Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

July 22, 2013

Searching for the right phrase can lead to unexpected destinations

About a week ago, I was so upset about something that I went to sleep thinking about it and woke up the next morning still thinking about it. I’m not going to say what it was because that wouldn’t serve any purpose. However, after thinking about it a lot, I decided that it makes absolutely no sense for me to waste another minute of my life being upset about that one thing or anything else, for that matter.

I started working on a catch phrase that might help me through times of trouble and came up with this: “God grant me the grace to forgive.” I have been forgiven in my life for things that I haven’t truly forgiven myself for, but I understand the peace that comes from that forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily clear the runway for take-off on a life of future devastation. Yet, forgiveness is not contingent upon reciprocating in any way. Forgiveness isn’t a “Get out of jail free” card. Forgiveness is a “Get on with your life” card.

Forgiveness is like the home that Robert Frost wrote about in his 1915 poem, “Death of the Hired Man.” During the conversation between a man and his wife, Mary, the wife said that Silas, the hired man had come home to die. When her husband, Warren, mocked her use of the term “home,” she responded that: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Mary continued: “I should have called it something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”

I spent a few days refining my line about forgiveness, trying to get it set in my mind like the lyrics of a song. At first, I tried versions that were more wordy and elaborate, but I realized that if I got swept up in the language of my new mantra, it would glimmer like sunlight splashing on water and fly away. In the end, I settled on the seven words, and decided to try to make them work for me in my life. In some ways, I was becoming too brittle to seek or give forgiveness. I have experienced true forgiveness in my life, so I know how good it feels. But still, it was difficult to let go of some of the burdens that have shadowed my soul for decades or more.

I mumbled the expression the first time I tried to use it, and it was easy to use self-deprecating humor to cover my uncertainty like leaves and twigs over an unmarked, shallow grave. But just because I failed on my first time out, that doesn’t mean that the concept didn’t still shine as brightly as the beacon of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The idea of replacing forgiveness for hate gave me a new warmth in my heart. It seemed such a simple notion, but I knew in my heart that I had been drifting away from that place where peace and harmony thrived.

I got the chance to use those words when I was talking with five students of Appalachian Teen Challenge. They shared their stories of how a self-destructive lifestyle had led them into personal horrors that pushed them close to death’s doorstep. Somehow, a door opened for them in life that would carry them on a path to Appalachian Teen Challenge, and their journey continues. Like a binary computer circuit, life is a series of choices. One series of choices can lead nowhere while another series of choices can lead to miraculous discoveries.

The Teen Challenge students listened to me when I spoke. Since I’m in the business of listening, I have noticed that fewer people seem to be listening to anything. It’s like people have a notion in their minds and when I ask a question about what they have said, or add an observation designed to steer their response in a different direction, they stay the course of their initial response without deviation. These kids were listeners. I suppose that’s part of what the students learn at Teen Challenge. I could never emphasize the importance of listening enough.

So, standing with a group of young people from Teen Challenge, the perfect time came up to use my phrase. One young lady spoke of her anger when she first arrived at Teen Challenge, and I told the story of being upset about an issue that stayed with me through the night. I said that I came up with the saying: “God grant me the grace to forgive,” and added another thought: “Forgiveness of others is one of the steps on the path to forgiving yourself.”

Jim Nickels, my friend of many years told me to preach on, but I had said what I needed to say and it was time for me to start listening again. It’s not always easy to turn the other cheek and forgive, but I can think of how a simple act like that could have avoided some of the major problems that plague us as a society today.

Bill Archer is the Daily Telegraph’s senior editor. Contact him at barchar@bdtonline.com

 

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