Forty Days Revisited, Day 38–The Power of Forgiveness

Each year for the past four years, I have decided to write a Lenten blog, and every year of those four I get to a point in the process where I wonder what possessed me to start in the first place. This year I’ve hit the wall many times. Life and work and stress and exhaustion have collided at various points throughout these 40 days, preventing my from fully expressing the things I’ve wanted to in clear and original ways. That is true today, as it has been for much of this week. I have been grateful, then to have past posts that I’ve been able to reach back and bring forward. This Good Friday evening (it’s now almost 11:00 p.m. where I am) I hope to have enough energy to complete an original post. If not, I have just the thing to draw from the “oldie but goodie” bag.

I want to talk briefly about the power of forgiveness. The other day I had a brief but very intense blow up directed at a loved one. It was one of those times when you know you’ve really blown it so badly you don’t quite know how to get it back. The silence that fell between us after my outburst lingered through the rest of the evening, spilling over into the next day. I simply did not know what to do, how to enter in when a literal door had been closed between us. Having had a chance and some distance for each of us to cool off, we met the next evening to talk about what had happened.

I didn’t know how to apologize, I explained, I felt like simply saying “I’m sorry,” sounded lame and insincere. And so I let it stretch out to the point where I felt like I couldn’t enter in.

When it was all said and done, and the air considerably clearer, the band that had tightened around my heart and I knew–without hearing actual words–that I had been forgiven. I exhaled a long, slow, breath of relief as the burden I hadn’t known I was carrying had been lifted.

I’ve seen it play out so many times, the impact of the act of forgiveness on the forgiven. I remember when my kids were small, and during my church days, when one of them would hurt the other–usually physically–I would make the one doing harm apologize to the one who had been harmed. The “victim” in the scenario would respond, “I forgive you.” Both the apology and the pardon were contrived and inauthentic. I fairly quickly ceased the practice. Until my children could genuinely and contritely apologize to one another, there was no point in making them do so. I believe they learned more about apologizing and forgiving from my modeling it with them than they ever did when I made them apologize. They learned it from me apologizing to them when I had done something uncalled for to them.

I’m sorry. I would say to them.
It’s alright mommy,  they would reply.

And that was the sweetest forgiveness I could have experienced without them having to utter a perfunctory, “I forgive you.” I have been fortunate to have been forgiven many times for various actions, inactions, infractions, from small and inconsequential, to larger, more serious matters. The asking for forgiveness can be exceedingly difficult, the receiving–if it comes–is sweet relief.

The other side of forgiveness is offering  it. I’ve had times in my life when I have been wronged and hurt by people I’ve loved and trusted. I worked my way through it. Long after the relationships ended, I worked to forgive over and over again, even when no apologies were offered. And when I thought I had gotten past it all, I discovered that I still held anger, pain, and grief and had to keep forgiving, until one day I realized I was actually finally past it. I had gotten through it. And then, several years later, a card arrived with a poignantly written apology. And I exhaled a long, slow breath that I had been holding for several years. The power of forgiveness isn’t just in the receiving, but also in offering of it, and I have been blessed to restore some of those relationships that I had thought lost.

On this day, this “Good” Friday, we watch the torture and crucifixion scenes of the Jesus movie with horror and amazement, that near the end of his life, as the soldiers were driving nails through his wrists and feet, he uttered requests to God to forgive them for these heinous actions. How did he do that? And what was it like for those men raising the hammer repeatedly to drive those spikes through Jesus’s flesh? Where did they send their minds and hearts to be able to do such things to another human being? And what must it have felt like to have this man look down upon them with battered, bloodied, and swollen eyes, and ask that they be forgiven? How that must have changed those men. How it must’ve moved some of the people in the crowd who had come to watch the spectacle.

We see daily examples of the same kind of grace. We see people offer forgiveness to those who have visited horrors upon them, even now, in our modern times. We don’t know why they do it or how they manage it. Some people even get angry at those who forgive people for their crimes. They don’t forgive them, why should others. It takes effort to truly forgive; and often you don’t get it right the first or second or even the 55th time. The best we can do is keep at it until, to our surprise and great relief, we realize we are healed, we have been able to fully let go and move on.

The journey of these 40 days have led us to this moment: the moment of forgiveness and grace that gives us strength we hadn’t known we needed. And so we exhale, breathing out our mourning, and wait for the dawn of a new day. And so it is.

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