Father Mark, Reflections

Forgiveness

Holding resentments against yourself is like trying to choke yourself to death.  Holding resentments against others is like trying to choke yourself to death.  The latter statement seems incongruent but it’s not.  In the mystery of the spiritual life, what we do to another, we also do to ourselves.

Forgiveness is difficult.  Forgiveness requires that we accept and feel the hurt that another has inflicted on us before we are willing to begin letting it go.  Refusing to forgive means that we do not realize that we have given our authority and power away to another to allow them to play god in our lives, by tying ourselves to them and their actions.  Forgiveness in the light of Good Friday means that we are able to see truly—to see Reality, that another has no power over our spirit unless we give it to them.  Forgiveness means that we are able to observe the other and perceive their wounded nature, illness or other maladies as the reason they act in such a broken manner.   By not attaching to the behavior of the other, we become free to rest in God.  Forgiveness does not condone or minimize the wrong action of another, but releases us from its power.  Therefore forgiveness is not an act of weakness but of strength.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we do not set boundaries in the future to place ourselves unnecessarily in harm’s way.   Most of all, forgiveness takes us out of our victim mentality which is seen as a virtue by many today including church and political leaders and is at epidemic proportions in our time.  Victimhood is a cover for resentment and manipulation and seeks not reconciliation but power. Victimhood is slavery whereas forgiveness is freedom.

Yet forgiving others requires that I first forgive myself.  How can I forgive myself?   Acceptance.  How can I accept myself when I cannot accept another?  God loves us unconditionally, yet we are the ones who must choose to be open enough to receive Him.   In a sense, we have to accept God’s acceptance of us.  And this is where the plot thickens. 

Resistance to God’s acceptance is a journey that awaits all of us. We resist because we are afraid.  Often, we are afraid of being hurt, of feeling pain, of working through the barbed wire defenses that we have placed around past wounds and memories.  God understands this and patiently waits to help us to become disentangled from our past to become free in the present.  The Benedictine, William Meninger (The Process of Forgiveness—the best book I’ve ever read on the subject), teaches of 5 categories of hurt that create our resistance to forgiveness and self-acceptance: disappointment, rejection/abandonment, ridicule, betrayal, deception and abuse. 

In Living with Contradiction, Esther de Waal, the English Benedictine, reports the prayer of the novice as they lay their vows on the altar:  Accept me O Lord, accept me, 0 Lord, just as I am, in my frailty, my inadequacy, my contradictions, my confusion.  Accept me in my complexity, with all those discordant currents that pull me in so many directions.  Accept all of this, and help me so to live with what I am that what I am may become my way to God.  Accept the tensions and help me to hold them together, so that I may learn to live fully, freely, wholly, not torn apart but finding that balance and harmony that will allow me to discover my point of inner equilibrium.

I observe our organist, Rose Mary, and Kathy incessantly practicing music over and over as they attempt to blend with each other’s song to sing in harmony.   Such is a metaphor of seeking God’s tune and rhythm, attempting to match our song to His.  God patiently hums His tune as we work to adjust our ears and voice and to assimilate to His.  Once joined, we have opened ourselves to receive God’s acceptance—tuned to the Spirit’s ever expanding inner symphony of Divine Acceptance which we are then able to offer to others. 

De Waal continues:  It is the humble and honest acceptance of my frailty that frees me from pretense, from the effort to impress, from the attempt to justify, from the determination to achieve. What I need to remind myself of time and again, until I am at last convinced, is that I am loved and accepted by God just as I am.

Once we are living within the breath of the acceptance of God, forgiveness flows naturally from us to others.  Only when I am loved in that deep sense of complete acceptance can I become myself,” says Peter van Breeman. 

Forgiveness is a choice.  Will I choose its pathway to God and its life of abundance?  God loves us enough to give us this choice.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  

Fr. Mark