Part of Lent is seeking forgiveness in our lives for our sins and fleeing from those things that distract us from our walk with God. Not only fleeing but learning to depend on God, where we may have allowed sins and worldly habits to distract us. These habits may have been gluttonous or lustful, spiteful or angry. We shed the old and don the new.
A part of forgiveness is to forgive those who have hurt us. This is such a complicated and winding thing. In our fragile world, some hurts are so profound and dark that they have legal and even eternal ramifications. This complicates how we are to forgive, because the fact of the matter is such profound wickedness still roams the world freely, and evil rules in some people’s lives.
Yet, I think the commandment to forgive is no less genuine, even for those hurts that stem from those dark things we’d rather not talk about. For the sake of our own hearts, we seek to forgive those who caused those pains. I can’t and won’t pretend to say that I know what this pain is like, I have been blessed with a reasonably sheltered life, but I know forgiveness is paramount.
I write this for two reasons. First, I realize that I have hurt some just as others have hurt me and I pray that they have or would forgive me. For I am a fallen man, and I fail. Some days, I feel that if I had a penny for every failure, I would be wealthy. My hope is that those who I have failed will forgive me. Second, because there are some whose words and actions still dig deep into my heart, I still wake up with sorrow and anger because of their actions. It is to this second point I speak more pointedly because while I can be penitent, I can not control how others feel towards me. However, I can decide to forgive or to withhold my forgiveness.
I recently read Letters to Malcolm, a collection of letters by C.S. Lewis. One evening in my reading I came across this quote:
“Last week, while I was at prayer, I suddenly discovered — or felt as if I did — that I had forgiven someone I have been trying to forgive for over thirty years.” ~ C.S. Lewis, from Letters to Malcolm
It was such a relief to realize, that it takes time to forgive some things, but also that we don’t forgive them by our power and might. So often I cling to the idea that I can do this all on my own, but what I need is to take my weakness to the Lord in prayer.
I read something or heard someone recently that talked about their struggles and they mentioned when a struggle comes to mind that he or she brings them to the Lord in prayer. I think that this is how it works in the case of forgiveness as well. Lately, I have been attempting to bring the people who left a pain in my heart to prayer when my heart becomes bound with anger at them. I pray for them and that I would forgive them. I think this is the better way. I know, like Lewis, I still have a long way to go, and that in this journey I will get hurt again.
I often think of poor Lot’s wife who was unable to keeping looking forward but looked back at her past and turned into salt. We often run the risk of turning ourselves into pillars of salt when we focus too much on the hurts of the past and not on the future hope that we have in Christ. As we move into Lent, perhaps it is time to start the process of forgiving those who have left a deep wound in your heart.