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I forgive

August 25, 2010

Likewise I forgive,

all those who have wounded me,

my parents, my spouse,

my children, my friends.

The good Lord asks of us,

“Let my people go!”

We forgive all those in our circle of responsibility

as fully as we ourselves desire forgiveness

and have indeed been forgiven.

“Let each person be free of any bondage

that I have occasioned or seen,

in every relationship,

especially in those that belong

to my motherhood.”

As the Jesus teaches us in his prayer, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we do not receive forgiveness, however sincerely we ask, if we do not ourselves forgive. That is a fundamental rule of the spiritual life; without forgiveness, every other kind of prayer, petition, adoration, gratitude, or any motion of friendship towards God is blocked by our anger and hardness of heart.

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. For our own self-defense, interior as well as exterior, it may be necessary to remember certain kinds of harm, and with remembering there often comes a need for repeated forgiveness. It’s okay when you realize that yesterday’s forgiveness wasn’t all the way to the bottom of your anger. Just take the next step, and the next. Try to go deeper; at least keep going. Ask for the help you need.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean saying you were not hurt; it is not denial. If you were hurt, you were hurt, and there is something to forgive.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean saying that the person who hurt you didn’t mean to. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Maybe she did; maybe she didn’t. Realizing that your sufferings come from people who had their own sufferings to deal with sometimes helps you to mobilize your own heart, and that’s good. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” So yes, knowing that they don’t get it helps us to forgive, but it is not necessary.

Sometimes it does seem that others know very well what they are doing, and we still need to forgive at least in one sense: we need to say, firmly, that we desire their inner freedom, and that so far as it ddepends upon us, we offer them all possible freedom. Not license; not the right to repeat: true freedom to be what God had in mind at the moment of creation, and what He still has in mind. We must be willing to help out with that, even at some cost to ourselves.

Sometimes it seems that others must know what they are doing, but later we discover that their blindnesses were real, and were due to pains we could never have imagined. (I always remember that scene in The Spitfire GrillZlotoff’s film with Alison Elliott -where Shelby tells Hannah that if they had suffered what Percy had, “It would have killed you or me.”) We blush at our hardness of heart; next time, we are more ready to forgive, right up front, for the only reason that matters: we have been forgiven and offered life while we were still in our sins.

Forgiveness is a free gift of life, given ahead of any deserving.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2010 3:55 pm

    Dear Meg, I came to your blog from my stats page, as someone who’d been on your site came from it to mine, so I was curious. I couldn’t find any clue where the reference came from, but I stayed because your blog is very engaging. I especially read and re-read this particular post, as I have a problem with forgiveness. I have to say, the post did not in the end break through my thick skull, although you did touch on every good excuse we make. But it didn’t help me. The person I would be asked to forgive put me in terrible harm’s way when I was a little girl, as if I did not even exist, and then expected my forgiveness, when we were adults, like this: as if it never happened. And that also felt as if I didn’t exist, or expected to act as if I did not. And then my loyalty to the little girl I was, who did exist, and who did matter, seemed (I put it in past tense because it is too late to transmit any kind of ‘forgiveness’ to the other person in question because they are dead now) to prevent whatever behavior that other person called forgiveness, in me (which was the same as silence, which felt the same as compliance). So there I am. The best I can seem to do is to pray for this person, often, hoping they repented, hoping they made it. This person refused to speak to a minister, let alone a priest, at her death, and I am told cursed God. I know those guys Jesus forgave probably did the same, and He forgave them. But what does that exactly mean, anyway? I do pray for her. Anything else I cannot muster. I’ve never spoken of this to anyone, although I think it every time our good pastor talks about forgiveness. I know he means me, and I know you mean me. But I don’t know what else to do from there. I am not treating this person differently than I would wish to be treated. I would not expect to be ‘forgiven’ if I did not recognize the crime. And yet.

    • September 18, 2010 2:07 pm

      If you are praying for her, hoping she repented and made it, I think that’s forgiveness.
      Forgiveness doesn’t mean feeling good about someone – that’s what happens after reconciliation, and reconciliation does require that the other party come forward and you work it out to the point of a new friendship and trust. Forgiveness means you get out there in front and desire what is seriously good – salvation being a serious good. It’s the thing you can do between you and Jesus. Reconciliation is the thing that both of you have to do, and if the other one doesn’t, then it’s off and that’s not your fault.
      I’m not sure the guys who cursed God when Jesus was dying were let into heaven just because Jesus asked his Father to forgive them. They had to take hold of that forgiveness. The “good thief” blessed him, and we call him St. Dismas; we don’t have any information on the salvation of the other one. And the soldier who said, “Truly this was a son of God,” we call St. Longinus, because whatever role he may have played in the crucifixion, we know he was reconciled with the truth. We don’t have any information on the others. They were offered salvation; they may or may not have been reconciled and taken it.
      I’m reading your words, “expected my forgiveness… as if it never happened.” But that would not be the truth; it did happen. God can’t ask you to respond to those terms, because He is Truth.
      I had a bad experience as a child, and I had to forgive many years later when the other party was dead. It came to mind when I was washing the dishes, and I just said, “Jesus, I forgive so-and-so.” Then the most awful weight came over me, so I had to go and lie down because I felt as if a load of bricks had fallen on my chest, and I couldn’t keep standing up because it was too heavy. I lay there for a long time, and I saw many events in my life that had been affected by the fear that was born that day, and I saw how much harm had come. I forgave it.
      But there was no reconciliation with that party, and though I can hope he got to heaven, I know that if he rose again on earth, I would probably cross the street rather than face him. But I still got new that day, and lots of old fears melted. If he makes it to heaven, and if I do, someone will help us to be okay when we meet.
      Maybe you are feeling guilty about not being reconciled. That’s not your job. Forgiveness is big enough.
      I hope that nothing I have said is disrespectful of your suffering, and I wish you every blessing.

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