I have been thinking about the stories I related in my previous post Remembrances. Well maybe not the stories themselves, but the reason I wrote them out. They came out of the past after listening to a prayer request for the niece of someone in our church whose boyfriend had just murdered her 2 or 3 year old daughter. The horror and the pain almost knocked me over, my knees actually weakened by that news and the flood of memory of being so near such tragedy and pain in the past.
What is the proper response to such news?
When my friend Bob killed his wife and my friend Dan’s two children my response was pretty much no response at all. Yeah, I felt sorry for Dan, but I was unable to engage with him or his pain. I was too egocentric, I could not feel with him, sympathize (or the more popular “empathize”) because it didn’t directly affect me.
When Joy killed her husband I was but 11 or 12, if that and really didn’t understand the pain of it all. All I knew was my mom’s friend was in jail and shouldn’t be there. I didn’t know the abuses the kids, who were friends, had suffered–would knowing have changed my response? I doubt it as I was a thoroughly self-centered child, something that lasted well into my adult years, something I still struggle with.
When that young lady I had known, but whose name I cannot remember, killed her kids in desperation my response was to judge her, and judge her harshly and condemn. Again, I see this as a product of my own egocentricity and inability to enter into or engage with her pain and desperation which led to her act. Judgment was the distance, the wall the kept me from having to engage her pain and desperation. It is so much easier to judge.
In all of these I lacked compassion for any of the parties, compassion in any meaningful sense. I was cold to the suffering and pain and I judged harshly the wrongness of the act, and in the case of the unnamed girl condemned the person, without even considering the pain and desperation which may have driven them to commit the horrendous acts they did. I lacked any real compassion for the suffering of the victims and still judged. I wasn’t really a friend to my friend in the aftermath of his loss.
So, several years ago I met a Christian woman working a church event. This woman is intelligent and artistically and creatively gifted. I really enjoyed her company. After hanging out for a few years I just happened to mention Joy’s story and the story of Dan & Ann & Bob. My friend judged harshly all of the characters in the stories. She judged Joy and the others just as I had the unnamed girl, judged and condemned. I can see judging Bob and the inability to engage his pain and suffering as a cause of his action, but surely Joy and the plight of her children evokes a sense of sympathy. But, no, Joy was judged as harshly as Bob, the unnamed girl, and Joy’s husband. Judgment and condemnation for all of them. Not a drop of empathy for Joy’s predicament and how she felt her action necessary.
Acts and the people are inextricably linked in our judgment of others who have committed atrocities. This linking that brings about our judgment prevents us from forgiving. Unforgiveness is a barrier to engaging and entering into the pain and suffering of others.
Miroslav Volf tells us that forgiveness requires that we sever the ties that connect the person from the act.
Forgiveness frees the forgiven to change their lives for the good. This is what I strive to do for others as I would have them do it for me. Isn’t this what Christ does for us? Severs the bonds betwixt us, the person, and our acts of unlove, sin, evil? this is what I strive to do. I am not always successful, but I continue to try. I do not want to judge and condemn others for not living the way that I would, or would have them live. For not thinking or feeling they way that I would. I strive for, but… like my friend I can be judgmental and condemning and I tend to regret it. Neither do I want to be cold and so distant that the suffering of others has no effect on me, does not affect me.
I met another Christian woman and I was wondering as to her judgmentalism. So I wrote the stories in the aftermath of the hearing about the niece whose boyfriend killed her little girl. I wrote out of my agony, my own pain, pain from entering into the suffering of the others and the pain of my lack of response so many years ago. I wrote specifically to send to her, to see if she’d be as judgmental as my other friend had been. This woman’s reaction was like mine to Dan & Ann & Bob, nothing, no response. The stories didn’t penetrate into her world, she felt nothing. No judgment, no sympathy for any of them, no compassion. I had been hurt by the first woman who was so judgmental and I wanted to make sure I didn’t face that again.
I wrote as a test for another, but what I found is that I faced the worst in me from each of the women I had shared the stories with. In the first I faced my own judgmentalist leanings, and the judgment I cast upon the unnamed girl, as well as the countless others known and unknown since. In the second I faced my own tendency to keep from engaging the suffering of others as I had with my friend Dan. I was reminded of those who thought that they loved me and to whom I showed no response, too egocentric. I faced my own apathy and ego-centrism and felt the pain I caused them because of my lack of feeling.
I think that Jesus rejects Heaven to come to us and enter into our suffering, even when we do not know we are suffering. I think that we are called to reciprocate and enter into His suffering and some of this is to enter into the suffering and pain of those around us, our neighbor. I failed this so miserably all those years ago, I was incapable.