I’m not perfect; certainly not even close to being perfect in pretty much any category. I’m the biggest sinner I know. It is part of our make-up; our sinful nature. I trip all the time. I trip daily. But I do get back up. I do try. And I believe that when we are hit by something, are tripped up, we need to address it and work to make it better. And I’ve been pondering this subject all day…well, actually since Easter.
I read this article about forgiveness today that a friend shared. (Look at the link here: http://www.cuppacocoa.com/a-better-way-to-say-sorry/). The article spoke to how a teacher in a classroom setting worked on getting her students to forgive one another. And I really liked what she said (and wish I had of thought of this when my kids were young!). There are 4 parts to trying to mend a relationship and they are:
1. I’m sorry for…
2. This is wrong because….
3. In the future I will….
4. Will you forgive me?
And as she spoke about how it had worked with her 4th graders (average about 9 years old) I thought about a relationship I have that needs mending. Could I use this in an adult setting?
I have this burgundy, leather-bound little book I carry with me at all times and it is called, “Holy Things for the Holy!” and it was published in 2006 by the Eparchy of Newton (Melkite). There is a gorgeous Jerusalem cross on the cover (like the one above). This book has the Canons and Prayers for Holy Communion, Repentance, and Holy Confession. Archbishop Cyril wrote a wonderful introduction to it and in it he said, “Before this awesome, Heavenly Presence, we cannot but be aware of our littleness, our unworthiness, and our sinfulness.” He goes on to say, “For the Christian, repentance is a way of life – a continual heartfelt turning toward God in love and, at the same time, a mindful turning away from sin and self-centeredness in humility.” We can approach the Mystery of Confession to Our Lord in the same way that we seek forgiveness from a friend on the playground; it is truly that simple. In the back of the book there is a section on the Mystery of Confession and it quotes St. John Climacus: “Uncover and show your wounds to this physician and putting shame underfoot say, ‘Here are my wounds, here is my sore, here is the fruit of my weakness. None but I am responsible; it is indeed I who am to blame.'”
In keeping with the idea of the article and with the information I continue to find in my little book, it somehow makes it easier to seek forgiveness and to heal a breach in a relationship, when we take the whole of it onto ourselves. It seems so little in comparison to the weight of the Cross which Our Lord carried for us. It is hard to swallow our pride and to take the whole of the blame for something onto ourselves, and to just seek forgiveness. To let ourselves be completely at fault goes against our interior need to protect ourselves. I believe that being right is something that makes us feel our armor is strong and in the right places – we all seem to erect these imaginary fences where we stand behind, ready to defend ourselves. Even in marriage it is often difficult to lay open all the weakness, in fear of someone getting that close to us.
And so I thought I would begin applying these 4 steps towards repairing relationships that need it. I have a sense of who I am talking to, but I might have hurt people and be unaware of it, which is almost worse.
I’m sorry for my actions or lack of action, or perhaps my use of words that has caused you pain. If I have harmed you through my words or actions, or inaction, I am truly sorry. There are people in our lives that no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we give, it isn’t right nor is it ever enough. Do we keep on giving? Do we keep on trying? Sometimes there are people who just drain us and we try to meet their needs but always seem to be lacking in some way. In those situations, we know that it is not totally our fault. It can be this person needs someone “more” in their lives. Perhaps we are not the right person to meet their needs. But it does not mean we stop and we do not try; that we do not seek to help them, even if it is in too small of a way to really make an impact.
This is wrong because I need to be there for you; I need to be the best person I can be for you. It is wrong to turn someone away, to ignore them, or to treat their issues or pain lightly. I have this scenario in my imagination that can best be described as a woman standing in a crowd of people, and there is this annoying gnat irritating her by flying around her face, and she is constantly swatting at it, while ignoring it at the same time. If we put ourselves in this situation, that gnat can be a person trying to get our attention; someone trying to fit into a social setting (or business setting) who just wants to be a part of whatever it is we are doing. For whatever reason it may be, we are trying to deflect them and ignore them, hoping they will just bother someone else. And that is so desperately wrong. I recently encountered a situation of what I call “discriminatory behavior.” In my situation, there was someone being excluded and treated differently than the rest of the group. That is making someone feel like an outsider, or not good enough (by whatever stick is being used to measure them) to join more fully into the group. That is discrimination by any other name. How often do we find ourselves excluding someone because they just don’t quite “measure up”? Measure up to what? Our standards? Our expectations? Well, I am certainly not one of the “in crowd.” I’m a middle-aged (man, I hate admitting that), overweight, gray-haired woman. What makes me think I can exclude anyone? I am also the wife of an ordained Deacon. How could I exclude any of our flock? Any of our faithful? It is wrong; it is hurtful; and it is certainly not Christian. And this is just wrong.
In the future, I envision a church where we are all welcome, regardless of the measurements anyone can use or devise. I envision a society where no one ever feels excluded. To that end I will endeavor, in the future, to contribute to those visions by how I behave. In the future I will endeavor to include those who feel marginalized and those I may have inadvertently made feel apart or separate from the life I am living. In the future, I will work to become more cognizant of those who feel this way now, working to ease that pain in their lives.
In most Orthodox and many Eastern Catholic Churches, there are no pews. In the fish-eye photo (two above) taken of an Orthodox Church in Russia, one can see the wide open spaces. In the above photo of the Church of Our Savior Spilled Blood, also in Russia, you can plainly see there are no pews. In Medieval times, no Churches had pews. When Royalty wanted to not “mix with the masses” they had boxes constructed where they could stand, apart from the “rest,” in their little fenced-off areas. Once the Royals felt they were supposed to have their own space in churches and were too weary to stand for the long prayer services, pews were introduced, still with little fences around them. If you attend Church in a Church of England parish in England, there are boxes and pews all over the place. Usually the names of the people to whom the boxes belong have their names on them. Churches are arranged a little differently in Church of England parishes. (Episcopal churches in the USA have boxed pews in the ones considered to be “High Church” wherein the traditional masses are said. The lower churches do not have boxes, but still have pews). In many Protestant churches, especially those in early America, we also have boxed pews. Methodist and United Methodists use boxed pews in some of their older churches. It isn’t as common as it once was.
If we did not have pews, we would stand shoulder-to-shoulder in Church. The Orthodox have some mighty long services (Easter Vigil can be 4 hours or more) and everyone is standing. In some Eastern Catholic churches, we have chairs instead of pews and people can opt to sit if they need to, but many prefer to stand the entire Divine Liturgy. There are some postures that are proper for certain times during Liturgy, and some that are not. We do not genuflect except during Lent. We do not kneel in eastern Churches; it just is not part of our charism. Standing is pretty much a proper posture almost all the time in Eastern and Orthodox Churches. Children are free to wander around and witness Church up close and personal. I would love to see our parish return to the days of no pews. By standing next to one another and supporting one another, you are brought closer. In the future, I would love to stand with you, worshiping Our Lord.
And now that I have come to the fourth step, in seeking to repair a relationship, I ask forgiveness. If I have offended you in any way, please forgive me. The same way I seek forgiveness from an earthly friend, I always seek forgiveness from Our Lord each and every time I fail; each time I trip and fall all over my best intentions, I scrape off the dirt and seek to start again. It is one of the beautiful things about being a Christian. This process of forgiveness is continual. Rather than just one moment and ZAP – I am clean forever! As St. John Climacus said, “Uncover and show your wounds to this physician and putting shame underfoot say, ‘Here are my wounds, here is my sore, here is the fruit of my weakness. None but I am responsible; it is indeed I who am to blame.'” I believe God is a loving and generous God and walks with us on our journey of theosis, and He is there, lifting us up after each fall from grace. No, salvation is not something I earn, but it is something I seek continuously. And forgiveness is something I strive for, here on earth from my friends and family, but it is also something I seek continually in the eyes of God. Standing shoulder to shoulder with my fellow believers, I seek to praise God, to worship Him, and to be working towards my ultimate state of Grace…being with Him in Heaven, forever forgiven.