Monday, March 3, 2014

Forty-Day Forgiveness

Forty-Day Forgiveness

I want to tell you about a window, small and still, a square porthole is what I’m imagining if I’d ever been at sea, the outside of which, this seems to me where forgiveness resides. 

Just outside, close but not so much.  You can open it, taste the air, sometimes it is salty, sometimes unbearably fresh with the sound of newness and rain.  Try as you might, you can’t seem to get the casement the whole way open.  You can only manage a hand out, some days only fingers, one especially brilliant cobalt day, your whole forearm.  Maybe sometimes you can whisper to the wind, even when your heart pounds and you feel still, small and want to shout.  Your agonies, your weariness, your wariness holds you back.

What is this resistance to forgiveness, I wonder?  It seems to be the key to opening the window to the waiting world of possibility.  For me, it is a challenge of resentment and what I thought my life should be, and the ache of realizing that my life is exactly what it needs to be. 

As a child of an alcoholic father whose scorched temper flared even when sober, my footing was unsure, and I wove my life as a series of half truths that I thought would certainly carry me through days away from my home when I finally left for school. But lies do not carry you.  They just loosen and allow you to fall.  And did I fall, shameful and battered by the foolish course set by my own hand.

I resented it, deeply.  I resented the fact that my own life seemed to veer off the course I had wanted to set, as if I could set it on my own, because of a man whose brokenness set out to break everything around him out of sheer desperate yearning to be seen and acknowledged.  Nothing would ever, ever be enough.  I am a dutiful daughter.  I try.  But my heart, there are places that refuse to soften towards him.  There is resistance to forgiveness.

And so it goes on, and on, the stones we lay, and the stones we embrace, weigh us down so tremendously: the woman I call my friend who doesn’t hear me well enough, stone gathered.  The child who refuses my will and pulls steadfastly against it, stone taken.  The husband who seems not to see the effort of a life made whole, stone placed.  It’s as if the stones themselves could make a tableau on which I could stand, I’ve got so many.  Puzzle pieces to fit together a complete stage of resentment and anger that I could raise myself to, and say, “See, here I am.  I am right, you are wrong.”  It feels fantasy-good, for a brief moment.  Then, the realization that the difficulty of puzzles are in their instability, they break.  It is not a surface that is secure.  At some point, they will break you.

After realizing this, and instead of piecing them together in my own mosaic of hurt, I stand on top of them; I still cannot make it out of the window to the world that is waiting for me.  And when I ask God what that answer might be, to the opening, it is clear: forgiveness.  But what about the security of the rock?  It is solid.  Forgiveness cannot be seen.  I’ve held that unjust for so long now, that I don’t know what I would be without it.  It is easier, perhaps, to be the misunderstood than to be understanding—and ever so tiring. So it is into this conflicted space comes a chance at reconciliation. Lent.

Lent begins this Ash Wednesday, and, with it, our observance of crucifixion and celebration of the resurrection of Christ. 

When I was younger, I admit, I didn’t take Lent seriously.  I understood the meaning of Easter, but not the preparation for it, and I, like so many of my friends, waited to do the egg hunt and my bewildered parents, who were Mar Thoma Christians, did not understand my insistence on an Easter basket or a new dress since their own experience consisted solely of prayer, fasting and holy observance.  Then as I got older, I’d talk with friends about what we were giving up for 40 days, but real sacrifice was not something I think any of us thought about.  But as a parent myself, since loss touched my life, since my relationship with God has changed and deepened over time, I have changed.  And so, Lent has changed.

God asks us to forgive those who have hurt us, not to hold so closely the stings of betrayals and harsh words, but to let them go, to bless instead.  I think He does this because without those hurts that take up so much room, in your mind and your heart, you won’t be able to receive the amount of love waiting for you.  When peace and healing are achieved.  This Easter season, I’m starting on a 40-day goal of forgiveness.  
A jar that contains all the broken.
Each day a hurt or a person, a misstep or a self-perceived wrong to be taken out and thought over, prayed over and forgiven.  I will not be able to see the difference, not immediately

It can be felt though, whatever else.  With every moment forgiven, the casement can ease wider.  The more mistakes are rectified with sincerity and grace, the easier the air.  We are capable of so much more than anger, accusations, distrust and fear that hurt causes to act out in so many painful and terrible ways.  We can combat it with compassion, understanding, friendship and hope.  Maybe you’re uncertain, it sounds good and comforting and well, but maybe you’re not ready to put the stones down just yet.  How about leaving one, just one, a small one with a prayer that God takes it from you this Easter season?  Know that I am praying for your arms to unfold and for ease to take that hurt away from you.    A hurt-free world?  That just seems to be the perfect gift for Easter.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

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