Forgiveness can Heal Our Wounds
“Forgiveness is surely our direct route to that place in heaven. (Pope Francis – Assisi, 2016)
One of the hardest things God asks of us is to forgive one another as He has forgiven us. Whether we’ve been betrayed, abused, or abandoned, we believe deep down, that, as Christians, to make it to heaven, this something to which we must all aspire.
The problem is that although we desire to be forgiven, we find it challenging to forgive those whom we consider to be unforgivable. As Alexander Pope so wisely said: “To err is human, to forgive divine!” He should have added, “But it won’t be easy!”
When Pope Francis was asked the question “Why in your opinion is humanity so in need of mercy and forgiveness, he answered: “Because humanity is wounded, deeply wounded….humanity needs mercy and compassion.”
Our lives are irrevocably intertwined with the lives of others. Who we are and what we do affects them. Since we are all vulnerable creatures, it is impossible not to hurt someone else or be hurt ourselves. It is in our psyche to respond with anger, hold grudges, and even seek revenge despite the teachings of Christianity.
We need to explore and understand why forgiveness is so important. Religious philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, said that the first effect of forgiveness was to melt anger, grief and fear. He believed grief began with anger and rage. And maintaining it was to be stuck in a ‘servile relationship with the object of our anger.’
Implicit in this belief is the cold hard fact that we are all capable of anger, lies and deception. We need to acknowledge that others, like ourselves, are far from perfect and yet still find some love in our hearts for those who have hurt us while not forgetting our own principles of right and wrong.
A few years ago, a friend of mine whose marriage had been destroyed through infidelity made a decision to contact her ex-husband’s new partner. My friend shared with me that the burden of bitterness, resentment, hostility and heart-ache she had endured for many years gradually melted away.
She has not forgotten the part which this woman played in the break-up of her marriage but she has forgiven her. From that experience, my friend learned that when you are able to forgive the person who has wounded you, you are also being set free.
Another little story I would like to share: During school holidays, I was baby-sitting two of my young granddaughters. The day was hot and their tempers not a little frayed. They were quarrelling endlessly over who turn it was to choose a game.
They were saying things like: “You’re stupid!” “Well, so are you!” “Not as stupid as you!” And on and on it went. After this heated exchange between them, they both sank into a sulky silence.
Later when I checked on them, there they were happily playing together having forgotten the whole incident. There was no brooding, no wounded egos, no blame, and no recriminations. Children are certainly much quicker to forgive than we adults.
Somewhere in the process of our development, we seem to have become experts at holding grudges, nursing fragile egos, and unforgiving natures. Forgiveness is seen as weakness and is not as acceptable as mere tolerance.
C.S. Lewis was so right when he said: “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have someone to forgive!”
Unable to forgive, we become the prisoner locked up in our own rigid and unforgiving hearts. Conversely, when we are able to forgive, as my friend and two young granddaughters did, it becomes possible to experience relief and healing.
It is when we hold onto our anger that we stop growing and our souls begin to shrivel. Surely, there are enough problems in our world existing between nations, religions, broken relationships, abuse, violence, etc. without our carrying around our own personal burdens of non-forgiveness!
Simon Peter had a classic problem with forgiveness and that is why he had to ask Jesus: “Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?” I can imagine Jesus smiling as he answered him: “Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times!”
And then Jesus goes on to illustrate his point with the parable about the servant who owed his king an enormous debt. We are all familiar with this story. Jesus concluded his teaching on forgiveness by saying: “That is how my heavenly father will deal with you unless you each forgive…from your heart.”
The important words are ‘from your heart.’ They sum up the whole of Jesus’ teaching that forgiveness is not some sort of cold, legalistic transaction where you count the times and tally the score No, it is a matter of the heart.