Another warm, breezy morning greets us as we gather in the dining room for our conference. Thunderstorms have been forecast for the afternoon, but the sky looks benign right now. Haze tints the horizon a pale white and a few tufts of wool pass lazily overhead. Down to earth, a chipmunk races between the bird feeders and her nest, cheeks bulging with her loot. Abbot John brings us back to our immediate purpose, saying, Good Morning.
Today’s conference explores Forgiveness, using the parable from Matthew 18:21-35. In it, a master forgives a slave his debts, showing mercy. The slave then turns around and demands repayment of a debt from a fellow slave. When the fellow slave begs for mercy, the first slave shows none, throwing him into debtor’s prison.
Abbot John warns that our culture mirrors the slave’s desire for vengeance. Don’t forget what you are owed! Pay back those who have wronged you!
Yet, we are called to forgiveness. Jesus begins the parable with a command: I do not say to you, (forgive) up to 7 times, but up to 70 times 7 times. This is not a suggestion.
The path of forgiveness is narrow and winding. It is NOT condoning wrong doing or injustice. It is NOT absolving from full responsibility. It is NOT putting ourselves at risk of any continued violence or abuse. It IS overcoming and letting go of the anger and hatred we feel toward the one who has wronged us.
Not forgiving can eat us alive. The anger we feel toward the one who wronged us is rent-free space for her/him in our own heads! The grievance stories – where we weave great narratives of all that has gone wrong in our lives (including the most recent wrong) – we tell ourselves over and over again. We had lousy parents and that’s the reason we keep failing now. We had disloyal friends. We had bad bosses … unhappy experiences … miserable luck.
We need to change the channel. The Grievance channel feeds our anger and resentment. Tune in the Gratitude channel, the Beauty channel, the Forgiveness channel.
Forgiveness allows us to give up the anger and resentment we feel. It allows us to give up the desire for revenge. It allows us to get back to our own wonderful lives. Whether the one who wronged us can ever be reconciled to us or not – in the case of her/his death, reconciliation is impossible; in the case of abuse, reconciliation may be absolutely unacceptable – we still can forgive.
Note that reconciliation requires both parties to engage: the one who wronged us must repent of her/his actions and be committed to change for reconciliation to take place. Meantime, forgiveness can be accomplished unilaterally.
It can take years. Be patient. But take the first step on that winding road, as Jesus commands. And take back your life.