One time in elementary art class, I was sitting across from my friend Nathan. I had this thick rubber band I was playing with as the teacher was instructing us on what we needed to do. Jokingly I pulled it back and pointed it at my friend who was sitting two to three feet across the table from me with no intention of letting it go. He cautiously moved around avoiding the direct line toward him. In the middle of this playful dance between us the rubber band slipped from my finger springing it forward. It flew straight at Nathan hitting him right in his eye.
Immediately he grabbed his eye and his facial expressions showed a disbelief and anger for my actions. I felt horrible and apologized profusely. His eye turned red, watered, and he had trouble seeing out of it. The teacher eventually came around to our table at the far end of the room. First she noticed we were both behind having not listened to her instructions and second, Nathan's red eye prompting her to ask, "What had happened?" Nathan had every right to say something for my poor choices which probably would have ended with me going to the office however he instead told the teacher he got something in his eye. I was amazed and still am for the grace Nathan bestowed on me in the moment. A moment when he was in pain and yet chose to save me despite my actions against him.
There is so much here relating to our spiritual journey which I will try to break down. Hopefully it can be helpful to anyone who has been unintentionally harmed.
Churches sometimes hurt people when they do not mean too. This unintentional harm can come from practices, policies, personal disagreements, relational disputes, lack of action, and many other things. Many times a church or religious organization may not even realize the hurt they have been involved in because they are just practicing what they believe. We justify it in our heads that its ok because of our interpretation on scripture or some other religious experience. However if what we are practicing and believing is causing significant pain to others than an in depth reflection is needed. Our goal should always be on creating right relationships and healing in this world not brokenness and discord. I think God calls all of us to reexamine our beliefs, practices, and interactions with others. When we do this we create opportunities for us to become more knowledgeable, welcoming, inclusive, and supportive.
When a person is in pain because of some kind of unintentional harm than the community has been hurt. Now I know what you are thinking, we can't keep everyone happy, so why should we be concerned. Well no you probably can't, however being community is about acknowledging disagreements, valuing differences, and supporting those whom need supported. When someone is hurting than the community is hurting. Sometimes unintentional harm causes people to stop coming. Sometimes that person just needs to know that they are wanted. Other times they have concerns which need addressed. Who has been hurt in your community? Who haven't you seen for awhile? Who needs to be listened to and valued?
Doctrine and Covenants 161
3c. Be patient with one another, for creating sacred community is arduous and even painful. But it is to loving community such as this that each is called. Be courageous and visionary, believing in the power of just a few vibrant witnesses to transform the world. Be assured that love will overcome the voices of fear, division, and deceit.
If you noticed in the story, I immediately apologized profusely for my actions. Apologies are sometimes magical. They have the ability to soothe the situation and make things right. They can repair relationships and create healing in places where there has been pain. Sincerity is the essential part of any apology. Without it the heart and meaning has been lost and true healing has been missed. As I mentioned earlier churches or even personally we may not even know we have hurt someone which makes this part tricky. However when you first discover there has been harm done than we have the responsibility to address it and apologize for the actions that have occurred.
The last and most important part of the story is grace. No matter what we do God freely loves us. Despite our shame, guilt, and fear. God's grace prevails because its not about us. My friend Nathan bestowed grace on me. How often are we giving others grace, the benefit of the doubt in situations that arise? When we give others grace we give compassion, hope, and the ability for God to work in the moment. So no there is nothing we have to do to earn God's love however what we choose to do may end up being the hands and feet of God in this world. It may be your actions that lead someone else to experience grace.
When have you caused unintentional harm to someone?
Why is building community so difficult?
When have you felt the sincerity of an apology?
How have you felt grace in your life and how have you given it?
I'm so glad fall is here! Bestow grace on someone this week whether at the grocery store, work, or in your home. Give them the benefit of the doubt and love them for who they are.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.