A comment to my prior blog post on “Satisfaction” asked whether if it was possible to forgive but make the decision to never shop at an establishment again. After thinking about it, I realize that this is really a two-part question. Instead of giving a short reply to a comment, I decided that this question deserves more elaboration.
Forgiving with God’s Heart
The answer to the first part of the question is that it is always possible to forgive no matter how grave and difficult the situation. This is possible only because of the example that Jesus gives us. If we attempt with the best of our human intentions, our feelings inevitably get in the way. As I stated in my last blog, forgiveness is an act of the will. One makes the decision to forgive in spite of how they feel. The key to doing this is actually with God’s heart. A look at the Gospels shows that Jesus put a lot of emphasis on forgiveness. In fact, often when healing a person physically many times He also said, “Your sins are forgiven”. The whole point of His dying on the Cross was to atone for sin. He who was not sin became sin.
It is important to leave the door open when considering forgiveness. That means the door to our heart. If we approach the situation with a closed heart, we might miss out on someone’s attempt to reconcile with us. Also when dealing with persons, often it is a matter of swallowing our pride and taking the first step to repair a relationship. This is like being a sacrificial lamb. If efforts are met with rejection, don’t feel defeated but rather pray for the oppressor then go in peace knowing that you have given it your best shot. Don’t be surprised if by praying you find your heart softening. That is a healing by-product of prayer.
Lent is all about Repentance
I am a little slow on jumping on the bandwagon to blog about it but this week we observe Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of the Lenten Season. And guess what? Lent is all about repentance and forgiveness. It is recognizing the necessity of having humility through the act of putting the ashes on our foreheads (from ash you come and ash you return). The scripture reading from the book of the prophet Joel states:
Even now, says the Lord, return to Me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord your God. For gracious and merciful is He, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.
God’s example is that He is willing to forgive us (remember the sacrificial lamb?). He is in the business of changing hearts, especially hard hearts (and some hard heads!).
Should One Return to an Oppressive Situation?
There is not an easy answer to this one because it really depends on the nature of the relationship. Like I said in my last blog, life is not one shopping spree. And it is not always a clear-cut to shop or not to shop. In the case of where personal safety is in jeopardy it is not only highly recommended but prudent not to return. Examples include that of a woman who is in a physically and/or emotionally abusive relationship with a boyfriend or spouse. Even the Church does not advocate a person continuing in this sort of situation. Another example is that of a person struggling with addictions where associating with certain persons may be a trigger for relapse to drug or alcohol use. As the popular expression goes, some people can become an occasion for sin for us. In that instance, it is necessary to discontinue association. But we should still forgive them and especially pray for them.
There are certain relationships that we cannot avoid. One obvious is that of child/parent. One of the Commandments is to honor one’s mother and father. However, on the other hand, if the relationship puts one into physical and emotional danger, then there must be barriers. It is often these types of dysfunctional relationships that put people into the counselor’s office as they produce a double bind effect. A person thinks that they should be more loving but feels otherwise. A person might have certain expectations of what a parent or child should be. But for the record, it is necessary to put away all expectations and to accept a situation for what it is, and to live in the present moment. Be forgiving and pray for one another.
I like what Isaiah has to say (43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25):
Thus says the Lord: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers. The people I formed for myself, that they might announce my praise. Yet you did not call upon Me, O Jacob, for you grew weary of Me O Israel. You burdened me with your crimes. It is I, I who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more.
Consequences of Lack of Forgiveness
Obviously there is lack of peace when there is no forgiveness. From a psychological standpoint, a person who holds a grudge actually puts himself or herself into a type of prison. The chains go around the person needing to forgive. Sometimes people punish themselves more this way than the perpetrator. The oppressor may not even know of the suffering!
Need I mention that lack of forgiveness can harbor all sorts of physical side effects not to mention the emotional and spiritual ones? It is in one’s own best interest to forgive.
One Last Word
I have often heard clients say, “I have forgiven, but I still have pain about the situation.” It is normal to still feel pain. When we have been hurt by any physical means there are often bruises and scars. The same is with emotional factors. There are scars. We may indeed continue to feel pain for a long time. But this is where we can turn to the Heart of God. We can rely on the supernatural grace that God gives us to forgive. We can forgive with the Heart of God.
So the pain doesn’t go away quickly. It is all the more opportunity to “offer it up” as the Catholic saying goes. The occasion of suffering can be redemptive. It is what taking up our Cross is all about. It has been my experience in the Catholic Church that suffering actually makes any sense.