In daily living, we’ve all experienced that forgiveness is a great demonstration of love. Forgiving others for what they have done to us requires a voluntary act that is sometimes difficult, even very much so, to the point that when it comes to serious offenses we consider forgiveness to be heroic.
In life, all of us sooner or later experience the pain of being offended: We discover that someone has betrayed us, lied to us, or been unfaithful or disloyal to us. The closer that person is to us and the more trust we had placed in them, the more the offense hurts.
This is why we value forgiveness infinitely. We know how much it costs to deal with the pain, perhaps mixed with anger, that we feel when we know we’ve been betrayed, abandoned or manipulated.
When it is we who have caused the offense and it is others who must forgive us, we deeply appreciate being pardoned. In fact, if a person is aware of what they’ve done wrong and is remorseful, they cannot rest until they have forgiveness. We see this behavior very clearly in children who seek out a friend they’ve hurt to ask for forgiveness and, if necessary, to insist on being forgiven.
“Forgiveness” and “offenses” are words that call for courageous action at defining moments in our lives.
Another “battlefield”: The faults of others
However, there is also another “battlefield” that perhaps we don’t value enough: our treatment of the habitual faults of others.
The Catholic Church is very clear on this issue: Forgiving the offenses of others is a spiritual work of mercy. That means it’s part of a person’s journey to become a saint.
Further on, however, it tells us that another work of mercy is to patiently endure the faults of one’s neighbor. This is actually superior to forgiving offenses.
Why is it superior?
Fabio Rosini, author of the book Solo l’amore crea (Only Love Creates), explains that forgiveness is occasional, and deals with specific past events. It can be very difficult and painful, but it is, in any case, limited. To bear patiently the faults of one’s neighbor, on the other hand, implies an extended period of time, duration, and continuity.
Rosini recalls a David Bowie song that says, “We can be heroes, just for one day.” Patiently enduring every day the colleague who’s next to us all day long annoying us with his sarcasm, is much more difficult than just forgiving them once.
The same thing can happen in marriage. Faults that once seemed insignificant, that even seemed curious and funny during engagement, can become burdensome and unbearable over time.
The model: Job
The biblical figure of Job is an example of how to endure not only misfortunes (illness, poverty, death of children, etc.), but also the harsh and cutting words of his wife and friends.
All of this can be extended to the entire family. Inappropriate comments, mockery, a relative’s lack of responsibility, and so forth, undermine peaceful coexistence. They can make us not want to see that person, but rather seek to avoid them at family events, or even some day call them out openly and tell them “enough is enough.”
Enduring the faults of others one day after another takes a lot of strength and a great deal of love for them. There are three difficult things we need to do:
- Gently correct what can be corrected. For this fraternal correction is useful, saying things clearly but always with affection. This takes strength and prudence.
- Have the patience to wait for the other person to recognize his or her faults and give them time to work on improving.
- Accept that they might not correct themselves at the pace we desire (if at all).
Bearing the defects of others with patience isn’t the same as “tolerating”
Although in our culture the word “tolerance” is widely used as a basis for coexistence, that’s not the ideal word.
“Toleration” implies a very low level of understanding and empathy: “I tolerate you, but only because the law obliges me.”
To “bear” on the other hand, means to support or hold up. To bear patiently with someone’s defects means being willing to take on the other person’s burden, to carry it, to carry the other person with their burdens.
The faults of others help us
When we “bear patiently,” we accompany the other person on the journey of life and help him or her, but we are also aware of human frailty, of our own and others’ vulnerability.
Therefore, bearing the faults of others helps us to recognize our own limitations, because we see that we are no better than others. The faults of others become the mirror in which we see our own human condition, which is imperfect, at the same time that we are called to the greatness of love and eternity.
The importance of a Christian perspective
Enduring other people’s faults, one day after another, is a task that cannot be tackled alone. Pop psychology would tell us about tactics, tips, and thoughts for putting up with others. However, that kind of spiritual work is disappointing if we rely solely on our own strength. In the end, we run the risk of exhausting ourselves, throwing in the towel and exploding.
Instead, everything takes on another dimension if we approach the “work” of patiently enduring the faults of others from a Christian perspective. In this way, we count on the help of God who is Father, who forgives us and sanctifies us.
When we walk hand in hand with God, the struggle to be patient becomes a path on which He shows us the way and gives us the strength (the grace) to travel it. God suggests things to us, alerts us if we become impatient, and gives us the gifts we need.
In this perspective, the people around us who annoy us with their faults become people to whom we should be grateful, because we direct our gaze toward God instead of contemplating ourselves or demanding so much of ourselves. Others, with their flaws, are an instrument willed by God to make us better.