You've Got Problems

Forgiveness, part 1

You’ve got problems. I kinda know what some of them are. Others, I have no idea of. But even if you’re someone here today who I’ve never met, I know you’ve got problems. We all do. And here you are at Community Unitarian Universalist Congregation. At CUUC, we have small groups; we have worship services. Perhaps you're thinking we can help with those problems -- give you some tools for getting through your week; help you be the person you really want to be. Or maybe, what you’d really like is confirmation that you’re just fine and your problems all stem from the evil or stupidity of other people. (A lot of people are in houses of worship this weekend – as any weekend – expecting confirmation that they are right and it’s “those others” who are wrong and are the problem. I understand. We all like a little confirmation. I’m not immune to that myself.)

In any case, you’ve got problems. And maybe forgiveness is one of them. Or maybe forgiveness is a whole bunch of them, because there are a lot of different issues that all fit under the general heading, forgiveness. In no particular order:
  1. Someone wronged you, and you resent it. You carry a righteous grudge, whether they apologized or not.
  2. Someone wronged you, and they apologized and you said you forgave them, but your heart didn’t really forgive them. You’re conflicted: part of you wants to let go of the grudge, but part of you is holding on to it.
  3. Someone wronged you, but they won’t apologize. You could forgive them could just acknowledge that they hurt you, but they won’t acknowledge it, so you can’t.
  4. You wronged someone, or they think you did, and they have a grudge against you. You’re mad at them for being mad at you, which makes it impossible for you to have any interest in apologizing, so you’re stuck.
  5. You wronged someone, and you’ve apologized but they haven’t forgiven you, and you feel miserable not being in their good graces.
  6. You and another person had a falling out – in the course of which you have both done some hurtful, regrettable things, and you want to repair the relationship, but you don’t know where to start, or how.
  7. Same falling out as before, but you’ve decided you don’t want to repair the relationship. You regard the relationship as ended. You want to have nothing further to do with that other person. Yet, despite your protestations to the contrary, you’re feeling that something’s missing from your life without that person.
  8. You wronged someone, and it took you a while to fully realize it, and now you want forgiveness, but they aren’t available. They’ve died, or moved away and you have no idea where.
  9. Someone wronged you, and you’d like to forgive them, but they’ve died or are otherwise unavailable.
  10. You did something wrong, and the affected parties have sincerely forgiven you, but you’re having a hard time forgiving yourself. You keep beating yourself up, harshly judging yourself, because of the error.
I’ll stop there. I’m sure those aren’t all the problems that we confront under the category of forgiveness. We could probably keep going until we got to 83, but you get the idea. This forgiveness thing is the name for a host of different problems. If those aren’t your problems, you have had them, or you will.

If you’re here so I can tell you something to make those problems go away, I can’t help you. If you wanted to hear that the problem is all other people, I can’t help you with that either. At least, not until we first acknowledge the 84th problem.

You see, there’s a parable from the Buddhist tradition – I think I’ve mentioned it once before -- that Gautama – the Buddha – in his travels through India was visited by a farmer, who said, “I attended your public talk. It was beautiful; I was moved. Please help me with my problems.” And the farmer started listing his problems: some of his cows got diseases; the grain market wasn’t consistent; fertilizer prices kept going up; his spouse was sometimes contrary; his children wouldn’t do what he told them; the neighbor’s dog was harassing his chickens.

Finally, the Buddha interrupted him and said, “You have 83 problems.”

This gave the farmer pause, and he said, “I hadn’t counted them, but that sounds about right.”

The Buddha said, “I can’t help you with any of them.”

The farmer was incredulous and angry. You’re this great, renowned spiritual teacher, and you can’t help me with any of my problems? What good are you?”

Buddha said, “You will always have 83 problems. Sometimes you can solve one of them, or it goes away by itself, but another one comes along to replace it. Always 83. However, perhaps I can help with the 84th problem.”

The farmer said, “What’s the 84th problem?”

The Buddha said, “You think you should have no problems.”

* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "Forgiveness"
See also
Part 2: Problems We Were Made For
Part 3: Problems Are the Path
A four-part series on Forgiveness from 2014, begins HERE

1 comment:

  1. First third of one of my favorite of Meredith's sermons, which surprised me, because I tend to think of the opposite of clinging to hurts/slight as letting go rather than as forgiveness. This part reminds me of a Tibetan story about Milarepa, a Buddhist yogi who found his cave filled with demons. The more he wrangled with them, the more they continued to infest his cave. But when he was ready to accept whatever it was they had to teach him, they all left.