Spiritual Networks


Reflecting back on a very distressing experience has taught me something about forgiveness. Over twenty years ago, I was newly married and a new parent. I was struggling with a good deal of financial anxiety since leaving religious life a few years earlier. While teaching at Loyola’s Institute of Pastoral Studies, I’d been a catalyst for and member of the committee that wrote the proposal for a new masters degree in Pastoral Counseling. One part of my motivation for this investment of my time and energy was to create a job for myself as director of the new program. This was how I was managing my anxiety. I’d replace religious life with Loyola University as my source of security.

My clever plan fell apart when it came time to select the new director. I applied. The selection committee was made up of friends and colleagues. I thought my chances were good. I was never even invited to an interview. I was stunned. I held the committee members responsible for my distress. I did not immediately forgive them.

With hindsight I can see that the first thing I needed to do was to work through my feelings. I was feeling hurt. How could my friends treat me with so little respect? Not even an interview! Did they really think so little of me? The hurt descended into humiliation. Everybody knew I’d worked so hard to get the new program up and running. Everybody knew I did not get invited to interview. I was exposed as lacking something important.

I was angry. The way the committee treated me seemed unfair. I was certain that in their shoes, I’d have at least given my colleague the respect of an interview. What kind of reciprocity was in our working alliance? How could they be so disrespectful? I was sure I did not deserve this kind of treatment.

I was scared. If I couldn’t assure myself of the job I wanted, despite my best efforts, how would I ever be financially secure? If I couldn’t garner the respect of my colleagues, despite giving my heart and soul to a program we shared, how would I ever have a place to stand as a professional?

As I listened to my feelings, a gradual shift occurred. I’m not sure I recognized it at the time, but the essence of the shift is clear to me now: It’s not about them; this is about me. What I was aware of at the time was eventually listening to the experience to see what I could learn. In short order the realizations came. I was not cut out to be an administrator. For me it would have been death by detail. I did not really want to be an academic. The rigorous intellectual expectations were not something I wanted to submit to. I’d been in school for twenty seven years and was tired of it. Nor would I have been able to tolerate the institutional constraints. I’d had enough of that as well. Suddenly it no longer mattered to me what the basis of the committee’s judgment was. I knew the directorship was not for me. I no longer wanted it.

What rose like sunshine into my awareness for the first time was that I was called to a life of creativity. I needed the freedom to follow this newly awakening dream, no matter how scary it was. I knew that the challenge was trust. I’d already made one major professional choice on the basis of this trust. Now I saw it was to be a thoroughgoing commitment. I chose again to set my heart on the kingdom, and trust that all I needed would be provided.

As this new direction of my life clarified itself, I realized I had forgiven my colleagues. It wasn’t even that I struggled or decided to do so. I didn’t work at forgiving them. I put the focus on myself rather than on them. I allowed the pain, anger, and fear they stimulated to be a wake up call for me. I saw myself with new clarity in the light of a new day. The forgiveness happened somewhere along the way.

Perhaps one key to forgiveness is accepting responsibility for my feelings, rather than holding others accountable for them.

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