Think about the love that one person has given to you some time in your life. That love is eternal. Love never dies. If your mother gave you love 20 years ago, that love is still here and you can appropriate it, experience it, feel it. If you think about it, the love that your deceased family members gave to you years ago is still right here with you. Even though they passed on in a physical sense, they have left something of the eternal with you, to draw upon whenever you wish.
Now think about the love you have given to others. That love is eternal. Your love never dies. Your actions have consequences for love that will be on this earth long after you are gone. If you hug a child today, that love, expressed in that hug, can be with that child 50 years from now. Something of you remains here on earth, something good.
Children should be prepared for this kind of thinking through forgiveness education, where they learn that all people have built-in or inherent worth. One expression of forgiveness, one of its highest expressions, is to love those who have not loved us. If we educate children in this way, then they may take the idea more seriously that the love given and received can continue……and continue. It may help them to take more seriously such giving and receiving of love. We need forgiveness education……now.
His eyes are still haunting me. A young man, back to a lamppost, cup in outstretched hand. Desperate eyes. “Please help me” he says without using words. People pass by as if he were invisible. I can tell that he knows others think he is invisible. The loneliness must be crushing. The desperation seems even worse.
I have to wonder what trauma in his life contributed to his being on this Belfast, Northern Ireland street at such a young and vulnerable age. Who convinced him that he is less than a person? He seems to believe that, but I am not sure. I do know with certainty that he is now feeling desperate and his life line is his cup and the passers-by who could extend a hand to his outstretched hand. And yet, he is invisible. Had those who were with him in childhood actually seen him and responded to him as a true, worthwhile person, would he be here now….like this….with a cup…..and eyes that cry out, “Help me!”?
All of us need to start training our eyes and hearts to see the desperate eyes and wounded hearts of those who are invisible.
You know how it goes. You go into a department store and have an unpleasant encounter with the person at checkout…..and you never go back there again. The particular incident has given you a bad feeling for the entire organization.
You break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend and, at least for a while, you think that no one really can be trusted. This one relationship makes you mistrustful of such relationships in general.
Generalization. It can help us when the generalization is true and can distort reality for us when false. For example, when we touch poison ivy in one woods, it is wise to avoid it in the next….and the next. The effects of poison ivy generalize regardless of which plant we touch. On the other hand, one boyfriend’s bad behavior does not predict another person’s behavior. In this case, generalization closes down our mind and heart when there is no need for this.
When you are hurt by someone, you have to be careful not to generalize this to many, most, or all others. Not everyone is out to hurt you. Such generalization can form the unhealthy foundation for a world view that is pessimistic and inaccurate. Has this happened to you?
If so, it is time to fight back against this. Try saying the following to yourself as a way to break the habit of a false view of others:
I have been wounded by another person. For today, I will not let his/her wounds make me a bitter person who thinks negatively about people in general. I will overcome any tendency toward this by seeing others as having special worth, not because of what they have done, but in spite of this. We are all on this planet together; we are all wounded. Not all are out to wound me.
We have given as best we can to schools in Belfast, Northern Ireland since the fall semester, 2002. The journey has been a challenging and delightful one. For us, from the United States, to make our way into the hearts of principals and teachers in an area of the world that has known contention was not easy. We were outsiders and they are looked on with some suspicion. “What is in it for you?” was the question asked of us at the beginning of this journey. We had at our side the wonderful Anne Gallagher, who opened school doors for us. She had been in the peace movement in Belfast for some years before us and so she gave us instant acceptance into the schools. Rest in peace, Anne.
It has been a joy to see principals, teachers, and students grow in their understanding and appreciation of the virtue of forgiveness, so needed to bind up the wounds of literally hundreds of years of strife.
I had the privilege of attending meetings and services in both the “maintained” and “controlled” schools during the Christmas season this year. The word “maintained” refers mostly to private schools that receive some government money. Students attending these schools are primarily Catholic. The word “controlled” refers mostly to what Americans call public schools that receive more government money. Students attending these schools are primarily, but not exclusively, Protestant.
In the Christmas services at the maintained and controlled schools there is a celebration of the deepest meaning of Christmas, not just about presents and good cheer. You see, those in each school share this common heritage, yet they do so separately because they lead separate lives.
Yet, there is something more here. As I walked through the streets of Belfast, especially once the sun would set (about 4:20pm), there was a kind of coziness to the city. “Merry Christmas, Belfast” is seen in blue lights that are strung across a busy street. Shops play Christmas music that is gently piped into the streets. One is surrounded by the Christmas spirit. This is so different from America in which there is a certain self-conscious embarrassment to share this Christmas spirit, as people on occasion mutter, “Happy holidays” in contrast to the exuberance and un-self-conscious joy that unites a city historically divided.
There is much hope for Belfast, I say to myself as I walk along the busy thoroughfares. They share more than a common heritage of conflict and contention. They actually do share the common heritage of peace and love and joy as well. A key now is for each side to begin seeing this common heritage, including the insight that this heritage honors each person as precious, unique, and irreplaceable. The message from forgiveness education is similar: We all have inherent worth no matter what our religion or cultural heritage….or historical contentions.
Merry Christmas, Belfast, no matter what your cultural and religious heritage is. May forgiveness be one of the important common heritages as people in the distant years to come look back on their city.
“As we continually live with love withdrawn from us and a resulting resentment (with the short-term consequences of thinking with a negative pattern, thinking specific condemning thoughts, and acting poorly), we can settle into a kind of long-term distortion of who the love-withdrawing person is, who we ourselves are, and who people are in general. The basic issue here is that once love is withdrawn from us, we can begin to withdraw a sense of worth toward the one who hurt us. The conclusion is that he or she is worth-less. Over time, we can drift into the dangerous conclusion, ‘I, too, am worthless.’ After all, others have withdrawn love from me and have concluded that I lack worth, therefore I do lack worth. Even later, we can drift into the unhealthy conclusion that there is no love in the world and so no one really has any worth, thus everyone is worth-less.” Excerpt from the book, The Forgiving Life, Chapter 1.