I continue looking at prayers that have both pulled me and others through personal trials and struggles. In the last several posts I have looked at the Lord’s Prayer itself.
Here are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, as included in my United Church of Christ Book of Worship:
Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
As we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For this is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”
I am continuing this morning to reflect on the part of the Lord’s Prayer in which we pray “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. In my last post I talked about varying perspectives on forgiveness and how forgiveness is a journey, one which is different for everyone.
One perspective I did not mention came out of a conversation with a woman I know. She said that something heart-breaking had happened to someone she loved. She shared how she has trouble even talking about or remembering what happened to them both, because of the pain, anger, and anguish that welled up in her soul. “Forgiveness is hard”, she said, “because even thinking about what happened I feel powerless”
Yet the one most hurt, who it hurts her most to think of having suffered, apparently had let go what had happened. “Her attitude is so great. She says we are strong. We are resilient. Look at what we went through and how we went on. We didn’t give but embrace the lives we had. Who does that?” As this dear woman shared her story now, how her face lit up.
A point I made to her is that transition even in telling her story there – from one difficult to speak of, for it is weakness and loss; to one in which one finds strength and resiliency – seems to be a part of what forgiveness is about.
To forgive I must learn to re-write my own story. True forgiveness comes not from a place of weakness but, as Gandhi says, always flows from deep strength. When we have been deeply wounded we can easily see ourselves as broken, damaged, powerless, voiceless, and unable to influence our world. I think that true healing involves not just a quick promise of forgiveness but really sitting with and facing into our pain and what it teaches us. I think it is learning out of the pain to find our own inner strength, strength that enables us to re-imagine ourselves not just as powerless victims of others or of life but ones who discover inner strengths and resources even in the midst of suffering. In such a context we can change the story we tell about ourselves. In this new story we are not in a position of just victim but also as ones with the power to take our pain and transform it into beauty, take negative experiences and turn them into opportunities to grow, and to take one’s hurtful actions and make them seedbeds in which compassion can grow
When we find ourselves becoming in the stories we tell about our lives as people of strength, resiliency, and hope we can then engage our pains of the past and those who have hurt us differently. We can then begin to let go the hold their actions have done on us, beginning to see event them with eyes of compassion. This is the starting place of forgiveness.
Forgiveness as re-writing one’s own story also works in receiving forgiveness. For often a part of why we are unwilling to accept other’s offer of forgiveness and feel the need to beat ourselves up with shame is because a part of us wants to cling to the illusion of our own omnipotence and invulnerability. It is hard to admit we are flawed, broken at times, and unable to make the right choice. It is admitting imperfection and being vulnerable. Yet when we do this we do not have to admit ourselves as mistakes, broken beyond repair, or as some kind of moral monster. For all of us are made perfectly imperfect, and to admit it is to admit our basic humanity. It is to admit we are not God ourselves, but rather children learning, growing, falling down, as we learn to find our way in walking. But we – and those in our lives, including those who have harmed us and whom we have harmed – are children of the living God, at least according to Christian spirituality. This means in the badly damaged and hurt of us dwells the light of eternity, infinite resources to draw on, for in us is the presence of God Themselves. And in the most hurtful, damaging, heart-wrenching person in terms of what they have done to us lies not just evil or brokenness but also the same Sacred Fire that burns in our hearts, the hearts of every saint and mystic. There is a goodness deep in even the person who has done the most wrong which we can with God’s help find and encounter.
Forgiveness – both given and received – is one way of many we can embark on the journey of re-writing our own stories so that the pain and loss we have had at the hands of others and the pain and loss we have caused others & ourselves do not define us anymore. We can fully face our pain while embracing our ability hand in hand with God to create new futures, new realities, and an identity not bound to what is broken and wrong but which fully embraces all our vulnerability and promise. This takes particular significance in times of loss in which we may feel so vulnerable and helpless, and yet this call is to a journey which reminds us the power and potential we each have in the most vulnerable of moments.
Let us continue on this journey together.
Your progressive redneck preacher,