Who in your life do you find it hardest to forgive? (Hold that question for now.) Forgiveness, according to Webster, is an act of forgiving. To forgive means to cease to feel resentment against an offender.
Forgiveness can be both hard and easy in the negative sense – the hardest action to make happen and the easiest thing to forget in the heat of the moment. Jesus reminds us to forgive in all circumstances. He constantly tells the people he encounters about the Father’s forgiveness to them and to do likewise.
When we forgive, we get rid of a burden we carry and we have peace. Any tension we have disappears. We have even heard from the medical experts that losing stress and tension can have a positive effect on the body and gives the body a chance to experience greater health in all areas – physically, emotionally, mentally and even spiritually. Stress of not forgiving wears us down. When stress is released, it will bring more energy to us for positive uses. So much more energy is used up in holding on to unforgiveness than in letting it go.
Forgiving adds more in our life for our spiritual growth. Think of our soul as a box of items we store away through the years. We keep this box handy for adding a variety of items as we go through life’s experiences. Besides filling up with good things, the box is also accumulating some negative items, like unforgiveness. It could be unforgiveness from others we might have offended and it could be unforgiveness that we mistakenly feel is from God who has not forgiven us, even though Scripture tells us differently. Those items of unforgiveness leave no space for more of the good stuff – gifts and blessings from our Lord. As we forgive, getting rid of the old, broken items in the box, we have more space available to be filled up with the better, newer, enriching gifts that God is waiting to put into that box.
When we do away with the stress of an unforgiving heart, we experience more freedom of being peacemakers. We can’t bring peace to others without forgiveness. Again, the question is asked, “Who in your life is it hardest to forgive?” This person is usually pushed out of our thoughts and hidden under other items in the box. This person hardest to forgive is our self. It is usually harder to forgive our self than others because our self is attached to us, like Velcro, in aspects of living and moving and breathing and thinking. Others are attached by association, whether they are siblings, parents, other relatives, friends or acquaintances.
Sometimes what happened in our past can seem so bad to us that we have extreme trouble forgiving our self for that past. It gnaws away at our soul. There are times we can push it aside and ignore it, but eventually that need to forgive our self returns. Even if we have asked the Lord’s forgiveness for this item in our life, we still find it hard to accept that that forgiveness has been granted, and we seem to constantly ask for forgiveness through the years.
How can we forgive our self? Reflection is one way – we reflect with and keep our thoughts on the Scripture passages telling the many ways Jesus has shown forgiveness. Prayer is, of course, another important habit to get into, In order to forgive our self for the past, we should approach this in the same way as forgiving others, but in a deeper sense. God knows what’s in our heart with all of the wants, the needs, the yearnings. The past that is hard to forgive is like a companion – it’s been with US for maybe decades, but if we really would like to get rid of the guilt and self-condemnation, we must want to forgive our self. We cannot just say we would like to get rid of this – want is the key word. This want should not be ‘floating on the surface but must come from deep down in our entire being. We yearn for it and pray to God with our entire being that he would help us in this need to forgive our self, forgive our past, to believe that it has been granted, and He will do it. Maybe we will find the ability to forgive right away, or maybe it might take days or weeks, but if we ask and pray every day, wanting with all our heart to be able to forgive our self, God will make it so.
I will end this with a reflective poem on forgiving which God gave me while on a healing retreat. As you pray, add the Lord’s Prayer after each verse.
– Ellen Jennings, OFS
In the loneliness of night, when there seems to be no light,
The soul cries out its plight – God, forgive! (Our Father…)
It seems to seek in vain through the terror and pain,
And peace it can’t contain – God, forgivel (Our Father…)
The soul in darkest sorrow, waiting for the ‘morrow,
A calm it cannot borrow – God, Forgive! (Our Father…)
Then somewhere it hears the voice – faintly awaking to rejoice –
Hearing Him who made the Choice – “l forgivel” (Our Father…)