Sarah Torbeck discovers the enormous burden of clinging to old grievances and offenses.
I cannot remember a time in my middle childhood when I wasn’t afraid of her. She was large and ungainly for a 12-year-old girl, with white-blond hair, freckles, and a mouthful of metal braces (this was the 20th century). A group of thinner, pale-faced girls tended to orbit around her, as they obediently dogged her every move, while fastidiously maintaining a respectful—even wary distance from the center of gravity that was … Sharon.
She was the female bully of the seventh grade and even though I had carefully crafted a persona that allowed me to blend into the classroom like a piece of the furniture, I managed to inspire her wrath, one fateful day.
I was a rapacious reader and I had just received a new book in the mail from my grandmother. I happily carried it to school and pulled it out of my notebook during Reading. I flew across the pages with abandon until the bell rang. Then I closed the book, and hurriedly placed it in my desk for safekeeping. I was in such a hurry that I failed to see Sharon watching me as I pushed my book into my desk.
When I returned to my desk later that afternoon, I realized that the book was missing. I began to frantically search around them room, when I suddenly realized that it was in the hands of someone else. It was Sharon. She was sitting quietly at her desk reading my book!
I immediately reported the theft to my teacher, but when questioned, Sharon told her that the book was actually hers, and she had been forced to retrieve it from my desk. In effect, she accused me of stealing the book, and my poor beleaguered teacher believed her (or perhaps was afraid of her).
That afternoon, I found myself in the Guidance Counselor’s office receiving a lecture about stealing and then lying about it. My mother was called, and I was punished for crimes that I never committed. I was forced to wear the figurative scarlet letters of “S” (Stealing) and “L” (Lying) for the rest of my seventh-grade year.
Injustice is like ice. It has a way of leeching into the softer crannies of the heart and hardening the edges. I suffered my unjust sentence for a year before I finally decided to create my first Enemy List. Sharon was at the top of the list, and I vowed to hate her for the rest of my natural life.
Eventually, I began adding other names to my list: There was the boy next door who played a mean joke on a friend of mine, and then there was the girl who made fun of the way I looked. As time went on, I stopped enumerating the people who had offended me, but the mental habit had carved out a fairly large chasm in my heart and I continued to subconsciously (and perhaps consciously) collect the names or images of people who had hurt or offended me. There was just one problem: I had become consumed with bitterness.
As I lost, found, lost and then fully came to embrace my faith, I realized that I had allowed the caustic effects of my resentments and hatred to dictate the ways in which I viewed life and the people around me. I was insecure, and distrustful—unwilling to share myself fully with the people I loved … not to mention my proverbial neighbors.
Hatred is a convoluted emotion. It has the capacity to wrap its icy tendrils around the human soul and strangle it so severely that the soul is robbed of its capacity to perceive, heal, and even love. Hatred, unchecked by altruism and empathy, eventually mutates into bitterness … leaving the soul bereft of the things that made it recognizable as human.
I was that person.
And so, on a cold winter night under a blanket of stars, I walked out into the field behind our house, and opened my heart to God. I poured out all the bile, bitterness and hatred that had infected me, and I begged God to grant me His forgiveness and mercy—for I understood that the only true antidote to my blackhearted grievances was the mercy of God.
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Hatred, unchecked by altruism and empathy, eventually mutates into bitterness. #catholicmom
I tore up my semi-literal list that night as I began to embrace my new awareness: I had been granted mercy by the King of Glory. As His follower I could do nothing less than follow the Master’s example and offer mercy to those around me. Suddenly the phrase, “Love others as I have loved you,” became three-dimensional.
As for my Enemy List? The truth is, that I chose to hold onto my Enemy List; I still add names to it, too! But not for the reason you might expect. Now I use that list as a prayer outline, and I earnestly intercede for every soul that has ever hurt, offended or wronged me …
especially … Sharon.
Copyright 2023 Sarah Torbeck
Images: "Enemy List" copyright 2023 Sarah Torbeck, all rights reserved; all others Canva
About the Author
Sarah Torbeck is a mother, a grandmother, and a widow. She spent her early-adult years immersed in the esoteric religions. Through the Rosary and a miraculous intervention by the Blessed Virgin Mary, she was led into the Catholic Church. She was home! Sarah was a writing teacher, and currently writes about her faith and love for God—for He is merciful, even to His tiniest sparrow.