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It’s All Really About Me

There are many opportunities to practice forgiveness during the day. Lots of times I forgive others for not meeting my expectations. Everyone from the store clerk who is talking on the phone when she should be checking me out, to the neighbors dog who thinks my front yard is a litter box. Then you have your circumstances to forgive; like there not seeming to be enough hours in the day. And of course, I have to forgive myself for all my seeming errors. It’s enough to keep a woman busy, believe me, just forgiving the little irritations that daily would rob me of my peace. Sometimes, though, I get an opportunity to forgive that really throws me; a real challenge to my decision to forgive all that disturbs my peace. I was blessed with just such an opportunity last week. Let me tell you about it.

My grandson is 12 years old and attends a private Christian school, the same school I had sent my son to. The kids attending come from variety of religious backgrounds, so they don’t teach a lot of theology, but stick to teaching morals. That usually works Ok, but as we learned this week, one can disagree on what constitutes moral behavior. Julian was suspended over just such a disagreement.

The class was asked to cut pictures out of a magazine and create a poster which represented how they saw their family. We’re talking a twelve year old boy here, and Julians poster was filled with pictures of rap stars and other heroes typical of that age. The trouble started with a picture of a famous Sumo wrestler which the teacher found inappropriate (she felt it was not culturally appropriate). The problem escalated with the replacement picture which showed a movie star smoking. As it turns out, he wasn’t smoking your usual tobacco product, but Julian didn’t know this and in fact no one did until a child recognized the picture from a movie that centered on the smoking of such products. The teacher, already unhappy with Julian’s poster, sent him to the office and he was suspended from school for a day. I know this doesn’t seem like a really bad punishment, but setting aside for the moment, the appropriateness of the punishment, at twelve years old getting suspended is a major deal and Julian was really upset.

Julian’s mom called the school to see what was going on. She was told that his pictures were inappropriate and did not represent the moral atmosphere they were trying to create at their school. There were pictures of Black rappers, a Mexican female artist, the Sumo wrestler. And, oh yes, the white, pot smoking, actor. It was very diverse, and my thought was how neat that Julian was so inclusive in his representation. Evidently, that attitude was not shared by the school. The principle explained that there were pictures of people with tattoos, people smoking, and she felt the picture of J-Lo was seductive. As it turned out, many of the same pictures were on other posters as well, but they stood by their decision.

Sheryl and I talked it over and she decided that it was important to take Julian’s side in this. She argued the point that, while the teacher may not have liked Julian’s choice of family members, there was no deliberate attempt on Julian’s part to be confrontational and he was not using this project as an excuse to act out. Everyone agreed on that point. Sheryl did not feel that he should be punished because he saw his family differently than the teacher did. She brought up the fact that, perhaps, his family is different. Like his poster, his actual family does include people with tattoos and people who smoke. He has a cousin who is Black and one who is Mexican. Admittedly, there are no actual Sumo wrestlers in the family tree, but he does have an aunt who is in a same sex relationship. He doesn’t see anything wrong with his family and, in fact, is proud of his family and loves all of them very much. She explained that her moral stance was founded on diversity and tolerance.

As it turned out, Julian accepted the suspension but without the penalties that went along with it. He did not have to accept failing grades for that day nor did he have to miss his basketball game. His mother handled it beautifully, both with his school and with him. I, on the other hand, didn’t handle it as well. I did OK as far as what I expressed out loud. I told Sheryl, that how she chose to handle this depended on what she wanted Julian to learn from it. I really meant that. But in my heart, I was raging. How could they have turned a simple assignment into something that made that stoic little kid cry? Boy, was I mad!

So, my rule is when my peace is disturbed I take it to the Holy Spirit for healing. This definitely qualified. Once I did that, I felt a lot better. For a while. Then I thought about how proud we are of Julian’s open minded acceptance of others and here these people are punishing him for it. How is that going to affect him? Well, here comes the anger and fear. Time to call on the Holy Spirit again. Ahh, peace. For a while. Then I started thinking about the Sumo wrestler and the school saying that it wasn’t part of our culture. Where do I live? I thought this was America, melting pot of the world. Oh, jeez, there goes my peace again!

Well, you get the idea. This went on for several days. Every time I would forgive, I would later choose conflict and have to start over. Finally, I sat down with the Holy Spirit and asked for clarity in this situation. What I began to understand was that this just seems to be about Julian and Sheryl and the school. I had forgotten that this is really all about me. 

It seemed to me that Julian’s school was very narrow minded in what they considered acceptable. I resented that they were attempting to create this mind set in Julian. So, I asked myself how this was about me? What aspect of myself am I seeing in these people that is so upsetting to me? Immediately, I thought about my instinctive reaction when I am confronted with the homeless. I cross the road if I can. I don’t want them in my world. This is really no different than the school wanting to protect it’s view of the world by keeping out anything that makes it uncomfortable. Wow! They were mirroring a part of me that I am not very proud of, and I didn’t want to see that. I was projecting my guilty feelings onto them and hating them for it instead of myself.

Recognizing this was my first step. Then I took it to the Holy Spirit and asked Him to heal my thoughts. This freed me, and the teacher and principal as well. It left us innocent as we were created to be. It felt so good to no longer be burdened by this guilty anger, that I asked for help in uncovering all my secret fears.

Another way I felt threatened is that they awakened my sense of vulnerability through attacking Julian. When I saw that Julian was hurt, I felt hurt. If Julian can be attacked, I can be attacked. I hated that feeling and wanted to protect myself from it. I felt like lashing out. Actually, I wanted to hit someone, but would settle for attack through words, since that would be more civilized. But then, what is civilized about attacking a child of God? I guess there is no nice way to express rage, so I took it to the Holy Spirit.

He helped me to see that I am invulnerable and so is my grandson. Our peace is disturbed only as we choose to see it disturbed. They can punish, but it is only our decision to be hurt that has any effect on either of us. Other people can hurt us only if we choose pain. It is our perception of what happens that hurts us. No matter what course of action the school chose, it was only hurtful if we chose to see it that way. What seemed to be an attack on us could have been a lesson in forgiveness and love if we chose that for ourselves. I was able to see this more clearly when I chose to forgive. The release of anger and fear allowed me to see what was happening in a different way. I thought these people were being hateful and harmful, but now I saw them as frightened children, calling for love. Because they didn’t understand their own process of projection, their call for love seemed like an attack. I could get a mental image of little children cowering in a corner, slapping at what they are afraid of, trying to keep the unknown at bay. I had a choice. I could (mentally) hit them back, or I could (mentally)love and comfort them. My choice of reactions would determine my state of mind. I could choose to defend and attack and in so doing I would imprison myself, or I could choose to forgive and free all of us.

Sheryl did a wonderful job of convincing the school to take the sting out of the punishment. She did this by arguing her point without attacking so they felt no need to defend. What could have become a war, turned into peace negotiations. It was a great lesson for me. I had been thinking that the school was guilty of making me feel angry and victimized. By not holding them prisoner to guilt, I was able to become free. I am very grateful that I was able to, at last, regain my peace through forgiveness. Thank you, Holy Spirit.

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