“…And forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who tresspass against us…”
Those are familiar words, but, too often, a foreign concept. We live in a culture that remembers and encourages us to stoke anger and feed grudges. After all, if the wife of the politician who cheated with a lobbyist forgives her husband, there’s no story to cover, no drama. And if a couple maintains an amicable relationship after a break-up or divorce, they are just asking for trouble.
But that’s the world that we Christians are called to live in, but not of. Christ calls us to forgive “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (NIV, Matthew 18:22), which, of course doesn’t mean 77 times at all but rather “a whole great big bunch!” And that’s hard. It’s hard to forgive someone who has hurt you. It’s hard to forgive someone who has hurt your child. It’s hard to forgive ourselves too.
Forgiveness, though, is one thing that God has got down pat. And it’s the manifestation of the Love that IS God. If we want to be closer to Him, we have to forgive. Otherwise, anger and grudges will take up that space in our hearts instead.
My oldest son will be making his First Reconciliation early 2012. Right now he and I are working through the workbook to help teach him what that means. He’s nervous. I remember being nervous too, but anxious to make my first confession. Even at 7 years old, I had stuff to get off my chest. Still, we trust that God, being Love and Truth, will recognize our remorse and grant his forgiveness every time we ask for it. I’m not sure if that’s any easier to understand in our 30s than it is at age seven.
At this point, I’m old enough to know there’s a lot I don’t understand. I’m young enough to keep trying to grasp concepts, gossamer threads of ideas with which I try to bundle my concept of God into a tidy bundle. It never really works. Because there’s always another story that challenges my beliefs and just how big God is.
Take for instance the recent child abuse scandal news stories. While all of this mess has been coming out in Penn State, there’s been a mess coming out down here in SC, with a Citadel graduate accused. I never met any of the victims. But I met the guy who’s now in jail. He went to school with my husband. He was the first person my husband told that he was going to marry me. That was before my husband and I were even dating. So even though I never knew the guy well, he’s played a small part in my story. And it’s appalling what he has confessed to. I pray for the victims of his abuse and wildly inappropriate actions. I am so sorry for this man, his wife, and his daughters too: In all of the coverage and even the news article in the SC Catholic newspaper, The Miscellany, not even the Bishop suggested we pray for him.
Therein lies the challenge of forgiveness. We are human. We are humans who live amongst humans in a world full of sin and pain and temptation and demons. I have my own temptations, my own recurring sins. I know of others who are living with demons too. This man gave into his demons, he hurt many, many children in the process. I ache for those boys, and their mothers. But I ache for his girls and his wife as well. Because this man has cooperated fully after being accused, and he has expressed remorse, I truly believe he is sorry for his actions. I cannot believe he is “all better” or will not be tempted again. I believe he needs to be punished and face the consequences of his actions. But I also believe he and his family need prayers just as much as any one of the victims. Possibly more.
Christ calls us to love our enemies. In the case of child abuse, it’s easy to see who fills that role. But sometimes we are our own enemies. Sometimes we hold onto our guilt and hurts long after God has forgiven us. Sometimes, I think, we are afraid we won’t know what to do or how to act if we are healed.
Starting over can be frightening. And exciting! That’s how I feel about confession. I have a hard time getting myself to go. But afterward, I feel so much more alive! As if I was just given a brand new sketchbook of bright white pages… ok, so not everyone can relate to that, but it’s a good thing… and kind of nerve-wracking. You just don’t want to mess up again.
But the good news is that no matter how many mistakes I make in writing or drawing my story, I know God has the perfect eraser: His perfect and complete forgiveness.