The Power of Forgiveness

What comes with growing up and getting older is the ability to look back on your life and assess the things that you have done, and see the things that you could have done differently.  It’s funny when you can come to the realization that you truly have grown—the decisions that you made become the decisions made by a less developed and seasoned version of you, and sometimes that comes with wishing you could go back in time, have a good chat with your younger self, and offer solutions that might provide for better and different outcomes.

In our world we often hear it said, “I have no regrets,” mostly because people believe that all the decisions they’ve made and all the outcomes they’ve faced have shaped them into the person that they are today.  While I think that is understandable, I think that feeling sad and disappointed at the way some things turned out, especially those things that continue to hurt and haunt you, is not always a bad thing.  Reflecting on the things that could have been different had you been a more compassionate, attentive, present, and loving person in place of the person you were is not a bad thing.   Rather, this kind of thinking promotes growth and conversion.

I shared this quiet realization recently with someone whom I considered my very best friend growing up.  We spent over two hours on the phone last week, after not speaking to one another for eight years.  Eight years ago we got in a fight that, in a matter of hours, led to the end of our ten-year friendship.  It took us that long to finally mend fences.  There were countless times over the years that I dreamed of reconciliation.  I would wake up frustrated and sad that this was not a reality because time and anger had stolen our friendship away from us.  Our resolution came about because I think we were both finally ready and open to hear one another out and to be those things we longed for in each other when we were younger.

There was a moment that we shared in our two hour conversation that was what I would call and what I felt to be a heartbreaking reality: if we had just let go of our pride, trusted in one another, and given each other the benefit of the doubt we have saved ourselves of a lot of hurt and loss.  I would have been able to call her when I was away at school, more lonesome than I had ever been in my life as I tried hard to make new friends in a place where I didn’t know anyone.   She would’ve probably come to visit me in Dallas, when I lived on my own for the first time in my life.  She wouldn’t have missed my early years with Joe, as I experienced for the first time in my life what it was to be with a man who truly respected and loved me.  I think she would have really liked that, because she (out of all my friends) spent so much of her time when we were growing up reminding me when my boyfriends were treating me badly and constantly telling me that I deserved better.  She would have not only been at my wedding, but she would have been one of my bride’s maids.  She would have met my son, and then my daughter.  She would have been there congratulating me as I graduated from college, and then with my Master’s degree.  I know, similarly, there are countless things in her life she would’ve loved for me to have been apart of and share with her as she grew, and I would have loved that, too.

While we spoke about our fallout and discussed where we thought things went wrong, we both realized that most of our anger with one another was rooted primarily in misinterpretation and miscommunication.  As most communication in our world takes place (detached and via a screen), our fight occurred through text, which prevented us from truly hearing one another out.  We realized we were both in a fight over completely different things.  We hurt each other in ways neither of us completely understood because we never took the time to explain to each other how we felt wronged.  We each just stewed in our own anger, frustrated at how our friend could possibly be “so ignorant” of our feelings.  We were so focused on the way in which we were personally wronged that we didn’t see how our actions affected the other.  This is the hard reality that occurs when hearts are hardened and openness and forgiveness are not afforded.  So much of what we expressed over our phone conversation should have been said long ago.  If we had been open and receptive and trusted in our own friendship, so much pain and hurt could have been avoided.  Had we received one another from the beginning with love and mercy, receptive of hearing our faults, we would have reconciled much sooner and the wounds of our fallout would’ve been replaced with lots of happy memories.

In scripture God consistently reminds us that the path to happiness is through reconciliation.  In the “Our Father,” Jesus gives us a bold reminder of our duty as his sons and daughters: in following him we are to recognize that we are fallen beings who are inclined to sin, and called to place our hope and trust in his Son who loved us and gave his life for us so that we might be forgiven.  Our duty is to acknowledge that just as we seek redemption in Christ, we are required to offer that back to others.   Our own forgiveness requires our hearts to be forgiving and merciful to those who have hurt us (Mt. 6:12).  The outpouring of mercy that we so long for from our God cannot truly penetrate our hearts as long as we remain hardened to those around us.

Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see.  In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father’s merciful love; but in confessing our sins, our hearts are opened to his grace. (CCC 2840)

Ultimately, this path is fourfold: we admit that we are not without sin and are thus in need of forgiveness from our Father; we open ourselves to forgiveness from the Father by imitating his mercy; we open others to the Father’s merciful love by being a witness to them of merciful love; and we ultimately receive the grace that comes with reconciliation.

The reconciliation made between my friend and I was both freeing and completely joyful.  I hung up after our conversation feeling renewed, enthused, and satisfied.  My heart was full and she later messaged me that she felt something similar.

This is the gift God wants for us.  He wants us to be free, unburdened from the pain that our sinfulness often brings, and also from the pain that comes when someone wrongs us.  He wants us to know what it is to give and receive mercy, because it is there in the midst of compassion and true charity that we find happiness.  What this reconciliation with my friend taught me is that there is always more room for growth, and always room for more compassion and conversion on my end.  It taught me how important it is for me to approach, listen, respond, forgive, and atone, and it taught me how much is lost when I don’t do that.

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