Friday, September 29, 2006

As We Forgive Those... (part 3)

To conclude these reflections, we have to ask one more question: how to forgive? The simplest way is to apply the “just do it” principle. Remember that forgiveness is not a matter of feeling but of willing and doing. We need simply to choose, to decide to forgive, to make an act of the will—or at least desire to forgive, and offer this desire to God. Even if you somehow feel not “ready” to forgive (be careful, though, that you aren’t living more by emotion than by faith), at least be willing to forgive when the grace and strength are granted. You may need to ask Jesus to forgive through you. You may also need to renew this act of forgiveness if negative emotions bubble up from time to time. Give your feelings to God and let Him worry about healing them. Only God can do this, and He will, in his own way and time. These feelings can be brought to Jesus in prayer. It’s OK to feel them—it’s not healthy to try to convince yourself you don’t have them, and then show a pious mask to God—but feel them in the presence of Jesus and allow Him to enter into them, and then to lead you out of them.

Once we forgive we have also to forget, as the expression goes, in order to make our forgiveness complete. We can’t do this literally, that is, to get our brains to actually lose their memory function (though advancing age gradually takes care of that, starting at about 45!), but we can stop reminding people of how they have hurt us (which is very common, even among Christians) and somehow using it as leverage against them. St John Climacus, in The Ladder of Divine Ascent, regards “remembrance of wrongs” as one of the most odious of sins, and completely unfitting for a Christian. Still, it is not easy, but we can receive the grace through prayer and a sincere desire to please the Lord and not ourselves. Forgetting as well as forgiving helps restore the broken relationship. This is what God’s forgiveness does for us: it restores our relationship with Him which was broken by our sin (see Jer 31:34). In human relationships it may not always be possible to perfectly restore what has been damaged, because some people will refuse to offer or accept forgiveness. But we can still be reconciled with them in our own hearts, and our consciences can be clear before God.

Forgive me, I lied, there is still one more question, since life goes on: What next? In order to live with a forgiving heart, we need to heal from oversensitivity to what people say or do to us. We need to accept the “spiritual sandpaper” of living with others—let it smooth down the rough edges. We need to discover why certain of our “buttons” are so easily pushed, why we react defensively or in whatever unacceptable way to certain persons or situations. This can lead us on to our own inner healing, spiritual growth and Christian maturity. The practice of the Jesus Prayer or other forms of simple, quiet, contemplative prayer can root us in Jesus’ love and peace. We can use this prayer, or perhaps the repetition of a favorite verse of Scripture, to keep us from letting our emotional reactions take over. If there is Jesus’ peace within us, we are free to decide how to respond to a hurtful word or act, rather than being led along by undisciplined emotion. I remember praying one morning and a psalm verse impressed itself on me, so I made it part of my prayer: “God is within; it cannot be shaken.” Little did I know how much I would need it, for that same day a hysterical woman called me, with numerous urgent crises in her life, and then a certain man, who has made a lot of trouble for us, called with harassments and threats. So I just had to say to my soul: “God is within; it cannot be shaken.”

Also, as we grow in our spiritual life, we will develop a sense of compassion which is other-centered, rather than the self-centered insecurity that is self-protecting. Thus we can also overcome that sense of becoming weak or of placing ourselves at a “disadvantage” when we grant forgiveness to another. We are not in competition with each other; rather, we are members of the same Body, called to build each other up, and seek the other’s good before our own (see Philippians 2-1-11; also Jesus’ forgiving of his executioners from the Cross. Was that weakness or the greatest power in the world?)

Finally, reflect on First Corinthians, chapter 13. The bottom line is this: if we love we can forgive. Love covers a multitude of sins. In the end, says St Paul, three things endure: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.