“To err is to be human, to forgive, divine.” - Alexander Pope.
Lent is a season that challenges us to deepen our faith through forgiveness; by asking for it and giving it. Many of us struggle with forgiveness, and I don’t discount myself from that.
Many people will remember 2020 as the year that the world changed as we know it. But for my memory’s sake, it will be remembered as the year plagued by broken friendships, relationships and trudging through mental health.
Earlier this year, I attended a 10-day Catholic retreat called Heart’s Aflame. The retreat’s theme was providential and affirmed that the Lord knew what I needed — 'Rejoicing in the Cross: Finding the joy in suffering'. On the lead up to Hearts, I pondered on the story of the man by the pool of Bethesda whom Jesus asks, “Do you want to be healed?” It was a question that I felt was also being posed to me.
“Yes, I’d want nothing else.”, I replied.
Entering the retreat grounds, I petitioned God to reveal how I could permit healing to come while I was at Hearts. His response was not surprising, but I wished under my breath that it didn’t have to be that way: forgiveness.
How can I forgive the people who turned my life on its head? I’ve watched them live a normal life, unharmed, while I collected my pieces from the ground.
My hand gripped tighter around my heart. I feared letting go of the anger that gave me a false sense of control over my situation. I bought into the lie that my anger punished the people who hurt me. It pained me to know that I would be liberating the people who wronged me by simply letting it go. In one of the keynote sessions, the speaker asked us to write the names of people who we wanted to forgive on a piece of paper. I can recall struggling to bring myself to grab paper because I didn’t want to write their names. I knew deep down that I wasn’t in a place of forgiveness yet.
It was evident that I held great resentment towards individuals. Negative self-talk only nurtured these ill-emotions and rendered me paralysed. After some thought, I realised that I mirrored the man’s disposition at the pool. I wanted to be healed but offered many complaints and couldn’t answer the invitation. So I asked myself one question, “When was the last time I said yes to something God was offering, and he deserted me?” My mouth drew blank words. Slowly, I recognised where the hesitation in answering the invitation was rooted: people walking away, not knowing the cost of their actions.
In one of our evening sessions, I remember standing at the back of the hall, looking at the Cross on stage with tear-glazed eyes. I uttered, “Why am I resistant to forgive?”
Contemplating on the Cross reminded me of a quote by Pope Francis:
“We ourselves cannot [forgive]: we make an effort as you have done, but forgiveness is a grace that the Lord gives you.”
At that moment, I felt God meeting me where I was. This realisation gave me a sense of peace and courage to take the invitation to step forward.
We Will Never Know How Much it Costs
Forgiveness is an imitation of Christ. As much as people will never know how much they owe us, we will never know how much our sins have cost Him on the Cross. The truth is: people are affected by our forgiveness, but the fruits of forgiveness on ourselves far outweigh what effect on them. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself; you’re walking through a narrow path.
“Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realising you were the prisoner!” -Max Lucado.
When you’ve been wronged, it feels as though people have stolen a piece from you. But forgiveness is an act of boundless love, it can set the stage for miracles of grace to take place. It’s saying, “I forgive you, and you no longer have to repay what you owe me.” It may feel like a loss because you give up the sense that you will ever be ‘made whole again'—but be heartened that you took a step closer to who God is calling you to be.
Forgiveness is a Choice
In Pope Saint John Paul II’s message on the World Day of Peace in 2002, he said,
“Forgiveness is above all a personal choice, a decision of the heart to go against [the] natural instinct to pay back evil with evil.”
People may ask, “How long is the timeline for healing and forgiveness?” It isn’t easy to answer. It may take months, years, decades or maybe longer. Forgiveness, much like love, is a choice that we have to make every day. It seems like it’s an arduous journey, but the more we say ‘yes’, the more we surrender to the Lord. Doing so makes our journey lighter and peaceful. Loving can hurt, but it could also heal if we let it.
I wish there was a happy ending I can share to round this off, but let this serve as a witness that forgiveness is a journey — a marathon. God is unfinished with my story, but I am hopeful and remain faithful to His invitation to shape and reshape my heart to receive and offer forgiveness. The beauty of forgiveness lies in the fact that you become even closer to the Lord as you forgive others. Reconciling with our neighbours is also a means for us to reconcile with God.
Know that I, with many others, are praying for you. Have a blessed Lenten season.
Your brother in Christ,