Forgiveness From the Heart
When I was asked to write something for the Confraternity of Penitents, I couldn't imagine what I could offer anyone. Then a promise I made years ago to Jesus came to mind, and I knew it was time to pay up. I have been blessed much throughout my life, and learning about forgiveness from Jesus was one of my greatest blessings. I promised to share my experience with others and have in small ways, but now I feel God calling me to trust and share what I've learned with you.
JOURNEY INTO FORGIVENESS
Several years ago I felt God calling me to a deeper walk. As a young girl I had entertained the idea of becoming a nun. I would stop into church
just to say "hi" to the Lord, and I'd go to Sunday Mass and confession almost every Saturday by myself. But then came the years of drifting and lukewarmness. I was never too far away but never too close either.
God brought a cousin back into my life that I hadn't seen for years. As children she'd done something that hurt me very deeply, and that pain added into my separation from God. So here she was, and I knew I had to be charitable although I couldn't understand why she had come back into my life from out of nowhere. We visited and I tried to block out the past. But that wasn't good enough. As time went by, I knew I had to forgive her and confess my anger and bitterness towards her and ultimately myself, too. I followed through on this grace and a great healing began to take place in my heart. And she wasn't nearly as "bad" as I had grown to think in my hurt.
Not long after our reconciliation, her father became ill and she, being the only girl, was expected to help care for him. It was a real strain on her, and, after his death, she, too, became ill. Although married for several years, she was never able to have children so it was just she and her husband. I'll never forget his call one Thanksgiving Day to tell me that doctors had just told her she had lung cancer and was only given 3 months to live. I wondered at their timing and why God had brought her into my life only to take her away. But His plans are always larger than we can comprehend, it seems.
She was accepted into an experimental program at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and would have to be there for five weeks of treatment and them come home for a while, then return. God had changed me and now I prayed fervently for her healing and for His mercy and for forgiveness. I became her friend and one of her rocks of strength.
I laughed when she laughed, and I cried when she cried. She suffered much, hoped much, but was losing her fight. And God was changing my life, He was changing me.
My prayer changed, my friends changed, doors opened and new people came into my life. I was led to a Charismatic prayer group and, through them, opened up more to what God had planed for me.
As my cousin slipped away, my new friends told me about a healing service. They said they would go with me and I could stand in for her. What did we have to lose? It was quite an experience, and then they handed out a prayer called the Sinners Prayer. Honestly, I've never seen it again and couldn't tell you what it says, but that day I said the prayer as I waited in a long line. I poured out my heart to God, asking Him to heal her and saying the Sinners Prayer over and over for "her". Then after a while the words were coming from my heart, and I began to cry. I said the prayer again, but this time it came from my heart for "me". I received the blessing of the priest for my cousin and grace for myself beyond my wildest dreams.
On my 40th birthday I went with her to make her funeral arrangements so that everything would be done. She didn't think her husband would have the strength to make final arrangements for her. I didn't know where I got the strength to do this, but it was a privilege to help her that day.
That night I had a conversion experience. As I was kneeling in prayer I heard a voice say to me, "I have given you the first 40 years, will you give Me the rest?" For a moment, time stopped and I was riveted to my place; then from somewhere deep inside my heart the answer came, without, it seemed, even passing through my mind. "Yes."
She died two months later, after seeing one more Thanksgiving Day. But not before asking one more thing of me. She asked me if I would stay with her to the end, never knowing my great fear of everything having to do with death. But God knew, and so I asked for the grace to be there and to help her in some way. I was by her side to the end, and many graces were to be had by both of us. This experience forever changed me, and I look back on it with much thanksgiving for having been able to fulfill her last request of me.
From that "yes" a new life began to form. I found that there was so much more for me than just "going" to Mass. The sacraments became a necessity in my life. They were the healing and the cleansing I needed so much. I would regularly attend a healing Mass and each month hoped God would heal the ringing in my ears that I found to be so annoying and yet it never happened. One day I felt so sure I was going to be healed and yet I came home the same as before. That day the priest talked about blocking God's healing and refusing God's blessings. The seeds were planted.
In prayer I asked God if I had blocked His healing or refused His blessing since my ears were still ringing now worse than ever. The words came to me, "I had something greater than what you asked of Me, but you wouldn't accept it". I felt remorse and prayed and apologized. What grace had I
refused by closing my heart to everything other than what "I" wanted. I was humbled and went to the next healing service with an open and grateful heart. I would gladly receive the smallest of God's blessings with joy. Yet those words I heard never left me, and I wondered if God would ever offer me that blessing or healing again.
Several months passed, it seemed, and one night when I was praying the Lord's Prayer, the words seemed to cut through my heart and fill my room, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Wow. Forgiveness is conditional. We must forgive others in order to be forgiven ourselves. How many times had I been to confession, but how and whom do I need to forgive? Thinking only in the short term, I couldn't think of anyone whom I needed to forgive.
Then in prayer one night came the words that changed my life. "I want you to forgive your mother!"
When I was a young girl, my relationship with my mom was a very strained one. She was going through some very rough times, and I seemed to push her over the edge just by being a responsibility in her life. I don't think I was a "bad" child, but I'm sure there were times when I didn't make things any better either. She became abusive, and I tried all the more to please her. After time, when my efforts were all for nothing and the pain in my heart grew to where I couldn't take any more, I reached the point where I wanted to hate her, but I couldn't or wouldn't so I instead became numb, cold with a heart of stone. For several years, I hadn't even really spoken to her because she pushed my buttons, and I was angry when I would react like a child rather than stand up like a grown woman.
Now God was asking me to give Him the one thing I couldn't give. And at that moment all the pain and hurt of all those years gone by was renewed in my heart all at once. I cried out to God, "I can't, I can't. There is no forgiveness for this in my heart!" And I cried like a child because I was so hurt.
Then the words came to me, "Haven't I forgiven you much?" Like a warm balm poured on a wound, they sank into my heart. God had forgiven me so much, healed me so much, given me so much. But how could I do this? How could I forgive her?
I cried and said, "I can't. There is no forgiveness in my heart." That's when I received from God a lesson that is one of my greatest blessings.
The words came to me, "Forgiveness is a choice. You choose to forgive. You don't have to feel it in your heart. All you have to do is begin by making a choice to forgive. I want you to pray for your mother 3 times a day for 30 days."
Trembling and crying because I realized this was a grace that very few souls received, I said, "OK, I'll try." At that moment I "knew" that this was the
blessing that God wanted to give me, but my heart was filled with un-forgiveness and that blocked His graces and cut me off from Him in ways I didn't understand.
I got back on my knees and made the best offering I could. "God, although I don't feel this in my heart I choose to forgive my mother and offer these prayers for her." I did as I was asked and faithfully prayed for her 3 times a day. After a week I noticed that something was different with my prayers. They were becoming more of a prayer than words. By the end of the second week, I realized that I really meant what I was saying, and I truly felt forgiveness in my heart. By the end of the third week, I was begging God to forgive my mother and never to let her know how much pain she caused me because it would destroy her.
I had given so little, and God had given me SO MUCH. I was given the grace to forgive, which was the key to the healing of my childhood hurts. The key to being able to accept my mom where she was and to see the situation from a different point of view and actually feel sorry for her because her situation was bigger than she could handle, and she, too, lost those precious years, never to get them back again. Forgiveness didn't work a miracle in our relationship, but it did in me and how I handled our times together. In time, I noticed that she, too, was changing. Were my prayers actually helping her? I don't know for sure, but I still pray every day.
As for forgiveness and how I feel about it, I'll tell you that I truly believe that the unforgiveness that we harbor in our heart is probably the main deterrent to God's healing and grace in our lives. All throughout the Bible, we are called to forgive. And so I pray to forgive all manner of adversity, real or imagined, and I ask blessings on those who help me, double blessings on those who don't, and blessings 10 fold and forgiveness from anyone who I've harmed in any way. Why? Because there is much that I must be forgiven for, and I don't want anything to come between my soul and the mercy of God.