In the opening minutes of the musical version of Les Mis, we see the juxtaposition of eye-for-eye justice in Javert and the forgiveness of the Bishop. This will be a unfolding theme throughout the musical.
Who offers forgiveness?
Who clings with a tight fist to legalism?
And more importantly, why?
Forgiveness so often is portrayed as a one and done act. In some ways you could see the Bishop as simply forgiving Valjean for stealing. But for me, forgiveness is a continual process. Forgiveness can be one step forward, three frustrating steps back. Forgiveness doesn't even start with the other person, it starts with me processing the pain ~ anger and hurt and harm. While I try to not get caught in either/or thinking, in some ways the choice is between the pathway of forgiveness or holding a grudge. The choice is between letting go of my claim that I was right and the other person was wrong OR seeing the that I may not fully understand what motivates the other person's actions ~ because so often why I do/say something can be a mystery to me.
I start with where I am. I name and notice the anger, what is fueling my frustration. I name and notice the sharp shards of shatteredness. And I decide whether I am going to keep holding those and in turn keep wounding myself...or put them aside so the hurt can heal. To be sure, putting something aside doesn't mean that everything is peachy. It doesn't mean that the other person is off the hook and we can act as if nothing happened. But, as many wise people have said that when we keep rekindling the flame of anger it is like you drinking rat poison and expecting the rat to die. Often times we are so angry with someone and that person doesn't have a clue we are mad. Or we give the person a piece of our mind, the relationship breaks down, you stop talking, and yet feeding the flame of our anger we replay countless conversations in our minds about why the other person is wrong. Only the other person isn't there. Why exactly does that help?
I have had moments of holding onto anger and pushing down pain and feeling so frustrated; but not ever walking down the path of forgiveness. Having traveling the way of holding the grudge, I can tell you that, for me, it didn't end well. The other person passed away and there was never any reconciliation. Even after the person died, I was still left carrying a grudge for several years. Until I was on a retreat and during the silence of a Sunday morning tears fell from my eyes. I was tired. Tired of carrying the grudge. Tired of replaying the hurt and the wound that would not heal. Tired of being that way. So, I sought another way. It wasn't magical. The pain didn't disappear overnight. But over time the grudge grew smaller, less heavy. It took a lot of work and occasionally still does. But moment by moment, I released my righteous claim for the claim of grace to work in my life.
What does forgiveness mean to you?
When was a time you forgave someone?
Is there someone right now you are so angry with but doesn't seem to be helping?
May you find more than a trace of God's grace in holding this word of forgiveness that makes a difference in the days to come. Amen.