I had a couple of nice chats today. One was an affirmation of the path I have chosen during Lent. It was also nice to speak to someone who gets me, and who walks this path I am striving to walk. And another that reaffirmed my love for my family. I also proceeded to truly seek forgiveness from people. The interesting thing about that process is, that it was not really for me, but it also was. In light of the article I quoted in my post prior to this, forgiveness is not forgetting those who have wronged you, nor the wrong perpetrated upon you. Forgiveness is helping the person who did you wrong to remember the wrong, and help them no longer to sin…against you or anyone else. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) And sometimes bearing that burden means to be a help to those who don’t help you. To be kind to those who are unkind. To love those who hate you. “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:26-36) And I can grow and stretch and become a better friend (a better wife, mother, daughter, sister) to the person who wronged me. Forgiving others helps me learn to forgive myself my weaknesses, and also to learn to grow and become better than I have been. The process in Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism is called Theosis…“Theosis or deification is a transformative process whose aim is likeness to, or union with God, as taught by the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches”.(That’s the first definition that pops up on Google). We endeavor to be as like God as we can, striving ever more towards personal holiness. But each moment of that effort can be fraught with pain, and change is hard. Which is another reason Lent is such a gift to us.
My father would often tell me, through the years, that it was up to me to forgive this particular person I continued to have problems with. And we would quote Scripture to one another, back and forth, trying to justify our positions. “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.” (Luke 6:29) That was one of our favorites and the other was, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22) And I would tell him that I had a revolving head, because I had to turn my cheek so many times. He would ask me, “How many times?” And then quote Matthew to me. Forgiveness is not so much what we seek, but rather what we can give to others.
I’ve written about this extensively, and often talk about Peter Kreeft’s story about having a “God Closet” lined with shoe boxes, all of them labeled with people’s names we cannot deal with (who may have hurt us or continue to cause us pain) or other issues we just cannot handle at the time. We are to place these cares of ours into our boxes, place them on the shelf, and then close the door. We are then announcing to God that we cannot handle it and truly give it over to Him. The trick is to not open that door, nor peek into a box, ever again. With God, when He forgives us, it is as though He reached back into our personal timeline and removed the sin – it is as it never existed. Is that how we forgive? For me, no. I recall things and people, places and incidents. Sometimes I replay them over and over again. But when I truly forgive, it is as though the passions associated with the event or person are gone. There is no ill will, no anger, no pain. But I also know, and have learned, to no longer place myself in a vulnerable position of having to constantly “turn the other cheek.” When we work at forgiving others, we all benefit. Our spirits become lighter and we even may smile more often. I know I am, today.
I think being wise about our journey of Lent is being open to knowing that we don’t know it all, we are poor sinners like everyone around us, and learning how best to serve God so that He is honored and gloried above men. Blessings be upon you as you journey.
“Have pity on my, Lord, for I am weak; heal me, Lord, for my bones are trembling.” (Psalm 6:3)