Christian essayist, Anne LaMotte, said,
Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison
and waiting for someone else to die.
Holding a grudge against another person
might or might not do them any harm.
But it’s guaranteed to do us harm,
guaranteed to be a blight on our own lives.
Conversely, forgiving another person
might or might not make them happier.
But it’s guaranteed to make us happier.
Theologian, Lewis Smedes, said,
To forgive is to set a prisoner free
and discover the prisoner was you.
Lady Julian of Norwich explained it this way,
For when the soul lingers over other people’s sins,
a thick mist . . . falls across our eyes and . . .
we cannot see the beauty of God.
The Bible, medieval mystics, and modern theologians agree:
Forgiveness is the key to our own peace of mind.
It isn’t just a nicey nice religious platitude.
It’s medical science.
The Mayo Clinic says that when we forgive our enemies
the result for us is:
Reduced stress, anxiety, and hostility
Lower blood pressure
A stronger immune system
A healthier heart,
And higher self-esteem.
Forgiveness starts with our own self-interest.
We do it for our own peace of mind.
But how do we do it,
when our neighbors can be so insufferable?
There are three steps.
The first one, the moral step,
isn’t easy, but it’s simple and doable.
It doesn’t require us to reduce our anger one whit
or change our feelings an iota.
It’s as simple as tearing up an IOU.
When someone hurts us,
we have a right to see them suffer.
In the law, we call it a cause of action, a right to sue.
In the moral world, we call it a grievance.
Like Shakespeare’s Shylock,
we have a right to extract a point of flesh from our enemy.
The first step is: We just cancel the debt.
All it takes is a simple statement to God,
who is the arbiter of such things.
We just say,
God, the wrong they have done me, I forgive.
Let no harm come to them.
It may not be easy.
But it is simple. It is possible.
We grit our teeth, and with God’s help, we can do it.
But if we want to reap the spiritual benefit
of that act, we need to take the second step,
the theological step.
Our ability to forgive in our hearts
depends on what we believe about God.
The word God stands for our vision of the highest good.
God is what we strive for.
God is who we want to be like.
How we think of God the most important thing.
We become more and more like the God we worship.
Many of us have been taught to worship an angry vengeful God
who punishes people for bad actions, bad feelings
or bad beliefs.
That God sits on the edge of his throne
waiting to pounce on the guilty.
There are political reasons people portray God like that.
It scares us, keeps us in line, makes us behave
even when no one is looking.
There are also psychological reasons.
Lady Julian and modern psychoanalysts agree
that we project our own anger onto God
and imagine he feels the way we do deep down.
Even some of the authors in the Bible painted that
grim picture of God.
The problem with that kind of religion though
is that it makes us into angry vengeful people.
In that mental state,
we are in the words of the mental commitment laws,
a danger to ourselves and others.
Worshiping a judgmental punitive God over a lifetime
makes us cruel and miserable.
Our best spiritual guides, like Jesus, Paul, John, and Julian of Norwich,
show us a better God.
St. John wrote,
God is love.
There is no room for fear in love,
for perfect love drives out fear.
Lady Julian almost died of the plague in 1395.
While a priest held a crucifix before her dying eyes,
she had 16 visions.
She survived and told us what she learned in her visions
in the first book ever written in English by a woman.
She said she saw no wrath in God.
The wrath, she said, was all in us
Instead, she said,
It is the most impossible fact . . . that God should be angry
. . . . For he that dispels and destroys our anger
and makes us humble and gentle must surely himself
be the same, loving, humble, and gentle.
all of which is the opposite of anger.
If we want to be free from the prison of our anger,
we need Lady Julian’s god,
not Jerry Falwell’s and Franklin Graham’s.
The third step we take right along with the second step.
It’s the spiritual step.
We work out our relationship with God
and our relationship with each other at the same time
because they are two sides of the same coin.
We practice heart forgiveness thorugh prayer.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
that you may be children of your father in heaven.
He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good . . .
In order to love unconditionally the way God loves,
in order to get free of the bonds of grudge and grievance,
we practice praying the way the Bible teaches
Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse.
Pray for those who persecute you.
The Lord’s Prayer even contains the words,
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Bottom line: we don’t wait for our hearts to change.
We go ahead and pray for our enemies now.
We pray first and let the heart change over time.
If we want the thick mist of anger to disperse
so we can see the beauty of God,
if we want peace of mind,
if we want to be set free to love as God loves,
we cancel the moral debts of our enemies,
we believe in a God of love,
and we pray for our enemies until one day we mean it.