After my sermon for Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday, many of you spoke to me about how hard it is to feel love or even compassion for people who have hurt you (or people who are hurting the world, or both).
Some of those conversations got me thinking about the idea of right relationship. The phrase “right relationship” comes from the 18th century Quaker John Woolman, who called on us to live in right relationship with all creation. Modern day Quakers Peter Brown and Geoffrey Garver tell us, “A thing is right when it preserves the integrity, resilience, and beauty of the commonwealth of life and wrong when it does otherwise.”
It seems to me that first and foremost, we need to be in right relationship with ourselves. We need to honor and preserve our own integrity, our own resilience, and our own beauty.
Sometimes the way to do that is to let someone know that they’ve hurt us. Because as hard as it might be to believe, sometimes they can’t know that they’ve hurt us until we tell them. And giving someone an opportunity to apologize—whether they take that opportunity or not—is a way to honor and preserve their integrity, resilience, and beauty.
Which is why apologizing when we’ve done wrong is another way to be in right relationship with ourselves. I think we know when we’ve done wrong, even when we may not be sure what we’re sorry for. It can be enough to know (and say) “I meant well, but what I did just then didn’t feel good to me.” We honor our own resilience when we acknowledge that sometimes we make mistakes.
And sometimes the only way to be in right relationship with ourselves is to leave a harmful relationship altogether. Those of you who have had to cut off contact with destructive family members know how difficult this decision can be. But we can’t preserve the integrity, resilience, and beauty of others at the expense of our own.
And what do we with our anger? What do we do with the anger that comes from having our integrity threatened, our resilience diminished, our beauty ignored? What do we do with our anger at people who seem to have no interest in being in right relationship with us or with the commonwealth of life?
The Buddha tells us, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned.”
Our integrity is jeopardized when we let anger govern our actions. Our resilience is lessened. Even our beauty can be distorted by our anger.
To be in right relationship with ourselves, we must choose to let anger go.
Bright blessings, Sharon