On innocence and forgiveness

The quickest way to get any baseball fan tuned out is to say “steroids”, a story that’s run the gauntlet from ignored to shocking to overexposed and back to ignored again, albeit for a different reason this time. But there’s a greater theme in there I want to explore, and will do here.

Mark McGwire is a sad representation of what is now viewed as a dark time in baseball- in all of sports.  We’d all decided, based on overwhelming circumstantial evidence (witness his “I’m not here to talk about the past” bit in Congress a couple years ago), that he had used steroids. And, continuing on, that he was a bad person for it.

Lost in those getting on their high horses and immediately denouncing his confession is that we enabled him. Not directly, to be sure, but in ignoring the signs.  In getting caught up in the excitement, and not caring about the how and why of it. Steroids weren’t illegal in baseball, and testing was lax enough that there’s no telling how many people bulked up like WWE wrestlers.

Maybe we didn’t know any better. We trusted, unconditionally, that this was all right and good and well with what we expected from baseball.

I was younger. I don’t remember if I was curious. But I watched with everyone else as he and Sosa smacked home runs.  Baseball was magical again, in a way it hadn’t been since the strike.

Much like any magic, the luster left once we discovered the secret. And in this case, how dirty the secret was.

*****

I’m still a fan of baseball. But I’m guarded, cynical. I don’t get as invested in anything. And it’s a little bit sad. But we have to be that way. We can’t afford to believe in that anymore. We’re less innocent.

Similarly, I can look back at my life, at pivotal moments where my outlook changed.  And while I have faith in God, just how many other spots where I lost faith, where I became less trusting, more guarded.

Santa Claus isn’t real. McGwire and others in baseball took steroids to get bigger and stronger.  Someone lied to me, broke my trust in a hurtful way.  A childhood hero isn’t perfect. Or the realization that sometimes, people are just looking out for themselves.

I’ve described myself as a “naive cynic”, and usually quip about that being the worst of all worlds. I’m a trusting person- I want to believe the best of people. I want to trust them. But experience has taught me to guard myself in doing that.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

In all those things, the common denominator is a trust broken- whether it’s an implied trust or an expressed one. With heroes and faraway role models, it’s implied- and sometimes, our own fault. We build them up to be perfect, untainted people, and that’s an unfair standard. But when we’re young, sometimes we don’t know any better. We can’t. Understanding only comes with experience, sometimes the worst of experiences. Experiences that take our innocence from us.

I often think back on one particular spot where I had my trust broken by someone close to me, one that left me in an equally broken state when it was admitted that I’d been lied to. There was an irony there, as I had spoken to them about forgiveness, and about how my faith allowed me the peace of knowing I could be forgiven no matter what I’d done. I knew they were struggling with something, but hadn’t been able to pin down exactly what.

Looking back, it was easy to see the signs. Much as our bulked out baseball players should have set off alarm bells in our heads as we watched them, there were signals and inconsistencies that slid into place with their confession to me.  A lot of things made sense.

I grappled with that as I contemplated my response to the lie being revealed.  I’d been wounded, cut deep by the revelation that my trust, given freely, had been abused.

But where better to prove that forgiveness? How better to show grace than by extending a hand up to someone who’s shown remorse, rather than condemning words? Isn’t that what God wants from me?

I forgave them. It didn’t take away what they’d done, but I swallowed hard and did what I thought was right, even when it hurt like nobody’s business.

Even in that forgiveness, setting things right that were wrong, there’s a certain hardness that builds up inside. That’s how someone gets cynical- if they get disappointed or hurt, they get cautious, and don’t take risks.

I’ve been on both sides of that- having disappointed someone or been disappointed- and know that it’s had lasting effects on both sides of the ledger. I like to think that having been shown forgiveness and grace, that I’ll be able to continue to pass it on, no matter how I’ve been hurt.

While Mark McGwire, my friend, and I can wake up the next day feeling like a huge weight is off our shoulders, having been granted that forgiveness, we find those around us a little sadder and less willing to trust us. We- and they- have lost some of our innocence. Forgiveness does not wipe the slate clean for us humans- it’s the first step in a process of rebuilding a relationship, one that takes time to heal.

God, thankfully, has no such conditions.

(PS First time I’ve done spell check on WordPress, and it’s correcting my grammar as well. “Passive voice” I’m letting slide for this one because it’s used intentionally, but “complex expressions”? Really? Wow. I’m both impressed and a little creeped out at the detail.)

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3 thoughts on “On innocence and forgiveness

  1. Ben

    Must look like I comment almost everything you write, but I’d like to say this… I’m not the least bit spiritual, but from this post, I guess I see why people are.

  2. DaveC Post author

    I like comments, Ben, you keep ’em coming.

    I’m not someone who explains his faith well, but I try and emphasize the ideas of forgiveness and grace as something that’s a huge part of why we believe in God. I admit those are concepts I struggle with personally at times, I think it’s something people need to know.

  3. Colette

    Forgiveness is one of those strange abstract words that’s kind of hard to define if you actually think about it. Or, sometimes it means something different to each person. I asked some jr. highs once what it meant and they said it meant “to ignore what someone did to you so you can be friends in the meantime before they hurt you again”. I was shocked at that definition at first, but mulling it over, in jr. high and in practice, that’s kind of true.

    We sort of have a double standard. When we think of God’s forgiveness, we hope for a truly clean slate. That none of our forgiven transgressions will be held against us in the future. But we don’t give that to other people because we probably can’t. At least, most of us can’t. You’re right Dave, we forgive people but we are more guarded and cautious ‘next time’. To me, that speaks of an incomplete forgiveness, since we’re holding back something we didn’t hold back before. The slate isn’t really clean, is it.

    Human nature urges us to seek to protect ourselves. But God urges us to love the people in our lives and to forgive them endlessly the way He does for us. To me that’s one of the hardest things about calling myself a Christian, and I can fairly say that it’s impossible without God’s help.

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