I remember when I decided I needed to go to confession. It was Lent, springtime 1988. The previous summer, after a twelve year hiatus, I had begun attending the Catholic church of my childhood. I promised myself that before the forty days of Lent concluded I would go to the confessional, speak all my sins to the priest, and ask God for forgiveness. I couldn’t imagine forgiveness would be possible, and didn’t remember the proper prayers to say. (It was important I get it right.) My list was long, spanning ages thirteen to twenty-five. The Saturday afternoon before Holy Week arrived, I found myself kneeling in the church, waiting for an empty confessional, watching the light above door number one, two, and three turn red, then green, then red as people entered and departed. I wondered which parish priest was in which room, behind the screen. I was sweating, terrified, heart pounding, yet I knew this was something I had to do.
It was my turn. So be it. I entered the room, closed the door, kneeled. Forgive me…it’s been ten years since… Blessedly, the time passed quickly, and I was astonished to hear a compassionate voice say, “Your sins are forgiven, go in peace.” I left that small cupboard room lighter, with joy in my heart. I needed to do that, then. In later years, truthful soul-talks with my spiritual director or cherished friends who were ordained, healing rituals, and shared story telling deepened my understanding of reconciliation, forgiveness and the varied and profound ways we give and receive this freeing act. I am grateful for that experience of having to go to “confession” or the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Truly, grace was present, and the experience changed me. I wonder too, if it taught me the power to listen and receive another person’s story, without judgment or condemnation, simply offering mercy and compassion.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” – Luke 6:31
When we forgive we offer movement, a shift. We give for a greater good that unbinds and untangles. Forgiveness is worthy of growth and penetrating reflection.
Forgiveness requires both holding on and letting go. What I mean is this: I make a conscious choice to forgive someone or myself, no matter how much I have been wounded and trespassed. I hold onto my best self, and let go of bitterness, a wish for something different, or resentment. I own my own self and up-level my willingness to be honest. A hardened heart only causes more contraction and pain.
Things happen to us, or that we hear about, that truly are unforgivable and abominable. Yet, the impulse to let go of harmful binding is, I believe, life-giving. I need God’s grace to heal and forgive some things. Letting go and forgiveness does not mean we need to continue in destructive or abusive relationships.
Some of the most meaningful moments in my life have transpired when I have taken responsibility for my own actions in an honest, forthright, mature conversation with another person, and said, “I am sorry, please forgive me.” Or, when I have forgiven someone who caused harm to me.
We have to forgive ourselves, and others. All of us will cross bridges where a choice is to be made: do I want to hold a grudge that binds me, or hold onto myself, and let go. When we forgive, we untangle the strands that bind us to others. This happens even if someone never hears us speak, I’m sorry, please forgive me.
There are dozens of ways that we can name, acknowledge, accept, untangle, and let go the hurts and harms in the world. Please, today, ponder:
- Is there something within my own heart I need to forgive, a fracture I have done to myself?…
- Who is someone who caused harm to me, that I can give forgiveness to? …
- Is it difficult or easy to say I’m sorry?
- Who might need to hear my, I’m sorry …
Today I will savor in my heart ... forgiveness offers movement, a shift. We give for a greater good that unbinds and untangles.
Day 31 photo: Strands Beach, Dana Point, California