Don’t Drink the Rat Poison

As usual, it appears I’m not going to attain enlightenment by the end of Lent this year. I’m giving up resentments and grudges—in other words, practicing the F word, forgiveness—and there just might be a few still hanging around at the end of forty days.

I am really good at resenting people, even people I don’t know. For example, I have a running grudge against all people who weave in and out of traffic, not a mild annoyance, an active dislike. True, their actions are unsafe, but what happens in my brain after they pass me has nothing to do with safety. It sounds more like, “How dare they make me feel as if I’m not going fast enough” or “they should wait their turn.” Meanwhile, they are several cars in front of me, merrily on their way to wherever, and I’m still fuming.

Here are some things I’ve learned from other people about forgiveness:

  • “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” – Anne Lamott
  • Forgiveness is a refusal to judge someone’s soul. – I forget who
  • You have to forgive yourself first. – my mom
  • Forgiveness does not mean that you are saying what the person did is OK. – lots of people, most recently Fr. John Heagle
  • It is not necessary—and sometimes not safe—to add forgetting to forgiving. – Fr. Heagle again
  • Forgiveness is a practice that takes time. – Paula D’Arcy, Fr. Heagle, other people

There are interestingly no how-to instructions on this list. What I’ve learned so far is that first we have to realize we’re the ones mixing and drinking the rat poison. What the other person did has ended—it no longer exists, and I don’t have a time machine in which I can travel back and force him or her to do it differently, though my mind incessantly recreates the situation as if that were possible.

And then we have to ask God/the universe for help. Because it’s hard and we’ve been hurt. But it’s worth asking because then all that energy that’s been tied up in being angry can be used for joy instead.

One thought on “Don’t Drink the Rat Poison

  1. This is a deep one. Painful. Necessary. Thank you for taking me through it again. : ) I have taken to actively mentally wishing that the person who cuts me off in traffic gets where they are going safely. Haven’t gotten to emotionally wishing it yet! I like the idea that forgiveness is a practice. So I can keep practicing….

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