ex·cuse n. (k-skys)
1. An explanation offered to justify or obtain forgiveness.
(from The Free Dictionary)
I have tended to be hard on myself when I catch myself offering excuses for my behavior. I think of excuses as attempts to justify bad behavior by refusing to take responsibility for my actions. I still catch myself doing that more often than I’d like, but I’m really working on trying to own up to my mistakes and accept responsibility for my choices and my actions. I think this is a good thing and a sign of continued growth and maturity.
But it also has a dark side.
I attended a gathering of a faith community yesterday during which we explored the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Having grown up in the church, this is a story that I know well. The emphasis is normally on the response of the father in the story to the return of the prodigal and the complete forgiveness, acceptance, and joy that is expressed at his homecoming.
There are ways that I can relate to the prodigal son, and I am humbled and grateful anew every time I hear the story at the welcoming response of the father. There is not a single “I told you so,” not a single lecture, no accusations or reminders of mistakes, just an open-hearted and open-armed welcome filled with love and joy.
But the character I have always most related to in the story is the older brother. I have an overly wide streak of the judgmental, self-righteous, play-by-the-rules older brother who believes that acceptance and reward should be based solely on what one earns. I work hard at obeying all of the rules trying to be deserving enough, and it riles me when I see someone who did as they pleased be treated with as much or more reward. I’m not a bit proud of this part of myself, but I know it’s there.
I just finished reading Fingersmith by Sarah Waters this evening. This is one of the most engrossing and amazing books I have read in a very long time. Despite running to almost 600 pages in the version I have, I could hardly put it down. I could scarcely turn the pages fast enough to feed my need to know what happened to the two captivating heroines in this story.
The story is set in Victorian England and could best be described as rather gothic fiction. The settings are dark and depressing, but they spring to life in the author’s descriptions in a way that I suspect are true to the times.
Most of the characters are not very nice people in various ways. Even the two heroines of the story, Susan and Maud, have their own dark secrets that they are hiding. The many secrets in this story lead to a multitude of plot twists and turns as the reader (and most of the characters) discovers that nothing and no one are really who they seem to be. The complexity of the story and the way that it is presented is nothing short of brilliant.
A prayer for our enemies:
“O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies:
Lead them and us from prejudice to truth;
deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge;
and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
(Book of Common Prayer, pg. 816)
“It took years to realize I could acknowledge that a wrongdoer was doing their best, given their own context, AND that I had every right to move the anger I was holding from their actions. I thought that because I knew where they were coming from, it was not okay to acknowledge their impact. But it’s about holding both awarenesses at once. Maybe they were doing their best, but we still have to work through the effects.” ~Jeff Brown
Forgiveness does not come easily to me. I’ve talked before about my tendency to hold a grudge. Even though I can acknowledge that someone may have been doing the best they could with what they had, I still find it hard to forgive. When I came across this quote, I finally realized why.