My first Forgiveness Sunday in 2000 left me feeling sore but satisfied, even though at the time I did think it was a bit redundant. After all, I was a Christian, so of course I was going to forgive everyone. But over the years, I realized words are easy; actions—not so much. There are so many pockets of un-forgiveness deep in my soul, and I realize I desperately need help to root them out.
We are told in 1 John 4:21, “whoever loves God must also love his brother.” Since we can’t love if we don’t forgive, then forgiving others becomes a priority to serving Christ. The church recognizes this and has placed this annual reminder of forgiveness into our cycle of services.
In Matthew 6 Jesus gives us the very simple Lord’s Prayer. He sums it up in Matthew 6: 14–15, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
This year, after Forgiveness vespers, I heard a philosopher on a radio show speaking about anger and forgiveness. She made some interesting points, but near the end she said the Judeo-Christian notion of forgiveness was conditional and alluded to the above passage in Matthew 6. She understood it to mean that someone had to grovel and forgive others enough before God would condescend to forgive them. (I have heard this interpretation within Christian circles as well.) I wanted to tell her she was wrong. I wanted to tell her God forgives everyone unconditionally, whether we ask for it or not. The problem is we often can’t accept the unconditional forgiveness God gives to us.
Think how often we hear or use the phrases, ‘I’ll never forgive myself’ or ‘She needs to apologize before I forgive her’ or ‘they don’t deserve forgiveness.’ There lies the crux of the matter. No one deserves forgiveness.
Every single one of us has done things we wish we hadn’t, and we squirm inside every time we think about it, wishing we had a do-over. Even if we have been forgiven by the person we offended, we are frequently unable to forgive ourselves. When I don’t forgive someone or myself, I end up living with a huge lump of resentment, guilt and embarrassment festering away inside of me.
Let me illustrate. Throughout the summer I drag a hose around my garden to water my plants. Frequently, I squeeze the nozzle and nothing comes out, even though I know I turned on the water. I have to follow the hose back towards the tap until I find the kink. Once I straighten out the kink, the water flows freely.
Or think of a stream being fed from a lake. As the water flows through the stream, all of the life along the banks is being nourished. But if a dam forms across the stream, life below the dam will no longer flourish. The fish will die, the animals will leave and the plants will wither.
Or another–our blood is pumped by our heart through the blood vessels. If a blockage forms in one of the blood vessels, tissues below that blockage can’t get the oxygen they need, and they will begin to die.
The kink, the dam and the blockage are all like the lump of resentment, guilt and embarrassment sticking in my soul.
The Church is a conduit of God’s love to the world. God is pouring forgiveness though me, a member of the Church, but it can’t go anywhere or do me any good unless it can flow freely. When I hang onto anger, resentment and guilt, I am unable to receive God’s forgiveness or pass it on. When I let go and forgive others, then God’s forgiveness can pour into the world through me while simultaneously refreshing and healing my soul. But I can only let go when I keep my eyes on God and myself and not on anyone else.
I visualize me, in church, wearing blinders. But these are blinders with mirrors on the inside, so all I can see is Christ before me. And whenever I try to look around at others, all I can see is myself.
Our Lenten daily prayer given to us by St. Ephrem sums it up perfectly.
“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.”
I want this to be my active prayer, not just for Lent but for every minute of the day.
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