Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Forgive Us Our Debts . . .

what does it mean to "forgive?"  the dictionary definition i read just before i began writing this morning--"stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake"--seems inadequate.  forgiveness, it seems to me, is more than a simple "stop" of an angry or resentful feeling.  in the christian religion with its emphasis on sins against God, there is much talk about forgiveness.  on most Sunday mornings we hear the phrase, "if we confess our sins, God is quick to forgive." and, in the lord's prayer, we pray "forgive us our debts (trespasses) as we forgive our debtors (those who trespass against us)."

in some christian traditions, there are acts of contrition that are a precondition to forgiveness, such as saying a certain number of "hail marys," but in our calvinist tradition, the act of confession assumes God's immediate forgiveness.  both of these traditions, i believe, make forgiveness too easy to achieve.  for christians like me, God's forgiveness comes so painlessly that it is far too simple to be absolved of failings without any analysis of the underlying causes of those offenses, flaws, or mistakes that are part of the definition.

the difficulty is in forgiving oneself.  i think this is the atonement, the act of contrition, that is necessary.  in last week's post, i recounted my failing to act in love in a certain situation and the persistent punishing myself that i engaged in before i was able to forgive myself.  i'm not suggesting that this reaction is the correct one.  instead, i'm trying to get at the way i finally was able to forgive myself for my behavior.  it was in the reasonable analysis of the whys and wherefores of my feelings that i was ultimately able to let go of my anger and resentment toward myself, and in so doing, to forgive the wrong others had done me.

we don't have to take the easy path of forgiveness of confessing to God and then telling ourselves that it's ok because God forgives us, nor do we have to keep beating ourselves up when we fail to act with love and compassion.  what is essential is that we step back from our angry selves and look on ourselves with the same compassion we work to have for others.  we must seek the root causes of our failings.  once we have understanding, we must make it our intention to put forth the effort to act in lovingkindness and compassion when similar situations arise in the future.  only in so doing can we find the forgiveness we seek.

my prayer today is that each of us will develop the skill of treating ourselves with the love and compassion with which we seek to treat others, forgiving ourselves for our mistakes through the act of contrition that is true understanding.  shalom.

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