One of those difficult conversations that I have with my children are explaining that we all get hurt by people around us. Misunderstandings, differences in belief and thought, and sometimes plain old malice, we are hurt by people we love dearly and by those we barely know, but paying back hurt with hurt, or holding onto our anger never helps anyone.
Recently, I had one of those conversations, with one child crying from a toy block thrown to their head and the other getting a bitten arm bandaged. He hit me first. No, she took the car I was playing with.
How much does it really matter, though? Or, more importantly, did biting his arm make her head hurt any less?
It’s hard for any of us to get past pain, anger and resentment.
It’s very common to want to get even – to hurt them back and pay pain with pain, preferably more than we received. We could look back into the Old Testament and see the concept of “an eye for an eye”. What most people don’t realize is that this was meant to limit how people were dealing with wrongs.
That says a lot for our natural tendencies, doesn’t it? Our instincts are to not only lash out for wrongs done but to pay it back with interest.
I have said it before – God created us to be loving and full of joy, but since the Fall, we really are a bunch of selfish stinkers. The need to get even is deeply engrained in our social conscience.
What happens when we give in to that and repay pain with pain, hurt with hurt, wrong with wrong?
The pain we give out can never cancel out the pain we received. Never. It just doesn’t work that way and it never did. Our social conscience really needs to learn the lesson of experience!
Paying back the wrongs only adds to the pain and sparks another round of retribution from the other side. This becomes a never ending cycle of pain and anger.
We have all heard about the famous Hatfield and McCoy feud from the late 1800s. It started out as a simple disagreement – over a hog, of all things – and quickly turned into a feud that lasted for generations. That feud spiraled out of control so badly that we use the term ‘Hatfields and McCoys” to indicate a stupid and unending family feud.
In each act of retribution, the families attempted to cancel out pain received with pain given.
It’s very obvious that it didn’t work.
A lot of pain and death could have been avoided if the first act of wrongdoing, or perceived wrongdoing, was forgiven. How sad to look back at generations of hurt and realize this. In the case of the Hatfields and the McCoys, it seems pretty obvious that they should have taken a step back and forgiven each other the previous wrongs. It would have saved everyone from the feud that resulted.
Just as in our own lives, this wasn’t so clear to the two warring families.
Practicing forgiveness is difficult. We don’t want to forgive anyone when we’re hurting, and we usually want the other person to pay for what they’ve done. Forgiving feels too much like giving in and giving up.
Thankfully, that’s not what happens at all.
Instead, forgiveness happens when we choose to move past the pain and anger. Revenge and dishing out more pain can’t cancel out the pain we feel … but forgiveness can.
If we are really honest with ourselves, we don’t want revenge. We don’t honestly want to inflict more pain. What we actually want is to heal and move on, and we mistakenly believe that retribution will do it. In fact, forgiveness is what gets us there.
Again, it doesn’t mean that we like and trust the person who hurt us, and it doesn’t mean we have to resume a relationship with them. But it does mean that we give up on those feelings of anger and the need to get even in order to find peace.
Once we make that decision to forgive, to give up on all thoughts of paying back pain with pain, we are on the path to peace and healing.