The Personalist Project

Accessed on December 04, 2022 - 12:36:37

Everyday Forgiveness

Devra Torres, Dec 04, 2015

Some days my father used to come home from work in a bad mood. Maybe it was one of his incessant headaches, or maybe his new boss at the library was pursuing her relentless mission to make him into a tender of machines instead of a guardian and steward of books.

He'd walk in the door and before we knew it everybody was yelling, accusing, defending, and yelling some more. We were a large, loud  crew—with 26 years between my youngest brother and me—and we weren't very civilized. A handy pretext was never lacking.

So far, so normal.

But sometimes—often, in fact—he'd stop, look at the chaos that had so suddenly sprung up in his wake, silently acknowledging that he'd set it off. Then he'd walk back out the front door, walk in again, and call, "Hi, I'm home!"

"Abba's home!" we'd yell, as if he'd just that moment arrived--and family life would proceed in relative peace and harmony.

As far as I remember, it always worked.

Later I realized that not all families did that, and I tried to analyze why it was so effective. I think it came down to this: he loved us and we knew it. If he was crabby, we knew perfectly well he wasn't expressing some deep-seated bitterness towards us. He was tired, or something hurt, or some bureaucrat was giving him a hard time.

There was no explicit articulation of the words "I'm sorry" and "I forgive you," but they were clearly spoken anyway.

If you weren't there, this "method" might sound like an attempt to avoid blame or an unwillingness to accept responsibility. But it wasn't. There was no pressure for that cheap or premature or "unprincipled" forgiveness—the kind that does so much harm, as Katie's pointed out here and here. This wasn't about someone pretending there was nothing to forgive, or that maybe there was a little something but it was our Christian duty to overlook it and relinquish the right to respectful treatment. What was going on was more like what Paul talks about in Romans 7: "For the good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do."

Of course, we're talking about crabbiness, not anything major. But most daily conflict isn't major, either, and there's nothing wrong with having an effective method on hand to defuse things. In general I don't much like the idea of tools and techniques for use in dealings with family, or anybody. They can also open the door to treating people generically: addressing them like a particular category of problem instead of a person. And no single technique is a panacea.

But this one was a winner.