Accepting the challenge of redemption is not easy


In the Jim Carrey movie “Liar, Liar” he is a man who, for 24 hours, can’t lie. It’s just so human and funny. Because, when you get down to it, humans are pretty funny. Absurdly funny.

But I also love the movie because it grabs my passion for redemption stories. Redemption is my favorite of the universal human stories. Now, the “universal” part is not that all human beings find their way to redemption, or even that all human beings get around to noticing what in themselves needs redeeming. Nope, some folks, I think, lie in hospice and think, “Whew. Almost there. With a little luck, I can die without ever having to look at myself.”

What’s universal about redemption stories is that redemption sooner or later is everyone’s story. That is, if you’re a human being, you’ll eventually be confronted by parts of yourself that need redeeming.

Again, as I said in the paragraph above, you remain free to ignore and dodge the confrontation. I do not recommend this, however.

In “Liar, Liar,” Jim Carrey plays a conniving lawyer. Think of all your favorite negative prejudices about lawyers. Jim’s character is a caricature of all that. So his son makes a birthday wish that, for 24 hours, his father can’t lie. The wish comes true.

And now, everyone sees the naked truth about the man. Which, it turns out, is the only way the man is willing and able to see himself — his own unlovely truth. And, because his uncensored, unpolished truths make chaos out of trial courtroom decorum, the judge thunders, “I hold you in contempt!” To which the man roars back, “I hold myself in contempt!”

And, with that confession, the man’s redemption story can begin.

Now, when moments like that happen in therapy, when a patient truly beholds something ugly in his character (egregious selfishness, cruelties, betrayals, dishonesty, abuses and/or injustices to self and others), and when they blurt out their own version of “I hold myself in contempt” … well, you might think therapist types would jump in to console. To reframe. To say, “We’ve got to work on your self-esteem so you can forgive yourself.”

Not me. In those moments, I tend to say, “Good for you!” Because only people with high functioning self-esteem have the strength to confront in themselves that which does not deserve to be esteemed.

Because the only forgiveness worth having emerges from truth and contrition.

Jim Carrey re-upped the same role in the movie “Bruce Almighty.”

Yep, here’s an ambitious, proud, card-carrying jerk who critiques and complains to God once too often. So, God smugly hands the man God’s job. Says, “Knock yourself out.” And, of course, after a brief, hedonistic exploitation of his newfound powers, the hapless man is crushed under the weight of mystery. The movie finds him kneeling on a roadway at night in the rain, pleading up to heaven, “I don’t want to be God!”

And, with that confession, the man’s redemption story can begin.

“I am stone-cold, wretchedly guilty of (insert contemptible behavior here)” … “I am not God.” These two companion confessions are not self-loathing. They are self-respecting. Not to mention an immense psychic, emotional and spiritual relief.

The Richard Gere character in “An Officer and a Gentleman” comes to mind. Another self-serving louse. He is confronted and exposed by his drill sergeant. And, when threatened with expulsion, Private Louse weeps and cries out: “I got nowhere to go! I got nothing!” And to the woman he loves, he shouts, “I don’t want anybody to love me!”

And, with these confessions, his story of redemption can begin.

The husband in my office tells his wife, “I won’t ever forgive myself (for my sins against you.)” And the wife shocks us both when she pops back, “I’m not going to let it be that easy for you!”

We’re both a little stunned, the husband and I. But she is one feisty Wife Unit. She tells him in no uncertain terms that there is no way he’s going to compound his utter selfishness and general lousy husbandry with “sucking his thumb” (her exact words) for the rest of his life about how guilty he feels. She tells him her forgiveness is worth more than gold, and he can either accept the forgiveness or get out.

He looks humble. Awed. “Yes ma’am,” he says, obediently.

I can’t help myself. “Where did you find her,” I ask, incredulously. “Did you win the marriage lottery?”

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). Contact him at skalas@reviewjournal.com.