Forgiveness, or How to Live Well: part 2
Every now and then, or rather often really, a book will come out espousing the secret to living a happy life. Or it might give you the 10 steps to being an effectual individual. Or it may be about the best life you can have for $24.99. Or the philosophical proof of what consists of the good life. Let me save you $24.99. Or the hundreds you would spend on a conference for the best life now. Here’s the one step you need: forgive everyone, including yourself, endlessly.
Normally I’m a little hesitant to oversimplify things, especially the whole of life itself, but I feel pretty good about this one. I think we’re on to something here. I think if you live a life filled with forgiveness and grace, if you forgive those who wrong you (or who you think have wronged you), if you forgive yourself your failures, if you forgive others their shortcomings, if you hold nothing against your neighbor but instead forgive, then you will live a happy life. It’s as simple as that, right?
Does that sound too wishy-washy? Does that discount that you can and should disagree with people at times? No. Does that mean that you ignore justice and let people walk all over you? No. Of course there are complexities here. But the truth still remains: forgive and you will be free.
Of course it’s not as easy as it sounds. People wound us. Sometimes it’s in small ways that build, sometimes it’s in huge ways that go very deep. Sometimes we find ourselves harboring ill feelings at people we don’t even know for whatever reason. The power to forgive is not easily gained. Especially if we hope that forgiveness to be full and true to the depths of our hearts. The human heart is capable of some amazing things, but it is only the full, overflowing grace of Jesus that can fill our hearts and overcome the deepest wounds and the sharpest hurts.
As Nouwen talks about, we learn that we can forgive when we realize that others are not God. They cannot save us. They cannot love us to the depth that we need. They love weakly, even when the love well. Acknowledging our own weakness in how we love is what can give us the power to also forgive ourselves when we hurt others or ourselves. It is God’s unending love in us that allows us to do this. When we know the source of that love we are able to freely give that forgiveness without expecting anything in return, because we have what we need in his love.
In a lot of ways this is pretty basic Christianity stuff. But then why do I so often live differently? Why do I hold my anger against others? Why am I so hard on myself when I make a mistake? When will I truly learn to forgive? Can I forgive myself for living so often without a heart of forgiveness? It would seem that’s the best place to start. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy. Luke, have mercy.