Thursday, August 18, 2011

Responsibility, Forgiveness, Pride

Its funny how there are times in life when so many different things suddenly come to a head at once--sometimes you see it coming, sometimes you don't. But occasionally, all the little things that have been bubbling up around you, perhaps for years, all boil over at once.

It can be kind of exhausting.

A lot of recent events, and the various ways in which people have responded to them, have caused me to think a lot about personal responsibility, pride, and forgiveness.

I am convinced that much more of human pain is caused by myopia--I want what I want and it hasn't really occurred to me how that might affect you (or I'm in denial about how that might affect you)--than by outright malice. But something I heard several months ago at a meeting has really stuck with me: "Whether you shove me off of a 10-story building, or accidentally bump me off a 10-story building, the results for me are the same." Whether we intend to or not, sometimes through our selfishness or shortsightedness or weakness, we hurt other people and we have to take responsibility for that.

And when we fail to take responsibility for those actions, directly and personally, it is not unforgiving or mean-spirited of the injured party to establish some healthy boundaries. If we have caused them pain or difficulty and refuse to directly acknowledge that, much less make any efforts to change the behavior that caused the problem, it would be foolish of the individual that we wronged to allow us such closeness to them again. Should they continually regard us with anger, or view cynically any sincere attempts on our part to change, then they are guilty of being unforgiving. But so long as they retain a sincere hope that we can change, and embrace genuine efforts to do so, they are entitled to a bit of distance--once broken, trust must be earned back.

Personally, I've never understood why it so difficult to simply say to another person, "I was wrong, I'm sorry. And I'll try to be better." It can be embarrassing, and it can be painful, but life is so much harder and lonelier when we refuse to do the right thing. I've seen people be unwilling to admit that they had done wrong because it was just too big--the weight of their transgression was so overwhelming that they felt if they accepted the responsibility in that overt way, it would just crush them. How ironic that its just the opposite, in reality.

The Savior offers us the Atonement. We can't fix it on our own. Sometimes it is too big to lug around all our own, and it will slowly crush us if not addressed. Some mistakes are just too big to mend for ourselves. But he says that we bring to him a "broken heart and a contrite spirit" and asks that we "take [his] yoke upon us" for his yoke is easy, and "[his] burden is light".

A broken heart is pretty painful and terrible. Broken hearts are almost always the result of sin--our own, or others, but usually a combination of both. Sacrificing that pride, letting go of it and submitting our will to another, is often difficult and painful--at first. It is very natural to want to do things our own way, and we loathe relinquishing that. But if we bring with that broken heart a contrite spirit--a genuine desire to do and be better, by obeying his will--something rather marvelous begins to happen: our will changes. Less and less do we have to submit our will to His, because more and more our will becomes the same as His. We find greater joy, and consequently grow a greater trust for the Lord, and our will becomes simply a desire to enact his will. The Lord, as any loving parent, wants us to be happy. Sometimes he asks us to do difficult things, but he never asks us to do things that will make us miserable. I'm sure it pains him to see his children suffering and miserable--that's exactly why he worked the Atonement.

When we are willing to turn to the Atonment, our burden becomes light because the Savior takes upon himself all those foolish, selfish or wrong-headed things we do. We place that burden on his back, and we no longer have to lug around a broken heart. Pain and guilt are very heavy burdens to carry. When we come to him, and in turn to others we may have wronged and hurt, and humbly acknowledge that we have gone astray, and sincerely try to do better, he carries that burden for us.

That seems like such a simple thing, "a broken heart and a contrite spirit". However, letting go of our pride, and having that initial confrontation with ourselves before the Lord and those we've hurt, where we have to stare straight into that bruised and broken heart and feel that godly sorrow, seems so difficult that many people avoid it, trading it instead for a life of heavy, ever-growing burdens. So often, we insist on doing things "my way", refusing to submit our will, and then, in a strange twist, we often blame the Lord for our difficulties. We become bitter that he seems to be punishing us, when, in fact, he isn't punishing us at all. We are simply living out the natural consequences of foolish mortal choices. Our perspective is so limited by worldly distractions that, even with the best of intentions, it is difficult (if not impossible) to make the wisest possible choice without the Lord's guidance. But we must seek that guidance; he will not usurp our agency.

I've seen people sacrifice jobs, friends, even families and marriages, anything but their pride. And I don't understand it. Oh sure, I understand making a spouse or a child or a friend or myself miserable for a day or two because I didn't want to admit that I was wrong, or simply didn't realize that I was wrong. But I don't understand it as a manner of living--I don't understand how someone spends day after day angry and lonely and miserable, when the key to joy is right there. Why carry that burden when there is someone who has willingly offered to do it for you?

I've reflected a fair amount lately on the life of the apostle Paul. There was no worse tormentor of the early Church, but when the Lord appeared and rebuked him, there was no hesitation, no attempt at justification or obfuscation. He responded, simply and sincerely, "lord, what wilt thou have me do?" And when the Lord told him, he went and did without hesitation, and did so for the rest of his life. His was not a life most would generally view as "easy", and yet I'm sure that for all the tumult around him and the challenges he faced, Paul was at peace, that he felt, more often than not, that his burden was light. I'm sure that he had joy. When he realized that he was wrong, he made no excuses, and he didn't hide from it. In the face of his sins, he humbly changed his entire life, before both his former allies and his former enemies, by placing his sins, transgressions and hurts on the Lord's shoulders, and then spent the rest of his life zealously teaching others how to do the same.

In that, there is joy.

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