Coming to you this week from my daylily gardens at the rectory……
I like to think of myself as a trusting person, whether it’s with new students or when meeting new parishioners or visitors. I automatically assume that people are what and who they say they are–which is how I want to be accepted. Sometimes people disappoint us, however, and they hurt us, consciously or unconsciously, and then we have a decision to make. Will we forgive and release, or will we cling to the injury and allow it to poison the way we interact with others?
Sometimes it feels like forgiving is too hard, that it’s easier to just cut the offending person from our lives. In some cases, ending the relationship is necessary, but until we have forgiven the person, we won’t find real freedom. I know this personally because just this week I was awakened at 2:00 am, suddenly wide awake and obsessing about people who betrayed not only my professional trust, but also my friendship. I spent the next 3 hours feeling angry, betrayed, imagining various confrontations I might have, etc… I’m a slow learner, you see, and it took me until the morning light to realize that I had to find a way to forgive if I was ever going to find peace. (I should probably listen to my own homilies more attentively…)
If we harbor bitterness in our hearts against anyone, we only hurt ourselves because we are the ones with the bitterness. Choosing to forgive is choosing to alleviate ourselves of that burden, choosing to be free of the past, and choosing not to perceive ourselves as victims. Another way of saying it is this: refusing the forgive is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die. (I love that line!)
One of the reasons that forgiveness can be so challenging is that we feel we are being passive in regard to the actions of the person who betrayed us or who lied about us. One of the most dishonest tactics we humans use is passive aggression–where we smile superficially on the outside, but never have the integrity to speak to the person directly about what we feel or think. This is always destructive and contrary to Spirit. When the offending persons refuse to even speak to us about their true feelings, forgiveness may seem harder to extend to them, but this need not be so.
In order to forgive, we simply need to get to a place where we are ready to stop identifying ourselves with the injury that was done to us. We tend to think of forgiveness as doing a favor for our detractor, but in fact, forgiveness is something we do for ourselves. Forgiveness means we are ready to let go of our own disappointment and pain and move forward. Yes, we must accept what has happened, but to continue to obsess about the injury is to pretend that the past could have been different from what it was.
Jesus tells us that the truth will set us free, but that doesn’t mean it will happen automatically: we’re likely to have to work on it. We can acknowledge the truth of our hurting, we can attempt to heal to the rift between the offenders and ourselves, and we can allow ourselves the freedom to speak the truth lovingly. It may be the case that the offender refuses to acknowledge his sin, but that is not our concern. We are not put here to compel anyone to be better than they are: we are called simply to love them as they are. In conversation with God, we can say what needs to be said, ask for what needs to be healed, and have the courage to release the hurt. The reality is that if we cling to the pain and disappointment, we will only create more pain and disappointment. There is power and liberation in choosing to forgive.
So, don’t be slow to remember like your pastor! Forgiveness is not only possible but necessary.