Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Forgiving My Parents, Myself, and - God?

One of the remarkable things about parenthood is how much of the guilt is self-inflicted.  Annie and Jude seldom make complaints (for the time being, anyway); so Bek and I are left with the awesome reality that we are shaping these little lives each day in ways that they don't get to choose and which, we know from our own experiences, will leave them with inevitable wounds and scars that will need God's healing.  I remember Rebekah pausing at one point in our courtship (yes, courtship) - she wanted to continue growing closer together, but she was filled with this terrible panic at the thought that to continue to grow closer would mean that she would hurt me. Not on purpose, of course, but she knew that that's just how real life intimacy works.

Sam Wells writes about wounds, scars, intimacies and their outcomes when, in Be Not Afraid, he reflects on life and dying:  "Few of us can honestly say our lives turned out as we had hope or expected."

Wells goes on to point out that the logical next step in the face of this truth is blame - either of others or ourselves.  The most common "other" is probably our parents (thus my opening reflection on my own guilt as a parent); but Wells points out that forgiving ourselves is no less significant, and it probably the single greatest obstacle to a good death - that is - to  trusting God with patience and courage even when few of us can honestly say that our lives turned out as we had hoped or expected.

The last few days on the blog have focused on public forgiveness-seeking, and I wanted to share a brief story that represents a variation on this theme for me: the tremendous grace over the weekend of Jude's baptism when I witnessed Rebekah's grandfather talking openly about his own life as a parent.  Of himself and his wife as parents, he said simply, "We did the best we could."  There was no self-deprecation, despairing resignation, or lingering regret in his voice. "We did the best we could," he said, and it was the voice of one who had forgiven himself.  His tone was a public witness that serves as a daily reminder to me in my own life as a parent.

"You cannot choose your parents," one book says.  Which meant my NBA career was over before it started.  You weren't going to get 6' 9" from my gene pool.  Whether by biology or sin, most of us bear what we interpret as shortcomings that we can trace to our parents.  If we can't, our children can.  As Wells is right to point out, some of these shortcomings simply reflect our own unrealistic expectations and self-deceptions regarding the lives we'd hoped to live.  Can we forgive our parents?  Is forgiving our parents the first step to forgiving ourselves?  Where does God fit into the rhythm of forgiveness, especially if God's forgiving me doesn't mean that I will necessarily follow suit and do the same?

In his profound and poignant memoir, Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me, Ian Morgan Cron writes about a church service he attended, full of testimonies, and his gut response to the other people's stories:

I thought I'd gag if I had to hear one more story of Jesus answering someone's prayer.  I want to jump to my feet and say, 'Hi everyone.  My name is Ian.  When I was a boy I loved Jesus, but I begged him to help me a million times and he never showed up.  I prayed that my father would stop drinking, but that didn't happen either.  If you were God and a kid asked you for that, wouldn't you give it to him?  So you can sing another chorus of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" but you're complete morons if you think it's true.'

Cron goes on to describe a vision, then a voice, that found him after the breaking of the Eucharistic bread.  The voice was clear: "Forgive me, Ian."

Years later, he asked a trusted friend: "Miss Annie, is it wrong for me to believe it was Jesus who asked my forgiveness?"

Cron, again:

She frowned and shook her head, 'Lord, what do they teach you at that school?' she said.  Then she faced me head-on.  'Did God humble himself by becoming a man?' she asked, every word spoken more loudly that the one before.

'Yes, ma'am,' I said.  I'd never used the word ma'am before, but it seemed an excellent time to start.

'Did he humble himself by dying on the cross to show us how much he loved us?' she asked, waving her spatula at me.

My eyes widened and I nodded, yes.

Miss Annie's body relaxed, and she put her hand on her hip.  'So why wouldn't Jesus humble himself and tell a boy he was sorry for letting him down if he knew it would heal his heart?' she asked.

'But if Jesus is perfect - '

Miss Annie ambled the five or six feet that separated us and took my hand. 'Son,' she said, rubbing my knuckles with her thumb, 'love always stoops.'

Love always stoops.  The rhythm of forgiveness.  Can we forgive our parents?  Is forgiving our parents the first step to forgiving ourselves?  Is it the other way around?  In places of unrelenting hurt, dare we ask for the strength and grace to forgive God?  Dare we believe that love would stoop like that for us?

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