We need to make the same promise to ourselves, in order to live a wholesome life. Sun and shadow, sorrows and joys, storms and times of ease continually drift across the years of our lives. What virtues can we call on to honour it all, to shrink from nothing, to walk courageously through all seasons?
I believe that the tests that befall us also benefit us, if (a small word with huge importance) – if we learn the life lesson involved, if we call on our inner strengths, our faith and courage, to guide us through rough waters. Proverbs 3: 11 -12 says, “My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.” Just as we discipline a well-loved child to keep her safe and to guide her development as a strong, generous, happy person, life gives each of us just the tests we need to grow our virtues. Like a muscle that grows strong when it is exercised, virtues strengthen with every test, IF we consciously decide to call on our virtues. The Baha’i teachings say, “Nothing save that which profiteth them can befall my loved ones.” And “Every atom in existence I have ordained for thy training.” Life is school and hopefully we will graduate.
One of our greatest tests is conflict with others, particularly when it involves a family member. We need to discern when to dig deep into forgiveness and when to stand strong for justice – when to let something go, without another word, giving it time to heal. And when to set strong boundaries to protect ourselves and the abuser from further harm. Why do I say we need to protect the abuser? To allow a person to continue bullying or treating us badly does not serve them at all. It enables and colludes with their spiritual delinquency.
The way of virtues involves finding the ideal balance and the best timing. When we place one foot in justice and the other in forgiveness, we are standing on holy ground. But if we seek vengeance instead of justice, we are in spiritual hot water. The Chinese philosopher, Confucius, said, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
Resentment, especially when it is ongoing, is corrosive to the heart and soul. People who bask in the wrong-doings of others are in a constant state of negativity. Looking for the best in another rather than dwelling on their faults uplifts us both.
With one foot in trust and the other in determination, we cannot fail. By that I mean, we need to trust in the hard times of life that “this too shall pass”. Yet we must not remain passive. We need to discern the part we are meant to play to resolve the problem. That is the only thing we have any control over. If we are determined to find a solution rather than to fuel the fires of resentment, we are much more likely to be free of the problem sooner.
When I was the spiritual care coordinator at a Canadian hospice, I was companioning a man who had days to live, and he was crying. I asked him, “What are those tears?” He said, “I’ve been estranged from my brother for years. Now I miss him. I wish we had worked it out.”
“Well,” I said, pointing to the telephone beside his bed, “There’s no time like the present. Do you have the courage to call him?”
He looked utterly shocked but later that day he did call him. His brother came, and the conflict of the past was forgotten, as the man died in his brother’s loving arms.
Resentment is a prison we may find ourselves in, but truly, we have the key to set ourselves free.