Grace, forgiveness, mercy, love. Words that we religious folk throw around with ease.
But talking in the theoretical realm about forgiveness and grace and mercy and love is so much harder than actually living it out.
We’ve all been hurt. Think of your hurts. Small or large they matter. The childhood bully on the playground taunting you; the best friend that abandoned you for a new friend; the in-law that didn’t welcome you into the family; the pastor that lied and betrayed your trust; the coworker that took credit for your hard work; the trusted person in your life that violated you.
Those hurts can go deep into your soul. Sometimes we get apologies. So many other times we don’t.
During this season of Lent, I’ve thought about the most audacious forgiveness story I’ve heard.
A man, wrongly accused. Beaten. Spat upon. Deserted by friends. Paraded down a street with insults being hurled his way. Nailed to a wooden cross. Suffering horrific pain.
Yet, in that moment of shame, abandonment, and imminent death, he proclaimed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Jesus at the moment showed us grace, giving us something we didn’t deserve: forgiveness.
Jesus at that moment showed us mercy, not giving us something we definitely deserved: punishment.
Jesus at that moment showed us unfathomable love.
Grace, mercy, love – they stemmed from forgiveness.
Nelson Mandela said, “Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.”
And that’s so very, very true. My friend Ali (who honestly, I don’t hang out with enough) said recently, “To not walk around with the burdens of bitterness and anger and resentment and mean-spiritedness and conniving and…whatever else… frees us up to do SO MUCH GOOD!” Wise words from my wise friend.
Forgiving those who have wronged us, especially those who haven’t bothered to seek forgiveness, is liberating. It does remove the fear – be it fear of shame or fear of pain or fear of blame. Letting it go and giving it over to God is not letting that incident, that person who wronged you have a measure of control in your life.
I’m working on my own struggle with forgiveness. A deep pain from long ago that I tried to forget about for years found it’s way back into my consciousness in the past year. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence. In this year of profound change and growth, I think God wanted me to deal with it, to pull that root of bitterness and resentment and pain out of my life. Even in burying it, it was still there in some fashion holding me down.
When my therapist told me that I needed to forgive the person who wronged me, I stopped going for a few weeks. I didn’t like hearing it. Why should I have to forgive someone who never even acknowledged the terrible wrong they did?
Forgiveness isn’t excusing wrong behavior. Forgiveness is not necessarily forgetting. Forgiveness is liberation. It’s taking that thing that has a hold on you and tossing it into a fire. It’s uprooting the weeds in our garden and letting something bigger, something better bloom: Love.
Mother Teresa was right when she said “If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive.” I prayed that God would break my heart for what breaks his. I asked him to help me love more like he does. And in this year of learning more about what all that really means, God’s brought this incident back into my life. And I know I need to forgive. I fought it. I really have.
But it hit me one day… in reciting the Lord’s Prayer as part of the beautiful liturgy… Jesus modeled for us how to pray and what to pray. I really thought about what I was saying instead of just numbly reciting. Forgive us our trespasses or our sins… as we forgive those who have trespassed or sinned against us.
And who am I to argue with the man who hung on that cross and modeled ultimate forgiveness and ultimate love.
Father, forgive them. Lord, have mercy. Love your enemies. Love your Neighbor.