What I am thinking about this month is forgiveness. Obviously, as Christians we know Jesus asks us to forgive over and over and over again. The Bible has plenty of examples of how often we are to forgive (70 x 7 times), which basically means we ought to have an infinite amount of forgiveness in our hearts.
For me the ultimate example of forgiveness is when Jesus is hanging on the cross dying and he has the wherewithal to utter a magnanimous act of forgiveness when he says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Wow! How did he have the strength and heart to do that, forgiving the very people who were crucifying him, right then and there? I suppose that’s what makes Jesus, Jesus and well, me, not Jesus.
I take much, much longer to arrive at forgiveness, after a lot of consternation, hand-wringing, tears and endless amounts of asking why such and such happened. Why was I wronged? Why didn’t that person show kindness and compassion to me when I needed it most? Or worse, why am I the target of such vitriol? Why did this have to happen to me?
Of course, I never receive the answers to these questions. I’m left pondering the mysteries of life and slowly, sometimes very stubbornly, accepting that life is unfair, bad things happen to good people, and the only way forward is through forgiveness.
I’ve learned, mostly the hard way, that when I close my heart and resist forgiveness, I am ultimately only hurting and damaging myself. Alternatively, when I finally reach the point of not wanting to walk through life as a bitter, resentful person, I can see the Holy Spirit at work, ever so gently nudging me towards the path of forgiveness. And yes, sometimes I need coaxing along that path. It’s as if God recognizes the slightest opening in my heart and with love and tenderness starts to wedge Himself into that small crack until it is wide enough for me to hear His message of forgiveness.
For particularly difficult circumstances what has helped me maintain that opening in my heart is to repeat a mantra whenever that forgiveness is tested. The mantra that has worked for me is “I forgive you _______ (name of person) and I release you to the Holy Spirit.” I somehow feel better putting the person who has wronged me into the hands of the Holy Spirit. And the word release means to set free, so I am setting myself, my very heart, free from this burden, this wrong. And what washes over me is a sense of calm, peace and cleansing. I no longer am carrying this ball and chain of hurts around with me. I have released them from myself and put them into the loving and study hands of the holy and divine.
Awwww. A deep sigh and relief comes over me. Indeed I have forgiven as Jesus taught and I am free. Amen.
Ellen Kelly is a spiritual director. She earned a MTS from The Jesuit School of Theology