaning for me. I now looked forward to returning home.
I welcomed my in-laws when they arrived with their gifts for Jennifer and we spent a lovely afternoon together. As they departed, my father-in-law embraced me and, kissing my neck, apologized for what he had said. I said, “Me, too.” (My husband remarked later that he’d never seen his father apologize like that before.)
We made a mutual commitment to promoting harmony. And, you know, I can’t recall harsh words between us in the 25 years we’ve been neighbors since.
I have continued to learn more about love.
I have continued to learn more about love, the unconditional love God gives all His children. Also what Christ Jesus referred to as the second great commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
These words by Mary Baker Eddy recently reminded me of my Easter lesson:
“You must yield your obedience to God, give up your own will, love your enemies, do them good instead of resent or revenge wrongs…and rest in peace, for all things will work together for good to them that love Good.”
Forgiveness comes with Love’s help