You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘forgiveness’ tag.

trees

Often I marvel at the profound intuition that Jesus exhibited when talking and teaching. Why should it be so surprising that he knew the needs and quirks of the human soul, after all, He created us. But what continues to strike me is that by and large, we seem to have gotten the purpose behind the message wrong. In his teachings, Jesus instructs us to treat other people in a certain way, and we naturally think that this is done for the good of those other people. However, we are mistaken. It is, first and foremost, done for the good of us.

One of the most prominent teachings Jesus offers is that of forgiveness. We are to forgive when others do wrong against us, whether they ask for forgiveness or not; regardless of what is in their hearts, we are to let go. And for good reason: the internal anger that is the opposite of forgiveness is terribly destructive. On a physical level, it keeps us grinding our teeth to a pulp, our faces are taught, our jaw muscles hurt. We do not take deep breaths and our brains are short of oxygen. No wonder we cannot think clearly. Countless papers testify to the negative physiological effects of anger. In terms of our intangible inner life, anger keeps us emotionally constipated. We cannot move forward. Dwelling and mulling become our pastime, productivity and creativity dwindle. Also, without forgiveness we continue feeling like the victim, helpless and bitter, and live our lives accordingly. So it turns out that letting go is first and foremost beneficial for the one doing the forgiving.

A closely related topic is that of humility. With word and action, Jesus taught his followers to think of others better than of themselves, to be humble, to let go of pride. Granted, everyone benefits when the haughty become the meek, the world would be a better place with less arrogant people. But here too, I find that the person that benefits most from this abandon of pride is the one that lets it go. While you are busy preserving your self image, that frail ego inside that shudders with every threat, you could be out joyfully trying new things, falling on your face and getting up again, interacting with people you wouldn’t normally come in contact with…We fear that if we let go of our pride, our whole being will whisp out of existence. At least I fear this. But what I discover is that with every bit of that perceived “self” that you give up, you are actually gaining psychological leg room. You can think freer, plus you have more energy to do so, since you are not wasting it on preserving the dignity of the self. And, incidentally, letting go of pride leads to less cases of that pride being hurt or offended, which helps with not getting angry and having to forgive those who “sin against you”.

Through all of New Testament scripture we are reminded to pray for those close to us. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes it a step further and instructs his followers to pray for those who persecute them. Prayer, in my mind, has always been an exercise that you do for the benefit of other people. Please heal my child from his pneumonia. Please strengthen my grandparents in their time of need. Please be with that individual who yelled hurtful things at me…Surely, this kind of petitioning with prayer is done for the sake of the recipient of the asked-for blessing.  Surely, but actually, not really.  When I pray, work is being done within me. As I pray “for my enemy”, I am inevitably forced to think of them not in terms of what they’ve done to me, but in terms of what they might need prayer for. This in turn forces me to see them as a person, not a source of my pain. Prayer gives way to empathy, which in turn brings about healing. Through prayer, you realize that we’re all in this together, not very different from each other, all needing forgiveness sometimes; all needing love.

Love. Yes, this is the glue that holds it all. The two most important commandments are to love the Lord your God, and to love your neighbor as yourself. If you think about it, why would the Lord, who is perfect love and who, within the Trinity, already gives and receives his love, need ours? From the first glance this seems to be the case: love God because he needs it, love others because they need it too.  But actually I think there is another, perhaps most important component: love because you need to love. You were designed to love, and you are realized as a human being through sharing this love.  Not surprisingly, close relationships between people are a key characteristic both of the so-called “Blue Zones”, pockets of communities with the most centenarians, and of the countries with the most happy people overall. When we live surrounded by love and expressing love, we live longer, happier lives.

This is why I think Jesus was a talented therapist: by following his instructions and focusing on doing good to others, we are in fact healing and transforming ourselves.

Advertisements

Dear God,

It’s been a while since I wrote.

Thing is, I felt like I couldn’t reach you. Maybe it was the Church that did it. With its zealous campaign to remind us that we are flawed human beings, it overshot its target and made us believe that we were completely hopeless. Some of us, who already had a good sense of our depravity, became convinced that as fallen beings we had no access to you, no place by your side and really, no place even on this Earth. Instead of being empowered we were weakened. At some point we forgot that we were created in your image, and that you created us good.

We began spending many hours of each day in ritual self-flagellation. We beat ourselves up over not being good enough parents, bad church goers, non-tithers, immoral, apathetic, un-praying and uninvolved. Not only could be not talk to you, because, after all, we hadn’t read the Bible in so many days, weeks, months, but we weren’t good enough to go to church either. We had to take action in order to at least somehow justify our existence. So we wrote to-do lists, pushed ourselves to the limit, put ourselves down and promised to do better. This all must have looked ridiculous to you.

Or maybe it was our society. Goodness, what a bunch of health-conscious, environmentally aware confused individuals we are. The world told us to eat better, to drive less, to care for the minorities among us, and instead of joyfully taking it on, we were consumed with guilt – for eating sweets, throwing away plastic cans, driving instead of biking to work, using non-biodegradable materials. There was no joy in anything we did. We were only desperately, without any real hope, trying to make this world a little bit less of a horrible place to live. And us – just a rung higher up on the unending ladder of guilt and social responsibility.

This was your enemy’s work. He took all of the good that might have been intended, and deranged it. The father of lies had prevailed, if only temporarily, at his best craft. We came to believe, I believed, that we had to earn our place; that we had to deserve it. This was impossible, and we floundered around helplessly. This is why I hadn’t written.

But lately I noticed that this idea doesn’t quite jive with what you teach. In fact, it renders the death and resurrection of your Son completely absurd.

So I just wanted to drop you a line, let you know things are getting better. I am allowing myself the joy of not thinking about guilt. You thought of that already. Funny that it took me only 20 years of faith in you to realize this. But that’s OK too. You’re probably smiling right now, maybe even rolling your eyes a bit. But hey, better late than never, and in the grand scheme of things – it’s not late at all.

It’s the perfect time to be finding the child you love.

Driving to work, feeling frazzled and sad, I turn on Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, and my soul is taken elsewhere.

Praise the Lord, oh my soul, the hymn begins. I think about how tremendously fortunate it is that in his empathy and foresight, God has given us the aptitude to praise him in a way that is pleasing for Him, and for us. There are moments of clarity when you recognize who you are, who He is – your soul yearns to break out of your body and dash across green fields, your palms tingle, you inhale deeply. And at that moment, when you are consumed by a thankfulness so strong it threatens to overpower you, God gives you the voice, the words, the movements, to praise Him.

In worship, you offer your imperfect attempts but He makes them pure, makes them powerful, makes himself pulse through you so that you are able to give him the praise that he deserves – perfectly. I think that’s why worship can be such a powerful experience for people: they are not only offering their praises up, but they feel God within.

I also think about the resurrection. In church there’s a group of Christian ex convicts who always sit together, right in the center of the worship hall. They always clap the loudest when there’s mention of forgiveness and new life, new hope. They sing their hearts out, too. I look at them and envy them a little. They were fortunate enough to have their sins revealed to the world. Now they could no longer pretend that they were perfect. Instead, these people received punishment but also, forgiveness. They embraced death and resurrection.

But what about the rest of us, standing tense, singing loud but not too loud, raising up our hands, but not too high, rising up when we are told, sitting obediently when everyone sits. What about our resurrection? Outwardly living a righteous life, we are lulled into complacency. We begin to believe the fallacy that we are not so bad. Hey, we didn’t break into a bank. We did not steal, embezzle, beat, rape or murder. But woe to the person who thinks along these lines. They are most in need of resurrection, but feeling that their lives are pretty much okay except for a few tweaks here or there, they do not buy into a complete burial of the self. They cannot be made new because they like the old.

Several years ago I married and had kids. Through the many unexpected turns of events, I beat my chest, threw ashes on my head, begged God, complained to him, berated him. “Why?!” was the question of many seasons. These years have been the most difficult for me, not only because of the hardships that I endured, but because these hardships revealed to me the extent of my own depravity. Daily I face the abysmal darkness that is in my heart. It is near overwhelming.

And slowly I begin to see His mercy. Finally, I want to bury the old. Finally, I want to be made new. And how great it is that inner darkness so deep that it becomes palpable can still be overcome. It has been overcome! And now I want it. I want the resurrection for me.

Praise the Lord indeed, oh my soul, all my inmost being – praise His holy name.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 246 other followers

%d bloggers like this: