Lots of folks get upset when they hear the “F” word spoken aloud…it can be very hard to say, especially in mixed company… it can sometimes get you into some serious trouble even with people you care about… it can and often does keep one up at night… and I daresay, that it is even harder to do than it is to say…. the “F” word I am referring to here of course is forgiveness….

I can remember struggling with forgiving my parents and a few other people for some things that happened to me that were really difficult; years later, after I had found both the church and sobriety, I knew that I had some very hard spiritual work to do around forgiving them. I knew that without that work my spiritual life was in jeopardy. One day, while I was at a service of Holy Eucharist for our college and young adult community, I was sitting in the church during a time of silence and prayer. In my prayers that afternoon, I told Jesus that I was really struggling and I knew that I needed to begin a process of forgiving in order to move on… but something inside me felt like I couldn’t… and it made me feel awful, and ashamed. In my prayers, I said I didn’t feel worthy of Jesus’ love because I couldn’t forgive them; how, I said, can you love me if I can’t do this, if I can’t forgive them? And as I prayed, I heard Jesus say to me, “Because my forgiveness comes first.”

I won’t say that everything changed in that instant, but then again, maybe it did… I had to think about what it meant for me to forgive others, but perhaps most importantly, I had to learn what it actually meant to be forgiven…

I have had similar conversations with people throughout the years…many people I think, feel like they are stuck in an endless cycle of not being able to forgive people in their lives… and yet, sometimes it seems that the real problem may be that they themselves don’t feel worthy of being forgiven themselves.

Like a lot of things, we can’t really give to others what we don’t have for ourselves… how can we possibly see that others are worthy of being forgiven, if we cannot see that not only do WE need to be forgiven, but that we are also worthy of the love, mercy and grace that is available to us in Jesus?

And let me just say here, that I know that there are things that many people have in their past that they just don’t think they can forgive another for. I am not in any way suggesting that one has to move on from some of the deep, deep hurts that they have suffered at the hands of another… forgiveness for me, does not mean, that we let someone off the hook; even ourselves… for ourselves, repentance means that we take responsibility for the wrongs we have committed and we try as best we can, to right those wrongs if doing so wouldn’t do more harm than good… when it comes to forgiving others, it gets a little more dicey… sometimes the gift of their repentance isn’t possible for one reason or another. Maybe they just don’t care… but being able to forgive them isn’t really a gift that we give to them; it’s a gift we give to ourselves. The chronic stress and emotional sabotage of not forgiving another is a bit like that old saying about drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. It harms us, it harms our soul, and it affects our ability to grow spiritually. It’s hard to have an honest and loving relationship with God when we are carrying the burden of not forgiving another…and only gives away the power over our own well being.

We also have to be willing to forgive ourselves, and to be willing to allow ourselves to experience God’s healing and forgiveness. There may well be things that each of us needs to have forgiven… we are human, and we have all sinned against another and against God in some way… often too, we have bought into another’s picture of who we are or what we have done… so many people carry burdens and guilt that really aren’t theirs to carry… the child who is blamed for the divorce; the spouse who is blamed for the drinking…the wife who gets blamed for the beating she received from her husband…

Forgiving is hard, hard work, that is often complicated by other things. What my time in the church that day so long ago helped me to realize, is that there is something that I can count on when I feel as though I cannot see clearly when it comes to my own ability to forgive, or my own misdeeds… Jesus forgives first… he forgives me, he forgives you… he even is able, to forgive those we cannot bring ourselves to forgive, maybe to let us know it’s possible, maybe because he knows how hard it really is. Even on the cross of death, he asked his heavenly Father to forgive those who had crucified them. “Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they are doing.” I felt like a burden had been lifted from me that day in the church; it was as though some of the pressure was off, like I could take the time to learn from what Jesus told me and find a way to move forward in forgiveness…

It certainly hasn’t been perfect or easy; but we already know that so much of the spiritual life is like that, so much of it is process more than a single event…we make progress, we fall behind, we make mistakes; that’s what it means to be human.

The process isn’t easy; but it isn’t impossible either… we are loved, we are forgiven, we are healed… the rest will come… bless the Lord, oh my soul.