Softening that first impulse… Stop, breathe, think and pray!
Accidents happen! For emotional and spiritual health, it is important after a traumatic injury to start by sorting out emotions and clarify the difference between fault and malice. If someone was at fault due to negligent, careless, or otherwise the unintentional actions causing an injury, for our own health and peace of mind we should try to forgive them. They did not mean to cause hurt, as there was no malice in their actions.
We should not confuse forgiveness with the need to hold others responsible for the results of their actions, but we should understand we will only hurt our own heart and spirit by rehearsing and feeding anger and resentment toward someone who caused our injury. Imperfect humans cause accidents, and we should see them as simply that. Imperfect. Human.
Amazingly and unexpectedly, healing began right at the scene of a recent accident, when the man who caused it stood there by the side of the road, holding out his hand with regret on his face. Hands were shaken and the lament in his eyes was clearly genuine, his words of apology were real, and his full acceptance of fault meant only one thing. He was concerned with my wellbeing, took responsibility for his actions, and deserved nothing short of immediate forgiveness.
Expressing a response of kindness
Thanking him for his integrity and sincere apology, it was somehow easy to shake his hand and respond with a message of kindness. Agreeing the insurance companies would work out the financial issues, our clear understanding was that the gentleman was clearly at fault. I felt compelled to assure him of the absence of resentment or anger toward him.
As we shook hands again upon leaving, our polite agreement was that it was just an accident, and that it had happened because we are imperfect and make mistakes. It was a heavy, bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic jam, and we were grateful only the two of us were involved. Accepting this perspective on the situation helped immediately dismiss strong negative emotions and shift attention to thankfulness for the good aspects of the otherwise generally negative experience. Considering that we both walked away in “one piece”, no one else was hurt, and we amicably communicated at the side of the highway, we had much to be thankful for!
Bright spot in memory of accident
In the midst of the early pain of injuries, the gentle human connection with the other driver remains now a little glimmering bright spot in memories of the traumatic experience.
Sometimes we feel justified in our anger, but we are not forced to exercise that “right”. If someone causes injury for reasons such as mal intent, criminal negligence such as drunk driving, over aggressive driving, or road rage, it might still behoove us to show charity of heart and pity them for their poor self-control and lack of wisdom, and not focus the inwardly destructive potency of hatred upon them.
Many times these infractions ultimately put the erring doer in jail, with severe legal punishment, fines, and restitution. We should choose to let that be enough. God’s important message to us in the Bible on this issue gives us that better perspective. “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink… be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12: 19-20. The negative emotion of resentment hurts the one who hates more than it affects the object of such feelings. Just as forgiveness is emotionally and spiritually healing and freeing, resentment and hatred bring a painful grip that hurts and damages the hater more that the hated.
How many times must I forgive?
Jesus said we should forgive our brother that hurts or wrongs us, not only seven times like an inquirer had suggested to Him, but instead we should forgive them “seventy times seven”. That comes to 440 times! It seems pretty clear that He did not infer that we should stop forgiving the 441st time someone wrongs us, but perhaps by then we will have well exercised our ability to forgive with reasonable success.
While it is impossible to count the number of other people throughout time who have ever lived on the face of the earth, Jesus bore the sins of all of us in His body on the cross, that He might bring us to God. He offers lasting forgiveness to us, not at the side of the road, but at the foot of the cross. If we will accept his sacrifice there for our own sins, and receive his offer of love, forgiveness, and eternal life, we can walk away spiritually healed and whole. The apostle Paul explained, “for the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” Romans 3:23.
The body will heal, although lupus may flare after trauma, that will pass in time. More important than the healing of our body, or any flares of chronic illness such as lupus triggered by trauma or stress, is the healing of our heart, soul and spirit. Sinners like me who are saved by God’s gracious undeserved kindness, can choose to extend the healing of simple forgiveness to fellow sinners who happen to collide with them on the roadway of life. With God’s help, I can, too!
Forgiveness does not happen by accident, but rather it is a choice. I have made mine, and as a result, am well on the road back to health!