I’ve just finished reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for the gazillionth time.  I don’t really know how many times I’ve read it, but I seem to circle back to it at least once every few years, and each time I do, I hear and see new things in it.  This time I was thinking about how forgiving the family is of Lydia when she truly disgraces them all and puts all of their futures at risk.  Lydia has no concept at all of her impropriety.  None.  The mother, Mrs. Bennet, likewise has no concept at all of what Lydia has done to the family.  The trouble, intense shame and pain, the fears and struggles, as well as the huge expense that they cost a great number of people in the book has no physical or emotional impact on Mrs. Bennet, Lydia, or her new husband, Wickham.  It causes them no discomfort or regrets at all.  They are completely oblivious to their wrong-doing and their actions, their “silliness”, their lack of sense, their ability (inability) to grow – nothing is affected by what they have done. And yet, despite all of this, everyone who sees this intensely selfish, unaware, unreflective, narcissistic behavior is ready and able to forgive them.  And every time I read the story I find myself saying, “I don’t understand that.  How can they just let this terrible behavior go without any consequences?  How can they still be so very generous and caring to these people and let them get away without comprehension or cost to their actions?!”  I get upset every time, and not just at their actions, but at the lack of social consequence for those actions.
        And then this time, something struck me anew.  There is a ridiculous pastor in the book, Mr. Collins, who writes to Lydia’s father after the event with these words, “…I must not, however, neglect the duties of my station, or refrain from declaring my amazement at hearing that you received the young couple into your house as soon as they were married.  It was an encouragement of vice; and had I been the rector of Longbourn, I should very strenuously have opposed it.  You ought certainly to forgive them, as a Christian, but never to admit them in your sight, or allow their names to be mentioned in your hearing.” And what I heard in the words of the most ridiculous and insensible person in the book was a reflection of my own feelings and thoughts towards those characters.  It gave me pause to find my own thoughts put into the words of a supercilious, ridiculous pastor.  This was even more the case when coupled with Mr. Bennet’s response of, “That is his notion of Christian forgiveness!” 
         It is not forgiving to insist that others suffer the consequences of their actions and behaviors.  It’s not.  We all do it: we want others to pay when they make mistakes.  We want “criminals” to go to jail and pay for their mistakes.  We want crazy drivers on the road to pay for their insane and threatening driving.  We want people who we see as “wrong” to know they are wrong, to find it out, to have shame and pain around their mistaken behavior or even their mistaken thinking.  We want and expect consequences.  And while boundary setting is important, and natural and logical consequences make sense, especially when we are parents, the kind of “punishment” that we usually dole out or think of is about inflicting pain on the one who has hurt us: causing them to suffer at least the shame of their actions because they have caused us pain.  It is about revenge, it is about striking back when someone has struck us.  But this is not forgiveness.  It is certainly not what Jesus talks about when he mentions “turning the other cheek”, or forgiving again and again.  We don’t practice this, so we don’t see it often.  When we do see it (like in this book), it often strikes us as frustrating and incomplete.  But that only shows, really, the depth of our “need” for others to pay for what they have done.
        As I talked about in a recent blog post, seeking revenge first and then “forgiving” is not actually forgiving and is not actually loving.  True forgiveness means letting go of the hope that the other will suffer punishment from what they have done or failed to do.  Truly loving another means loving and accepting the other despite the wrongs the other does, and despite, at times, a lack of suffering for those wrongs. 
        We hope for that kind of forgiveness for ourselves.  None of us is perfect.  All of us do wrong.  But we hope we won’t suffer the consequences of those wrongs. We hope for forgiveness, even when we struggle to offer it to others in the same ways.
        Pride and Prejudice is just a story.  But I found myself challenged with the thinking that if I can begin by forgiving the characters in a story, perhaps I can learn to forgive more fully the real people in my life as well.  It certainly has given me a greater insight into one of my short-comings: the ability to always let go of a wrong once it has been done.  So for that insight today I am grateful.  And I will continue to work to step forward into doing better. 

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