Much of the content of this blog circles around the topic of what it means to try to be better than you are or to try to reach some kind of spiritual refinement. Today, I want to talk about a variation on this theme: second chances. Not second chances that we give to ourselves, when we fail and try again; rather, the second chances that we hope to receive from other people.
Often, when a person embarks on a spiritual journey, they realize that their relationships with their parents, siblings, children or other loved ones may be flawed in regrettable ways.
Let’s take the example of a woman we’ll call Sally. Sally is the older sibling to a pair of twin sisters, but she’s not very close with either of them. When they were kids, she dismissed them as spoiled and immature, and she was often short-tempered and bossy with them; as adults, they drifted apart. Whenever there’s an obligatory family get-together, the animosity persists.
Recently, Sally has been working on herself and confronting some of the more unsavory elements of her personality. She’s been trying to stop behaviors that make her unhappy and that bring unhappiness to those around her. In particular, Sally has realized that she has a tendency to schlep grudges around. She has a strong personal sense of justice wedded to righteous indignation. However, she has started to understand that this negativity can be tempered, and that this will help her embark on a better way of being.
As part of this process, Sally has been ruminating on her relationship with her sisters. Her sisters may have been obnoxious at times over the years, but she’s recently come to conclude that the problem began with her and that she is the one who has really perpetuated it.
In reality, nothing they did as kids warranted her losing out on a meaningful sisterly bond with them. She could have been more generous and patient; she could have showed them the ropes and shared her greater experience with them. Instead, she resented them and pushed them away over and over.
The truth is, when they were born, Sally, previously an only child, struggled with the sudden loss of their parents’ attention and displays of affection. The twosome became the most important people in the family. All Sally could see was that their parents doted on the little cuties; her resentment started there and festered for years. She never even realized that, as they got older, her sisters were envious of her and the way their parents trusted her with privileges like watching movies they weren’t allowed to see and staying up late. Instead, anger and outrage grew on both sides until the source was irrelevant; the only important feature was that they disliked each other immensely.
After so many years, what can Sally now do to change things?
It takes bravery and honesty to confront those things in yourself that aren’t illustrious, which may have contributed to the problems in your relationships. However, only when you engage in this kind of self-work can you recognize how you can contribute to any corresponding efforts at mutual repair.
The best version of the second chance is when there are two consenting participants, both of whom would like to see things get better. However, It’s not always easy to persuade a person with whom you have a difficult history to enter into a dialogue with you that could fix things.
For one thing, true change is rare, and it is sometimes easier to believe that a person is up to no good than that they really care to engage in spiritual refinement. Depending on what went wrong in the past, your friends or family might be suspicious that you have an ulterior motive, perhaps something financial.
“We’ve never been close,” Sally’s sisters might say, “so why does she want to be close now? Where is this coming from?”
Additionally, even if your loved ones believe that you are sincere, they still may not have the motivation to give you a second chance. Sally’s sisters have historically only seen her be impatient, critical, and harsh. Even if she says she’s changing, they may not believe that she’s capable of a big enough change to make it worth their while. They now have families and lives of their own, and taking on the task of building something new with Sally is not a priority for either of them. It could be a huge waste of time or, even worse, open a Pandora’s box of issues they’re not prepared to deal with.
Asking for forgiveness
Forgiveness is a subject on its own, and I might even make a separate blog post dedicated solely to that topic. In the context of second chances, however, what I’ll say is this: Just saying I’m sorry is an unimpressive way to ask for forgiveness.
Simply mouthing the words is not enough: A person has to articulate and own what they’ve done wrong. You have to prove you understand the harm and pain you’ve caused. You must show that your heart has been touched and that you want to eradicate the callousness that allowed you to behave so badly in the past.
Once you apologize, you must also accept that your victim is not obligated to accept your apology or buy your sincerity. You must respect that it may not be in their best interest to get involved with you again.
Yet, even if your apology is not accepted, this doesn’t mean that you cannot consider yourself to have made progress. It’s good and important to recognize your faults; the efforts you make to grow from them still count, with or without forgiveness.
In my particular journey, a lot of the work I did on my relationship with my mother occurred after she passed away.
How wonderful things could have been if I had made this progress sooner; just the thought gives me goosebumps. Yet, that does not mean this work was wasted. I spent my adolescence resentful of my mother and missed out on what a fabulous woman she was – fabulous to other people, that is. Ha, ha. However, being able to appreciate her today for who she really was, I feel wiser and more spiritually complete. It has significantly changed my basic view of life and I think it will ultimately help me in the work I do to help others.
In short, please remember that no one on the planet owes you a second chance. Nevertheless, as long as you sincerely take responsibility for your part in a negative dynamic, you are guaranteeing yourself a place in the world of spiritual growth.