Jesus and the Power of Forgiveness
March 27, 2016
Today is Easter Sunday, a day when Christians commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a little Catholic girl, it was hard for me to understand what the significance was of this man’s choice to go against the system, get tortured for it, subsequently killed and then resurrected. It was told to me that all of this was done for my immortal soul.
I have struggled with this concept all of my life. I have never felt quite comfortable accepting that I was a sinner at my core and that it took the violent death of Jesus to save me. How could Jesus pay for my sins when I hadn’t even been born yet?
Over time, I have come to believe that Jesus did not represent my soul’s salvation from sin but rather my soul’s liberation through the power of forgiveness.
Without going into too much detail, let me just say that I was raised on toxic shame, fear and guilt. I lost childhood innocence much too soon and believed my dreams, needs and goals meant nothing; the only thing I was good for was when I could do things for other people. It is pretty much the story of a child who becomes a good little co-dependent who believes that her life is worthless unless she meets with the approval and acceptance of others. I was guilted and shamed when I couldn’t “fix” things – like being a good enough little girl so my dad wouldn’t “have” to drink. I spent most of my life with this mindset until I was lucky enough to meet a group of people who saw the pain I was in and reached out to help me.
When I became awake and aware of the toxic mental afflictions I’d carried with me for all of those years, I felt fatigued. When I became awake and aware of how they’d gotten there in the first place, I became enraged. When I became awake and aware of how many years of life I’d lost in just trying to overcome my faults so that I would be accepted and approved of, I grieved. All of these emotions were almost too much to bear. My therapist told me that to be fully released from their power, I would have to forgive.
“Forgive? Forgive what? Forgive those who put me into an emotional hell?” I screamed at my therapist. “So, I’ve already been used like a doormat and you’re saying I should be a doormat again?” The word “forgiveness” is one that I struggled with when it came to releasing events in my personal history. It sounded so much like I was saying that it was okay that I was treated so badly. It sounded like I just needed to let those who hurt me just go on their merry way without paying some price. Forgive them? I don’t think so.
But then we have the example of Jesus.
First, look at the verbal and physical beatings this man took for just simply being himself. Of course, being himself meant that he would question and defy both authority and conformity but the point is that he did not go along with what he was taught and stood up for himself. They beat him and crucified him and he still forgave them. Who has not been tormented for going against the groupthink or for just being himself?
Second, many of the people who were blessed by Jesus turned on him in his last days out of fear for their own lives. They could have stood up for him; instead, they turned on him and he still forgave them. Who has not experienced that level of betrayal?
Finally, the apostles were no shining bunch of perfect specimens. But they asked to be forgiven for their past aggressions whereupon Jesus told them that they were forgiven and to essentially “go and sin no more.” As long as these disciples recognized their wrongdoings, made amends and promised not to commit them any longer, they were truly forgiven. This is a story of hope for all of us. We are forgiven and we can forgive.
I think that we need to understand that forgiveness is not the same as saying that what someone did to you is okay. I think it involves deciding first of all if you still want that person in your life and if you do, you might have to:
1. Understand that you have to let go of the past but you also have to take the steps to take back control of your life. Cut the rope that ties their dock to your ship and sail away to your own safe harbor.
2. Draw clear boundaries and stick to them. A toxic person will balk but a healthy person understands. In essence, they will show you by their responses whether they’ve changed or not. Your boundaries will keep you safe.
And be true to yourself. Going against conformity will probably mean you feel alone a lot but at least you’ll be true to yourself. Let go of those who are so weak-minded that they have to go along to get along. Forgive them if and when they turn on you.
3. Do not fall into the trap of trying to show a toxic person the error of their ways. It is not your job to do this and it is nothing but manipulation anyway; it is up to their own soul’s journey to figure it out. Souls are smart but sometimes their human containers are lazy. Helping someone is good; fixing the situation for them is not.
Forgive them for the tantrum that will ensue (and see #2).
I figure if Jesus could forgive all that was done to him, I can forgive people who’d hurt me, too. I don’t suggest that my conclusions can be applied to everyone because I know there are people who’ve been hurt worse than I have been. But I hope you find some tidbit of information that you can use along your own journey toward healing and integration.
So, on Easter Sunday, I take a few moments to ask forgiveness for myself as well as to forgive those who’ve hurt me. Especially the people who forgot my birthday on Friday.
Just kidding. Have a Happy Easter!