“Why should I forgive him if he is guilty? I won’t talk to him until he apologizes! “- are questions, often legitimate in our eyes, but not from the perspective of Christian teachings. Love, in the end, is forgiveness, and that means accepting our brother as he is, with good and evil.
Most of us have certainly heard of the famous Chinese proverb – “Love me when I least deserve, because that is when I really need it”! And here, as many times in life, it’s about mistakes! Mistakes that we, as human beings, make and do not assume. Mistakes that haunt us, that follow us and sometimes aggravate so much that they influence our lives!
Most of the time, we are accustomed to referring to the mistake as an equivalent word for sin. Sin is generally considered to be the violation of divine laws freely and consciously by man. This means that the human being knows what the law is and violates it willingly, without its will being altered in any way.
However, Saint Maximus the Confessor goes further and considers sin as the deviation of beings, objects, and phenomena from the purpose for which God created them. An example of this is food that, consumed rationally, helps us to keep our body healthy and provides energy for our work. But, transformed into simple pleasure, into a purpose, it leads to the loss of physical vitality and the weakening of our will.
About such a perversion of purpose speaks the Chinese proverb, which, in my opinion, also refers to one of those moments in which we talk to ourselves and review what we “should” have done and did not do in order to fulfill our goals. Often, this dialogue is not a constructive one, because it does not aim to find the weaknesses in our strategy and straighten them, but to look for guilty people other than us. Thus, we try to conceal our dissatisfaction with ourselves because we are afraid to admit that we are responsible for what is happening to us. It is difficult for us to accept that we have set our goals, we have devised the plan for their fulfillment, and we are the ones who have executed it. Even if it’s all about us, we’re trying to transfer the responsibility to others.
It is also the case of Adam who, although he had sinned, when asked by God if he ate of the forbidden tree, instead of recognizing his mistake and asking for forgiveness, he indirectly blamed God for what had happened: “The woman whom thou hast given to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” (Genesis, chapter 3, verse 12). So, somehow, the Creator was to blame, because He gave the woman to help the man, and that made him sin.
Later, Jesus would emphasize this state of non-recognition of one’s mistakes through the famous question: “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 7, verse 3). Another emblematic example was the episode in which the Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery, which, according to Moses’ law, was to be stoned. But the Savior said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8, verse 7). The Gospel tells us that, as a result of Christ’s response, everyone was ashamed, and left.
The conclusion we can draw from is that it is very difficult for us to recognize our mistakes. Why? Because we have a problem with self-esteem. Such an idea, though seemingly obvious, has been deduced from the famous theory of human needs that humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow presented in the article A Theory of Human Motivation, published in 1943 in the journal “Psychological Review”. According to Maslow, all human needs can be grouped into 5 categories: 1) basic (air, water, food, sleep, sex); 2) safety (shelter, food source, etc.); 3) love (friends, relationships of love); 4) respect (self-esteem, prestige); 5) self-actualization (achievement of own potential, creation activities).
So, the need for respect is real. And if it is not satisfied, it gives rise to psychic tensions. That’s why recognizing our mistakes, for many of us, means we risk losing the respect of others. And if this happens, we may also lose the respect for ourselves, which can lead to an unhappy life. So, if it creates so many problems, why did God create us with this particularity?
At the time of his creation, man was endowed with absolutely everything he needed to progress spiritually to enter into eternal communion with God. However, spiritual progress involves confronting temptations and overcoming them. For the man not to doubt himself during the trials, God has given him this attribute of self-confidence. A proof of this is that psychotherapy does not come with anything extra, but, during treatment, it helps the patient to use his own mental resources in an effective way.
Unfortunately, we have diverted the purpose of this gift and turned it into something that prevents us from growing spiritually. This is the case when every time we blame others and, above all, God for our dissatisfaction. The result of this behavior can only be self-isolation. Except for God, who will never abandon us (Revelation, chapter 3, verse 20), everyone around us might leave us. And they are right to do so! And every time we are “alone in the world” we are losing our lust for life, our drive of doing something, and depression is lurking in the shadows of our souls.
How can we, however, overcome this impasse, when we have already proved to the others and to us that we are unable to recognize our state of decadence and to bring our closest ones back into our lives? The solution is more difficult to put into practice, because it involves the cooperation between us and those we have rejected. We must really want to change our way of thinking and get out of the state of being lonely, and the others have the task of supporting us with their love. They have to give us the certainty that no matter how long and how many mistakes we make on this path of spiritual recovery, we will not be alone and that they will always be with us. Remember, it’s about restoring self-esteem and gaining the respect of others, so everyone needs to be patient.
I know that at first glance it seems nonsense, even an injustice – the one who is wrong, he is the one who must be understood and helped after he has banished everyone from him. But so does God with us, and so Christ has taught us through the profound parable of the prodigal son.
This parable is found only in the Gospel of Luke, in chapter 15, verses 11-32. Here we are told that a rich man had two sons. The youngest one asked his parent for his share of wealth and went to a foreign country where he spent all his money on pleasure. Being poor, all his “friends” left him, because he had no money left. Therefore, he pledged to watch over a flock of pigs. The state of poverty he had reached was so severe that he was willing to eat the food of the pigs he took care of, but he was not allowed to. Then he realized his great mistake, and encouraged himself to go back to his father. The father had continuously been waiting for him to return so that when he saw him in the distance, he ran to meet him, embraced him, dressed him with fine clothes, gave him jewels, and thrown a big party for him. However, when the elder son, who had been gone with business, saw these things, he did not even want to enter the house. He was upset that he had been working all the time, and had always done his father’s bidding, being deprived of many joys, and his younger brother, though very wrong, had just received a different treatment. It was necessary for the father to come out to talk to him and say to him, “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.”(The Gospel of Luke, chapter 15, verses 31-32).
Therefore, it is God’s will to be like the father from the parable, when we see those next to us that are battling with loneliness, especially if they are close ones. Even if we know that they are wrong, it is good not to be proud and not to pretend that, in order to resume relationships, they must first “apologize”. We have to understand that they cannot do that. They simply do not have the power. If they had, they would not have reached that dead end in the first place.
As far as we are concerned, we do not have to sit next to them all the time and “keep their hand”. We do not even have to always listen to them. But we have to make it clear that we are next to them and that we wait for them “on the other side” as much as they need.
In addition, in the prodigal son’s parable, one can find another interesting detail. The elder son, who had been loyal to his father, retained his status, but the youngest son, even if accepted, he did not regain the full honor he had once possessed. To regain it, he had to fight for it. The message is clear: if we are not vigilant, we tend to become a sort of emotional “dumpsters” for our close ones who will have endlessly made mistakes, and then they will come to us asking for understanding. In the end, our goodwill will be abused. Therefore, during the recovery process, we must make sure that those whom we are trying to help, in their turn, are indeed trying to heal. If we forgive everything and every time, we risk that, because of our too much love, our friends not to be motivated to transform themselves, and that does not mean we help them.
Finally, “Love me when I least deserve, because that is when I really need it!” has a profound message, hidden in the chest with the gems of Chinese wisdom, which is in profound harmony with Christian Tradition. As they are analyzed with respect and openness, Orthodox teachings prove to be tremendously stable foundations in the sand of today’s life. They provide meaning and purpose to our lives, and give us the power to pull out from the daily tumult those who feel lonely and unhappy. Even though, like the elder brother from the prodigal son’s parable, we consider it unfair to accept those who are wrong, it is good to remember that we are all on the same ship and we must work together to reach the final destination – God, Who is the infinite love and supreme acceptance.