ONCE upon a time, a friend called me the unforgiven. Like most unsavory words I hear about myself, I mull about them in my quiet moments—whether or not they are true and if they are, why.
I didn’t see myself as unforgiving until the day someone said, “Why can you not forgive? Have you never made a mistake in your life?” And I replied, “I have but I don’t expect to be forgiven.”
So certain, so resolute, so final.
Perhaps, I had not lived long enough when I said these words. Perhaps, I had not made mistakes, huge enough. Perhaps, I had not cared so deeply. Perhaps I had not loved so profoundly. Perhaps, I had not lived. Enough.
But age has mellowed me somewhat. I still often say, though, that only God can grant mercy and from me, one can only expect justice.
Maybe, it comes from having been a college instructor for 13 years. I had classes as big as 60. I was only 24 when I started.
I learned to crack the whip early. I could not allow anarchy to rule. I was raised in a boot camp. The standards I grew up with I brought to my own camp. I was not tough for no reason. I wanted these kids to earn their grades. I didn’t believe in giving anyone a free pass.
If that was unforgiving—that was me.
I didn’t want my students to beg. I wanted them to study. I didn’t want them to coast. I wanted them to do the work. I didn’t accept excuses because one semester, I felt, was long enough to prove one’s worth. I refused all requests to meet with students and/or parents to discuss final grades because I was not open to negotiation. And if that was unforgiving, that was me.
I no longer teach but I still give lectures—with topics that range from work ethics to fiscal responsibility to planned parenthood. I no longer have students but I still have plenty of people to preach to on a daily basis. I still hear many lame excuses. And I still scoff at them.
I still believe in discipline. I still believe in justice. And mercy—I still have to work on. This is where I drastically differ from my mother. My mother often fantasized about how she could deliver justice in this unjust world but in practice, she was always merciful. Me? I often fantasize about being merciful but in practice, I always deliver justice.
And if this is unforgiving, then this is me.
They say we forgive not to change the past but to change the future. Some things are not worth the pain we harbor. Most things are not worth dying for. Some things hurt us deeply but holding on to them punishes us more. We forgive because the price of not forgiving is intolerable.
I resolve to forgive myself, then, for the sinful food choices I made this holiday season. I beg for mercy, Lord, not justice. I have lived long enough. Finally. To understand that some sins desperately need forgiving. I know I’m desperate. Now.