These words from the Our Father, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” are a clear reminder that we are forgiven to the degree we are able to forgive. If we are honest with ourselves, we all admit to the need for forgiveness. Very often, forgiveness is sought from God for our personal transgressions. This is probably the type of forgiveness that most of us are comfortable with because we expect God to forgive us when we seek to restore or deepen our relationship with God. Scripture and theology tell us that our God is a forgiving God. That is God’s job to forgive us when we come asking for forgiveness!
It is usually a different story when we are expected to forgive ourselves. When it comes to forgiving ourselves, we know that we carry lots of baggage on our life’s journey. One of the foundational roles in life, is forming our own identity. This is not the easiest of human responsibilities. I think most of us would admit that it can sometimes be painful to look deep within ourselves and realize that I, that we, have often missed the mark in growing toward wholeness and holiness. Age has nothing to do with it. We can be in the twilight years of life and still refuse to take steps to grow, because growth requires introspective honesty, risk and change. I believe we are like the vast majority of people who honestly admit that they have messed up, and probably way more than once. Those mess-ups along the way need to be forgiven. We need to forgive ourselves for not being the women and men God created us to become.
It is a different story again when we are expected to forgive others. It is often difficult to offer forgiveness to others, but we are reminded in the Book of Sirach that, “The Lord heals us, only when we stop nourishing anger against another.” It is sad that some people, and maybe some of us, continue to nourish ill feelings towards others. Maybe we continue in “unforgiveness” because then we have an excuse for not dealing with that person. Whatever the reason, it is much more mature and growth producing to address difficult situations in our lives.
We’re not alone in this struggle to forgive because in the gospels we find Peter asking Jesus how many times we should forgive others – even being magnanimous by suggesting seven times.Jesus informs him that forgiveness should be practiced seventy-seven times or, in other words, forgiveness should be unlimited. Jesus practiced what he preached, so obviously, this attitude of forgiveness should be a characteristic of all Christians. Alas, this world would be a different place if that were true.
Over and over again in the scriptures, and in our own human experiences, we are reminded that we are imperfect and human. We do not have the gift of seeing into the hearts and minds of others, or of knowing their motivations, nor are they able to do this with us. Only God knows what is deep within the heart of each individual. If God is constantly calling each of us to grow to our full human potential, how can we not recognize the same call in the lives of everyone else? This on-going call to holiness and wholeness is a process, and one that none of us has completed. Part of that process of growth, is letting go of past hurts, anger and resentment. It is a process whereby we try to reconcile with anyone we have neglected or hurt, or to receive forgiveness from anyone we have hurt. We are also called to forgive ourselves.
One of the scripture quotes I find helpful is from Ephesians, slightly adapted: “God chose us in Christ before the world began, to be holy and blameless and to be full of love…” I pray that each of us who follow Jesus who forgave all sorts human weakness, and even forgave his executioners at the time of his death, that we be people of forgiveness. When we allow God’s grace to move us to forgive, to grow toward holiness and wholeness then, and only then, will we be more truly ourselves and God’s good creation. We will be true followers of the one who calls us to model and be Jesus for others – even for those who need forgiveness.
Is forgiveness hard for you? Why?
What steps can you take to forgive yourself for some failing and to forgive another who hurt you?