Here’s a good exercise for our hearts today: Forgive someone.
Praying for the great grace to forgive someone can ease the strain on our hearts and when we finally feel that relief of letting go of our anger and hurt, a lightness comes into our souls. The secret of forgiveness is that it is mostly not for the person who has hurt or harmed us – it’s for ourselves!
A few years ago, I had the experience of talking to a friend about my life in sixth grade. I recalled being the “new kid” in a new school in a new city, and having to deal with a tall, wealthy, popular girl named Kathy who had set her targets on me. She mocked my unsophisticated ways and rolled her eyes, laughing at my desperate attempts to fit in. Sixth grade was a miserable year, followed by two more forgettable years in that same school until we parted for different high schools. By 17, I had moved to another part of the country and had done my best to forget the three years in that school.
Thirty-five years later, as I told this story standing in front of the now-abandoned school, I realized I had a knot in my stomach. Suddenly it occurred to me that I had never forgiven Kathy and this was an invitation from God to pray for her. I held her up to God and asked God to forgive her and to fill her life with the happiness that must have been missing when she was a child.
I could feel the difference immediately. It didn’t make those years go away. I didn’t forget the pain of being 11 years old. Yet I could look at those years, at Kathy, at sixth grade, and feel lighter about them. My stomach no longer had a knot in it. Kathy, who certainly hadn’t thought about me in decades, was no longer someone I needed to protect myself against, but to pray for.
The message of today’s gospel, is forgiveness over and over, no matter how much we have been hurt. Jesus is asked how often one has to forgive a brother who inflicted injury. As many as seven times?
I can see the scene, and picture Jesus turning with so much love and compassion to the questioner. Not seven times, he says, but seventy-seven times. It becomes clear in that moment, in that warm gaze that Jesus holds us in, that we are asked to forgive others with the same loving freedom with which Jesus forgives us. Seventy-seven? Seven hundred? It simply doesn’t matter with God. We will be forgiven over and over and over.
That’s why in the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus tells us that our refusal to forgive another doesn’t make sense in the face of the lavish love and forgiveness that constantly awaits us in God’s love for us.
I have a friend who says refusing to forgive someone is like taking rat poison ourselves and hoping the rat dies. It does nothing to the rat and destroys our own life, weighing us down with bitterness and anger.
Lent is the time to stop taking the rat poison every morning in recounting those who have “sinned against us.” Instead it is time to shine the light of God on my own darkness and to ask for forgiveness. And, it is time to look at the person or people in my life that I need to forgive.
We all have someone in our lives that we need to forgive. Today, this Tuesday in the third week of Lent, is a good day to start.Dear Lord, thank you for the glorious ways you forgive me over and over and never stop loving me. Help me to let go of the grudges and anger that weigh me down and stop me from being aware of your love for me. I beg you for the grace to forgive and ask that you bless the lives of those who have hurt me. Shine your light in my soul, help me to let go of the pain and bitterness and to step into the light of your love.
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