‘Tis the season of Lent, that time of year when we forego chocolate and other guilty pleasures in order to become better people. (I know, I know: that is a very simplistic interpretation. It is about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in order to restore our relationship with the Father in preparation for the great feast of Easter.)
It used to be the universal practice to fast hard and adopt strict penances for Lent. Imagine giving up not only chocolate but all treats, and even meat – with no days off on Sundays? Lately, our Lenten focus seems to be more on “what can I do” instead of “what should I give up”. In that spirit, I offer this suggestion: take on the habit of forgiveness this Lent. Here are some thoughts on why:
To be forgiving is to be free. Unforgiveness and resentment come with chains to bind us. They keep us tied to the past and encourage expectations of receiving restitution or sympathy. They also encourage habits of negative thinking and bitterness. To really and truly forgive, we let all of that go, and in so doing, are able to live freely in the moment.
Break out of the pattern of being a victim! No more “Woe is me; somebody done me some wrong.” Holding on to past injustices fosters a habit of negativity which creates a tendency to see great wrongs where none exist. That habit is so clear in the default setting of outrage and perceiving offensiveness in the culture around us. We can foster a more positive outlook with the practice of forgiving those who actually have wronged us.
Forgiveness helps us grow in virtue. It can be penitential and can teach us about detachment.
Obedience. God asks us to forgive. “And when you shall stand to pray, forgive, if you have aught against any man; that your Father also, who is in heaven, may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25) And what is the cost of disobedience? “ But if you will not forgive, neither will your Father that is in heaven, forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:26)
It frees the other person. “So that on the contrary, you should rather forgive him and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. “ (2 Cor. 2:7)
Forgive yourself! We must try to be as merciful with ourselves as we are with others. Not forgiving our self is as binding as not forgiving others. Yes, we can be very lenient with ourselves at times, but I believe we can also be rather too demanding. Expecting too much of ourselves can lead to certain failure, and the perfectionist within can hoard those failures with glee. Regular Confession and a good Spiritual Director can help correct this imbalance.
As for how to forgive, I would say this:
Do it now. Forgive others in the moment. Do not allow unforgiveness to take root. Make it part of your examination of conscience in preparation for Confession to check for grudges. Do it regularly so that it becomes a habit and to prevent the calcification of resentment.
Be honest about it. Forgiving isn’t about how we feel, but, like love, it is a decision. Sometimes that may mean simply saying the words. Our thoughts and actions will eventually catch up. An honest assessment of a situation requiring forgiveness may also show that our perspective was off and the offense wasn’t so great after all.
Forgiveness isn’t about ignoring wrongs or dismissing our hurts. Of course, we must not diminish legitimate injustices and wounds for that can do us as much harm as holding on to resentment, but no matter how severe the wrong us, healing and freedom can only come when we surrender our will to God and forgive.
My apologies, but I must conclude with these three little words: let it go!
Check out Patricia’s blog The Feminine Gift.
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