For us, forgiveness is a matter of becoming capable, of being given the power, to disrupt the cycle of continued wrath and suffering we experience as inevitable. Forgiveness is always going to be demanding, costly, and a freely chosen effort. Others cannot tell us when and how we must forgive. No one but we ourselves can require us to forgive.
Through the amazing story of how Corrie Ten Boom discovered that she herself still was learning how to forgive, you’ll learn what forgiveness is not, and what forgiveness is.
As we wrestle with forgiving, you’ll learn three things that will help us open to God’s grace.
I hope you stay in touch. Sign up for my newsletter here: https://touchingthesunrise.com/newsletter/
I certainly would never compare my life to that of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. The memories I have of my childhood are of a little girl who always wanted to be a nun and who was—by my own standards at least—well-behaved. St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, however, had a will of steel and a temper that raged into violent outbursts even at the age of four. She was impossible to control. Family and friends recalled how she would lock herself in a room in a rage when she didn’t get what she wanted, kicking the door in her fury. Only when she had spent all her energies and was exhausted could her mother sit down with her and attempt to teach her gentleness and charity.
Though my childhood personality, at least as I remember it, was pretty calm, I have a distinct memory at twenty-one of raging against God. Just a month after suffering a stroke, and a year after my first profession of vows, I was silently before Jesus in the Eucharist one day in the chapel and from somewhere deep inside came words which surprised me, even shocked me. “I hate you,” I said to him. I had lost dreams and ambitions and physical abilities and, what seemed to me as a young adult, my future. And from somewhere within me, this anger and hatred at the one I felt was to blame came raging out. It took me by surprise, for, after all, I had been “well behaved” up to that point. Day after day, in a struggle that stretched to weeks and months and years, I submitted my heart to the transforming action of the Spirit at work in the Eucharist. Each day after receiving Jesus in Communion I prayed, “Help me, for I see now how poor I am, how in need I am of you, Jesus.”
In her diary, Elizabeth herself recorded how her first encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist was a moment of transformation. In fact, she said that it was decisive for the rest of her life. She began to take on from that moment the gentle self-control that would characterize her as an adult.
“In the depths of her soul, she heard his voice…. [The] Master took possession of her heart so completely that thenceforth her one desire was to give her life to Him” (The Spiritual Doctrine of Sister Elizabeth, pg 2)….
The most important truth to be convinced of is not that God loves you. As broken, wounded, wandering as we each may be, as desperately yearning to know that we matter and that we are worth someone’s attention, contrary to what we might think, we do not need most to know how much God loves us.
I almost cringe as I write these words. For almost 40 years this has been both my mantra and my misery, my hope against hope, the alphabet of my feelings of spiritual failure. I had not realized that I was seeking for something that was only half-true, a shabby imitation of the fierce and passionate, surprisingly disconcerting way of divine love.
In the first week of the spiritual exercises, St Ignatius draws the retreatant into love through the very narrow and demanding path of coming to grips with what is not loving in one’s life. The retreatant comes to Jesus in prayer, again and again, begging for the grace to acknowledge the mystery of iniquity which spins a web of deceit around them. Repeatedly I came before Jesus begging for the grace to become deeply aware of my personal sin history and my hidden disorders. I begged Jesus and Mary for interior knowledge of my sins, an awareness of the disorder of my actions, that I might hate them and allow God to bring order once again to my life.
The way of truth is the only foundation for the confidence of love. But ah! how hard is this truth!
Lord, remember not only men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they inflicted on us. Remember the fruits we have borne thanks to this suffering: our comradeship, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of this; and when they come to judgment let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.”
~ Written on a piece of wrapping paper found near the body of a dead child in Ravensbruck, the second largest concentration camp for women in the German Reich, where 92,000 women and children died in the Holocaust.
How, O my God, could a woman in this death camp write these words?
How did she find the courage to keep her heart open? To care about the eternal salvation of those at whose hands she suffered and very likely died?
Friends, today we also are living through turbulent and violent times. As we watch the social fabric of our nation disintegrate with mass shootings and watch with horrified anger at what Russia is inflicting on the Ukrainian people and the world, we may find our hearts closing. It could be that our hearts are hardening in fear or anger without our even realizing it. Whatever we are feeling, it is okay. We might feel overwhelmed at the prospect of the future for our children and grandchildren. It is okay. We might feel lost in the midst of everything that is going on around us. It is all okay.
How difficult are you finding it to love and believe in the power of love in these days?
The news cycle overwhelms and incites the fires of anger and fear and hatred in our minds and hearts. It all can feel so righteous, so right. After all, there is a clear bad guy in these incidents, and our hearts immediately take the side of the innocent victims. Today only the bravest can keep lit in their hearts the flame of charity.
You are an indispensable instrument of God’s plan and in perfectly surrendering to the divine flow of love, as mysterious and incomprehensible as it sometimes appears, you will find your happiness.
New Year’s Resolutions often target weaknesses in order to increase strengths so we can be who we want to be. Mystery and divine providence often relies specifically on our weaknesses to be the places where the glory of God shines through as we play our part in the drama of the mysterious plan of salvation.
In the end, life is Mystery: not perplexing confusion, but the Wisdom that is larger than our strategies, the Future that is greater than our projects, the Love that will encompass all of our potential.
Mystery means God has a plan for you that is perfect in every way, a plan that can encompass and save even suffering and disappointment.
Mystery means God will use you just as you are for a plan that has existed since before the foundation of the world and will exist into the unending future of the eternal kingdom.
There are times when we have to deal with big questions. And then there are times when big questions sear deeply into our identity, shake our consciousness, tear our hearts with guilt. They toss us about with fear, doubt, and loneliness. The big questions seem to be dealing with us. We might stay up at night wondering where we fit in God’s plan. Questions haunt us: Who am I? What is the purpose of my life? How will I go on from here?
When we’re haunted by these big questions, we are like the apostles after Calvary’s sorrow and the collapse of their hope, when rumors suddenly swirled around that some of them had seen Jesus alive. How they must have longed to see once again the face of their Beloved Master, and yet also perhaps felt their hearts shrink in the uncertainty of what his eyes would say to them.
The forty days of Easter before the Ascension are like an educative process. After the resurrection, Jesus doesn’t engage the apostles on the level of emotion. He becomes their guide through the complexities of their hearts and the events that left them fearing what God’s plan might be. To them, Jesus asserts the authority and gentle power of his presence: Do not be afraid. It is I.
These past two weeks I have spent from 3 to 5 hours most evenings or early mornings sitting beside a dear sister-friend who was making her last great ascent. That final walk. The ultimate journey. The loving return.
Each breath of hers was precious and on that last night before she died God helped me to realize that in the end, really, that is all we have…our breath…our current breath. We are not promised our next breath. We already have kissed the last breath goodbye. We cannot cling to it, as we cannot hold onto the past.
And even that breath is a gift. A gift of total gratuitously glorious love from a divine Lover who is supporting us in his arms even as we breath.
On that last ascent, it will not matter what we have created or achieved or known or acquired. The fact that I have written a book, or started a company, or sold an astounding number of widgets, or even loved will not be mine as a monument to me..
I will have only this breath that is a gift to me right now at this moment.
This year’s Christmas season is not laden with the expectations of extended family celebrations, festive Christmas meals, and open doors to visitors come to share the joy of the days of rest and peace that fill the Christmas season.
Pandemic loss and grief weigh upon these Christmas days and bring shadows to our hearts.
Maybe we feel empty. Like the world has stopped. Worry for the future seeps into the celebration of God-with-us who was born among us…. And…where is he for me? Now?
Your heart’s cry, whatever it may be, let it blend with the wail of the Infant King that midnight at his birth.
Photo Credit: Image by RitaLaura; Cathopic
Jeannette and I talk today about an experience at prayer and selection of my journal:
within what breaks, I am vast Abyss
within the falling, I am depthless Depth
in the emptying, I am the Silence
Shed your mind’s unconscious gossip and still your Heart
Touch your forehead to the earth
a floral carpet Crimson Red
on which you bumble and tumble
in My Glory.
“Who could have thought my shrivel’d heart
Could have recover’d greennesse?
George Herbert, The Flower
Image Credit: Il Ragazzo; Cathopic
I’m almost 57. Fifty seven years of people, situations, issues, reaction, desires, disappointment, dreams, loves….
This year on my birthday, I’m making the resolution to “not look back.”
To not look back at disappointment.
To not look back at rejection.
To not look back at loss.
Of course, looking back is important to do at times. I actually began to rediscover parts of my life during the imposed solitude of the pandemic that I hadn’t taken the time to integrate precisely because I hadn’t looked back. I needed to take the time to “connect the psychological-emotional-spiritual dots” between what I had experienced and lived through and what I was still carrying today in my heart and mind.
Making the connections is important. By making connections we can surrender to God what he has helped us recognize. We can let it go. We can understand it more deeply, even recognize where we may have been mistaken in our perception of what happened….