I feel like beginning this blog with Garrison Keillor’s famous words: “Well, it’s been a quiet week in Lake Woebegon…” Certainly there has been much in the news that we could discuss – Martin Luther King, Jr Day, The State of the Union Address (or the State of the State Address), the tragedy in Nigeria that has not been in the forefront of our national news, etc. – but, instead, I’d rather bring to your attention an article from the Episcopal News Service that truly does affect all of us. Tuesday, the ENS published the headline: “Episcopalians Tackle the Toughest Lesson – Forgiveness.”
I can’t speak for you but I know that, if I’m honest with myself, I can take offense with others multiple times during the course of every day. I greet someone who ignores me; a colleague goes ahead with a project without asking my input; another driver gets impatient with my cautious driving in this snowy weather…and the list could go on and on. Then there are the much bigger issues that do make the news like violent crimes and acts of hatred. I am grateful that I haven’t had to face my reaction to anything like these because I can only begin to imagine how difficult it might be to forgive someone who has physically hurt me or someone whom I love. I do, indeed, feel anger toward these situations of injustice in the news but, because they haven’t touched my life personally, I know I really haven’t a clue as to the depth of the pain experienced. And then, of course, there’s the issue of forgiving myself when I fall short of what I expect of myself when I say the wrong thing or act in a way that’s selfish or prideful. When I had my car accident last fall, Bishop Gibbs reminded me that I needed to forgive myself. The first time I read his email, I thought I was doing just fine but a few days later, when I began hunting for a replacement car, I realized that I was struggling with a feeling of inadequacy and shame. I did have to forgive myself so I could move on.
Perhaps you remember the school shooting that occurred at the West Nickel Mines School in Pennsylvania on October 2, 2006, when Charles Roberts, IV, took Amish schoolchildren hostage and then shot ten girls, killing five, before turning the gun on himself. A few years later, I read the book Forgiveness: A Legacy of the West Nickel Mines Amish School by author John Ruth, which provides a stunning narrative of truly living a life of forgiveness. On the evening of the shooting, the grandfather of one of the victims admonished some of the young people present not to hate nor think evil of the killer. Another family member commented: “He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he’s standing before a just God.” News of the Amish community’s commitment to forgiveness spread quickly. Many of the victims’ families attended Roberts’ funeral. Marie Roberts, wife of the gunman, wrote an open letter to the Amish community: “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”
I’ve always heard that resentment and bitterness are like cancers that eat away at the person who carries them in their heart. Neuropsychologist Ona Graham affirms this in the article from ENS: “Anger is like a cloak we wrap ourselves in that cuts us off from God. I tell people that being resentful is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. This is not what God wants for you.”
We’ve all experienced anger and resentment in our churches, too. We know how grudge-holding and revenge-seeking can poison the atmosphere and sabotage our best efforts for ministry. Our lives and our churches are like open books that those around us read to see if what we have and what we say are authentic. How can we preach the Good News of God in Jesus if our lives do not reflect that message of hope to a broken world? There are many situations in The Church that the media is all too eager to report which diminish our witness. Let us look to the teachings of Jesus that we might share the promise of forgiveness and the hope of reconciliation to those around us. May the words Jesus taught us – “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” – resonate in our lives and in our Household.
Please read the article which says all this so much better than I can – http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2015/01/20/episcopalians-tackle-the-toughest-lesson-forgiveness/
Let us pray –
O blessed Christ, my teacher, my savior, my God:
You have commanded me to love others as myself. Yet it is so often easy to see the faults in others, for I see their outside and compare it against what is inside me.
I have inflated my goodness and importance in my own mind, but have judged others for the smallest shortcoming, and I am filled by foolish pride.
I pray that I may strive to follow your Word,
to forgive all who have injured me,
to turn loose the petty resentments and grudges that poison the world with hatred,
and to overlook the faults of others;
and I ask to be pardoned wherever I have done injury to my brothers and sisters, who are your beloved children even though they, like me, are sinners.
And I ask that when I fall short of your commandment, that I will seek out and confess my wrongdoing.
Forgive me, Holy Christ, and help me to ever amend my life;
this I pray, with faith in the grace you have promised to the penitent sinner. Amen.