Have you ever had an experience of going to Confession that really changed your perspective on something?
That was me a few years ago during one particular Lenten season. I was really struggling to forgive someone who had hurt me. I could sense I felt spiritually “stuck.” I was not moving forward but at the same time I was holding onto a grudge.
I went into the confessional and laid it all out on the table. After thanking me for a sincere confession, he went one to tell me the two most important things necessary in forgiveness: Asking Jesus to give me the desire to forgive and accepting the grace of God (knowing I can’t forgive on my own efforts or white knuckling it).
What the priest shared with me profoundly changed me, and it is something I often return to.
Forgiveness is not about our efforts, it is about the grace of God and asking Him to give us the desire to forgive.
If we were to carefully look at and examine all the tenets of Christian doctrine, specifically Catholicism, we would probably agree that there are some challenging, even difficult things our faith asks of us.
I think forgiveness is one of those things. Forgiveness is hard, messy, and complex. And yet, Jesus never asks anything of us, that he himself did not first model to us. If the Son of God himself calls us to forgive, Jesus shows us it is possible because he showed us how to do so through his very example.
While forgiveness is something Jesus modeled in his public ministry and teaching, it is not necessarily an easy thing to adhere to all the time. We are human and when people deeply hurt us, it can feel confusing how to move forward in peace and wholeness, while not carrying the burden of that pain or trauma.
It’s About Grace
Forgiveness is not about our effort. We have to start here – you can’t wish forgiveness or white knuckle yourself to “make” it happen.
Without the grace of God, we cannot do anything – we would be completely lost! The same thing is true with forgiveness. We need God’s grace to help guide and inspire us, but we need to start and ask for it. God never forces himself on us, and so we need to actively participate, but by asking for His help and grace.
God’s grace is always surrounding us and rich for the taking – but we have to come close and access the bounty of it.
Jesus, Give me the Desire
This leads us to the second point. The reality that very often you may not actually want to forgive someone who has deeply hurt you or someone you love. Our human experience is filled with trauma and hurt – and sometimes forgiving a serious wrongdoing is the last thing we want to do.
It might feel easier to ignore the issue – to sweep it under the rug or just numb yourself to the reality of it. However, that never works. Our bodies and souls will hold onto pain as a way to protect ourselves. I found that asking Jesus to give me a desire to forgive this particular person slowly (and over time), I began to see changes in my own disposition.
Little by little, Jesus began working on my heart – it began to thaw and grow less cold and harsh. Asking Jesus for the desire to forgive is a prayer He will always answer because it is good for us – a prayer like this helps us become more like Him and love and forgive just like Jesus did.
It might take a long time – years even! That is not the point. What matters here is your reliance on Jesus and continuing to come back to him as you navigate this tender, sometimes difficult place.
Lent is the season in the liturgical year we see forgiveness most clearly expressed or talked, because we see so beautifully the example of Jesus forgiving from the cross. As we walk with Jesus during these 40 days until the very end at Calvary, ask Him: Are there people or situations I need to forgive? Where in my life am I harboring resentment and choosing not to forgive?
Be honest with yourself, but don’t judge yourself for whatever answer arises. Then ask Jesus” What do you have to say to me about that?
No matter where you are on the journey of accepting or extending forgiveness, Jesus walks with you and goes with you to all those memories and experiences of your life. Let him lead you in the work of forgiveness and see where that takes you this Lenten season.