As we forgive

Published 2:28 pm Thursday, March 24, 2011

By REV. JUNE JOHNSON

Interim Rector

St. John’s Episcopal Church

Several hours earlier today went into composing letters to two siblings.

I knew them before they were born, so this is not the first time I have stuck my nose in their grits—probably won’t be the last either, bless their hearts.

I was writing to ask that they resolve the anger that has festered between them for a while now. Somebody did something to somebody and both got mad and then stopped talking and still won’t talk to each other except to yell.

Their anger has touched a funeral, a wedding, a graduation and several holidays, spreading egg shells among family and friends. Anger that is long separated from its source but still breathes fire. Each seems to be waiting for the other to fix the problem.

Meanwhile, the rest of us wait and wait and wait, growing more anxious that the rift will be permanent. A hot war turning cold and freezing all it touches.

All of this has resulted in my thinking a lot about forgiveness—what is it, how does it work, why does it matter. How very hard it is for me to do.

There are several misconceptions floating around about forgiveness. The first is that when we forgive we are saying what was done did not matter. The opposite is true. Forgiveness is needed only when what was done is indeed important. Forgiveness is the process of letting go of the hurt from the past—emphasis on the word process.

Rarely is real forgiveness a one motion, one thought deal.

Sometimes it takes hours, sometimes years. But we must start the process before we “feel” forgiving. If we wait till we feel like forgiving, it will not happen.

Feelings are ephemeral and shifting, guiding us more often to chocolate than to spinach.

Forgiveness is a decision that we make despite our feelings.

We forgive in pieces and parts, today and tomorrow as often as necessary to let go. Most of us get discouraged when our hurt does not disappear immediately and the person forgiven does not acknowledge that we are absolutely right and always were right. But that is not the point.

Forgiveness allows neutral ground to be established, some different common space to be found where a relationship can be continued within a family or circle of friends.

With real forgiveness, nobody wins—nobody is declared right or the victor.

Everybody wins.

The war ends, the battles are over and the sharp swords of “got-cha” are put away. Life goes on and the future can be full of possibilities instead of the stench of ghosts.

Will these two siblings listen to a nosey old lady standing on the privilege of age and friendship?

Will they find a way to restore good will if not deep affection?

I pray so.

As years pile up and distances become entrenched it gets harder and harder, sometimes impossible, to forgive and release the petrified anger. How sad, how useless to cry at the side of a casket for things that could have been resolved when there was still life.

God is sending us sunshine and blossoms, armies of robins and cardinals, the promise of March winds and April showers. We will soon find ourselves in the days of Lenten self-examination and then glorious Easter with its gift of new life.

What a shame for us to drag old ills and hurts into God’s new day, destroying our own chances for peace and happiness with our own hard hearts.

Forgive.

Release.

Breathe the air of Spring and Resurrection all the way into the depths of your soul.

God matches our gifts of forgiveness ounce for ounce and then some.

Try it and see for yourself.

The Rev. June Johnson is interim rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church, located at 518 E. Broughton St. in Bainbridge, Ga.