I am a spiritual toddler. I take a few steps in the right direction and then I stumble and fall. I scramble to my feet again and now forgetting my intended direction, I wander off before falling again. Overwhelmingly, I seem to be moving more often with gravity than with direction or progress. I am falling again and again and wondering at my painful lack of progress.
St. Catherine of Siena said that true progress in the spiritual life must include “perfect self-knowledge.” I am perfectly aware that I have so many blind spots in my self-knowledge that I am not even perfectly sure of my own name sometimes.
Recently, I have been thinking about forgiveness. What does it mean to forgive? Admittedly, I am not good at this. Actually, it would not be a stretch to say that I do not forgive – not really. Not fully.
Only weak people forgive. Yes, this is the lesson of my childhood.
I have fantastic parents, but one side of the family makes holding a grudge an Olympic Sport, and they win Gold Every. Single. Time. The other side of the family could sit in a room with their hair on fire and not even acknowledge the smoke in the room. The CIA can’t keep secrets as long as they do.
So between ignoring problems and holding resentment and grudges for decades, I didn’t really learn much about conflict resolution. What I did learn was to hold onto pain and never forgive. That’s how you win, right?
That’s the thing about not being able to forgive. It is painful. It bothers and festers and sickens the soul. It does not bring peace yet that is the one thing a hurting heart thirsts for most when it has been hurt. Peace. I just want peace.
What now St. Catherine? Here is some kernel of self-knowledge, but what do I do with it?
Now we pray she would say. So I pray and I pray, and then the silence. I talk too much when I pray. My head becomes a noisy monologue and so now I have learned to sit near the tabernacle in silence and listen.
Show me Lord how to forgive and how to heal and how to have peace when others offend and hurt me! Then silence. This is usually when I’m reminded that peace isn’t the absence of something (conflict, anger, pain) but the presence of someONE.
I don’t think of forgiveness in the same way I once did. It isn’t winning or losing or punishing someone or admitting defeat. It isn’t controlling someone or being under his or her control. It is about peace – restoring joy to life.
I’m still stumbling along. Forgiveness is still a struggle, but I know that when I am filled with the fire of God’s love and grace, I have peace and I am able to surrender the pain and hurt caused by others to God’s providence.
Fill me Lord with your grace and love. Remind me that your grace is at work in me. Lead me to your heart and conform my own heart to your will. When I am filled with the Holy Spirit there can be no room for anything but love. Through that love, may forgiveness and mercy materialize in me.