Thursday, November 29, 2012

When it Comes to Forgiveness, Seek First to Understand

I'm not certain why it caught my attention, nor do I recall where I saw the words, but it has remained with me for several days now:

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

The meaning behind such simple words has been indelibly marked into my soul over most of my life, at first like an etching made with a pocketknife into a piece of wood, only growing deeper with the passing years. The desire to be understood by others is a hallmark of humanity, of our individuality. To know someone cares enough about who we are and why we think the way we do can be marvelously affirming. It gives substance to the inner thoughts and ideas we constantly carry around in our heads. Indeed these ideas, beliefs, or whatever else may be roaming around in the confines of our minds, when validated or dismissed by someone other than our self, will form so much of who we become as more years go by.

One little act by another person, to put aside one's own ego long enough to discover what makes another person tick, can change lives. While we appreciate the effort someone takes in understanding us, we must strive to do the same for them. Do not ask someone to do for you, what you are not willing to do for them.

It seems like such a simple task, doesn't it? The recent election for president of the United States would certainly not lend toward such thinking. Instead it shows what too many of us are apt to do - assert our own beliefs, citing our reasons for insisting our way is the best way, but not taking the time to listen to the beliefs of others when those beliefs contradict our own. Nor do we want to hear why they think the way they do.

It's not only in politics that we see this happen. It can occur within any relationship we experience. Sometimes we are at fault, not taking the time to understand where others are coming from. Other times we are the ones who suffer because someone else refuses to understand.

This was me just a few days ago. What I am about to share with you is not done in the hopes of wanting to hurt another person - I won't share any specific details, nor is it to find validation for my own side in this, but rather my hope it to share why the above quote seemed to have been given to me as a reminder of why I should, and can, forgive this woman. Because I understand where she is coming from.

My friendship with this woman has never been an easy one. It is, for the most part, one sided. I have had to put up barriers once before, but as she appeared to have many good things happening and had a much happier countenance I thought we could give being friends another try. For a while it went well. We attended the temple a couple of times together. We chatted at church as well as online. From my point of view life for her appeared to be a happy one.

I got sick over this last weekend. It's just a cold, but one that refuses to go away. While I'd been a bit better on Monday, Tuesday I was miserably exhausted. Around 11:30 in the morning I fell back to sleep and didn't wake up until around three in the afternoon. I received a message from this woman saying she showed up around 2, knocked and knocked and knocked but I never answered, tried calling but I didn't answer, and she was clearly upset with me.

The thing is, I had no idea we were supposed to get together. I looked back over our messages and saw that she had, indeed, asked to drop by at 2, but her words indicated she was just going to drop something off. I wrote back, apologizing, explaining that I was sick, and asked why she didn't leave the item inside the screen door.

Her answer the next morning floored me. She accused me of several things, all of which were simply not true. I was hurt in ways that are impossible to describe, especially when she had never indicated anything was wrong. I spent the rest of the day crying, contemplating, and praying. By the end of the day a few things had come to my mind.

First, the Lord helped me to understand why she said everything she said. In every accusation, in every word of reproach, I saw where she was coming from. In her mind the things she said were just and true.

Second, though we may see some of what is going on in the lives of others, we do not know everything. This woman has fantasized what my life must be like, and has somehow made herself believe I can make her life better. She does not know my joys and heartaches, my daily triumphs and struggles, nor my priorities. She cannot comprehend why I place certain people at the forefront, while others must take a back seat.

At the same time I do not know all of what she struggles with. I am not in her head, nor her heart. I cannot begin to comprehend what hardships caused her to feel as though taking it out on me was okay. And that's something I simply need to understand, even if I don't always like it.

Third, forgiving someone their trespasses against you comes from seeking first to understand where they are coming from. When we can do that, we release their tight grip on our conscience, and allow the Lord to step in and replace the hurt.

And fourth, forgiving someone does not have to mean lying back down to be a door mat for them again. I don't know what it'll be like to see this woman on Sunday. I haven't decided if I'll talk to her on the off chance she approaches me. Though I understand enough to forgive her, I know for my own sake I need to keep her at more of a distance, at least until my heart has healed enough to know where to go from here.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Eight words given to me this week by my Lord to help me through a difficult situation. I am grateful for His loving hand in my life.

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