The blessing of a forgiving heart
by Fr. Eamon Tobin
When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your transgressions. (Mark 11:25)
In silence, let’s all think … of a person with whom we are annoyed, with whom we are angry, someone we do not like. Let us think of that person and in silence, at this moment, let us pray for this person and let us become merciful with this person.(Pope Francis, Angelus, Sept. 15, 2013)
Nothing is clearer in the Gospel than our call to forgive life’s hurts, and yet nothing can be more difficult than acting on this command of Jesus. Many Christians do not even try because the forgiveness of some hurts seems impossible. Yet all of us know of Jesus’ inspiring examples of forgiveness: forgiving his disciples who betrayed, denied, and abandoned him in his hour of greatest need; forgiving his executioners from the cross.
More recently, who will ever forget the words of forgiveness spoken by the parishioners of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, when a young man shot and killed their pastor and eight of their parishioners. If those ordinary Christians could forgive such a terrible crime, surely we can, with the grace of God, forgive lesser hurts done to us by family members, fellow parishioners, clergy, co-workers, employers, or strangers. The key to forgiving life’s hurts is always cooperation with the grace of God and a will to forgive.
All of us know of Jesus’ inspiring examples of forgiveness … forgiving his executioners from the cross.
WHY ENGAGE IN THE HARD WORK OF FORGIVENESS?
There are three good reasons why a Christian should enter into the hard work of forgiveness:
✦ Jesus commands us to forgive.
✦ Holding onto hurts and resentments is bad for our spiritual, emotional, andphysical well-being. Many people have experienced inner healing after they forgave or let go of life’s hurts.
✦ When we forgive life’s hurts, we do our piece to make our world a little more peaceful and less hateful.
WHAT MAKES FORGIVING HURTS HARD?
We may have little or no practice at forgiving hurts. Perhaps our history has been to ignore life’s hurts. Pride and a hardened heart are common obstacles to entering into the forgiveness process. Forgiveness usually means dealing with emotions most of us do not like to confront: anger, hatred, and a need for revenge. Sometimes we are so mad at someone that we cannot go beyond the rage connected with the hurt.
THREE PRACTICAL PRAYER SUGGESTIONS TO HELP US GET STARTED
Lots of homilies stress the importance of forgiveness, but they rarely offer us practical suggestions on how to use prayer to help us to let go of a hurt. The following are three practical prayer suggestions.
1. PRAYER FOR THE DESIRE TO FORGIVE
When someone has hurt us deeply, we may have little or no desire to forgive them. On the contrary, we only have a desire to get even or have nothing to do with them. Once when I was in that situation, I started to say the following prayer:
Jesus, you know how much I despise N_____ and how I have absolutely no desire to forgive him/her. In fact, my only desire is to get even with him/her. Yet I also know that continuing to rage against this person is no good for my body, mind, or spirit and is certainly contrary to your word, which calls us to forgive life’s hurts. So I humbly ask you to do for me what I cannot do for myself. Place in my heart a desire to forgive this person for the sake of my own well-being and for the sake of my relationship with you.
We may have to say that prayer fervently many times before we notice any desire to work through our hurt and anger. Just as physical therapy takes time, so it is with spiritual therapy. We have to stretch ourselves a lot emotionally and spiritually if we want God to melt a heart that is hardened. This may be the toughest step in the entire process. Many people choose not to even pray for the desire to forgive.
We have to stretch ourselves a lot emotionally and spiritually.
2. PRAYER OF REPENTANCE
When a hurt occurs, it is rare that we are totally free of all wrongdoing. We may be guilty of talking about our offender in an un-Christian way. This step in the forgiveness process is very important because it calls us to stop focusing on the sin of our offender and to start owning our own sin. A helpful prayer at this stage may be the following:
Jesus, as you know, I have no problem focusing on the wrong that N_______ has done to me, but I am reluctant to admit the wrong I may have done before, during, or after this hurt occurred. Please help me to have the courage to name my wrongdoing, and please forgive me for my sins in this relationship.
3. PRAYER FOR THE OFFENDER
I have personally found that the decision to pray for the offender can be very helpful in the forgiveness process. It is always helpful to keep in mind that people hurt us or fail us not because they are evil monsters, but because they, like us, are imperfect, wounded, and sinful people. Just as we often need God’s mercy and the mercy of others, we need to be ready, with God’s grace, to share his mercy with others. A helpful prayer at this time may be the following:
Lord, you created N _____ wonderfully, just as you created me. You love this person just as you love me — with all my faults and weaknesses. You know I don’t love this person very much at this time, but you do. Share with me your love for him/her. Also, God, I ask you to bless this scoundrel. Sometimes I, too, am a scoundrel and in need of your blessing.
If we fervently say these prayers over and over, we will most likely discover that God is creating a new heart in us, a heart that is growing in its capacity to forgive.