Forgiving makes sense, Mar 1, 2021
I grew up with the well-intentioned cliche forgive and forget but I no longer think this teaching is helpful. Let’s unpack that a bit.
We encourage children to sort things out, talk things over and to invite the problem-friend over to play. But when we become adults there is no-one to parent us and our friends are rarely brave enough to challenge us to let go of the hurt we hold. Who is courageous enough to risk friendship and remind us to forgive those who have caused suffering for us and for those we love?
I enjoy reading secular texts which approach what are commonly labelled Christian or Catholic themes from a human rather than a religious perspective. Sound anthropology, sociology and morality do not contradict sound Christianity and sound Christianity will not contradict secular guidance for healthy and abundant human living.
In a book I was reading over the weekend the author suggested: “Forgiving someone who hurt you isn’t about excusing the other person’s behaviour. It’s about choosing to let go of your anger so you can focus your energy on a more worthwhile cause.” Amy Morin
That’s pretty sound, yes? And it fits very well with the message of Jesus in today’s gospel, not a series of tough forgiveness requirements, but a proposal followed by a promise:
“BE COMPASSIONATE” – after all compassion is what you have received, are receiving and will receive from God.
“DO NOT JUDGE”, (and the promise) and you will not be judged.
“DO NOT CONDEMN, (with the promise) and you will not be condemned.”
“GRANT PARDON, and you will be pardoned”.
“GIVE and there will be gifts for you: a full measure” …
“Because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.”
Personally, I want to receive compassion. I don’t want to be judged or condemned. I want to be pardoned when I have done wrong. I want to receive gifts, not just one or two but a full measure.
And as I reflect I realise again that my lack of forgiveness of others is back-firing on me, and is holding closed my own capacity to receive the full measure of what I need from God and from others. When I begin to taste the “full measure” this abundance, given to me, becomes my new default memory. Not forgiving and forgetting, but forgiving and remembering with gratitude the (now healing) hurt that opened my capacity for the love I now receive.
And to start this whole process remember that forgiveness is a divine quality. As hard as I try to forgive I won’t be able to.
So I pray, Jesus, give me the desire to forgive this person.
But perhaps I would rather hold my hurt?
So I pray, Jesus, give me the desire for the desire to forgive this person.
But still, I don’t have even the desire for the desire.
So I pray, Jesus, give me the desire for the desire for the desire to forgive this person.
And now I begin to sense that I am praying honestly, a heart-felt sincere prayer. And I sense the smile on the face of Jesus.
… and now, after six months. six years, sixty years I am ready to receive the full measure of divinely-gifted healing and freedom.
- Call to mind someone who has hurt you. This may be in recent days or many decades ago. Naturally we hold the hurt and replay the wounded feeling that they caused. Now pray the desire prayer above. This thought might be helpful: If someone hits me across the cheek and I hurt, they did that to me. But if in ten years I still hurt, they didn’t do that to me.
- I found this little gem in my inbox this morning, from a dear friend. I think Father John O’Conner’s words might find a resonance in most of us.
I remember once – at a time when my daily existence was being spoiled by someone who had, quite unfairly, tried to scuttle my career in the travel industry by offering false information to my employer – desperately telling God that I found it impossible to forgive this calumny that was threatening my future. Then I decided that, if this blight of unforgiveness was to be removed from my life, I need to ask God to take it away – so that both the perpetrator and I could be released from the bitter and heavy burden of unforgiveness. I slept well that night, and in the morning the burden had been removed. I could no longer think of the person I had percevied as my ‘enemy’ with hatred or fear – a Blessing for which I was truly thankful.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand