The Healing Power of Forgiveness

On September 17, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

The Healing Power of Forgiveness Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Sept. 17, 2017 Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. We pray every week, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive […]

The Healing Power of Forgiveness
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sept. 17, 2017

Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

We pray every week, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Forgive us and let us forgive those who have hurt us. That’s a difficult prayer and yet, we pray it every week, some of us, perhaps, every day.

I must confess to you that I haven’t spent much time in my ministry calling people to seek forgiveness. Calling people sinners has never seemed to be a kind or loving act in my mind. And nothing aggravates me more than the tired and thread bare phrase, “hate the sin but love the sinner.”
First of all, calling people sinners doesn’t feel loving.
Secondly, using that trite expression to discriminate against, vilify, dehumanize, or demonize people isn’t very loving. You can call it loving, but it ain’t. As we used to say growing up, your cat can have kittens in the oven, but that doesn’t make them biscuits.
And thirdly, it is maddening when Christians use that line, hate the sin but love the sinner, because they almost never realize they are quoting a Hindu when they say it. And the Hindu, Gandhi, wasn’t talking about individual morals…he was calling colonization a sin, but reminding people to fight the evil of colonization without hating the colonizers. Fix the system without hating individuals. That’s what Gandhi said and meant, and to use that phrase as justification to crush people’s spirits is a sin against Gandhi.

The word “sin” has been so abusively used that I have just tried to steer clear of it for the most part. We’ve been beat up enough with that word. And yet…

I have sinned. My identity isn’t my sin – No, that’s a blessing. My love isn’t my sin – Good Lord, no…I thank God daily for my husband.
But I have failed to love my neighbor as myself. Heck, I have failed to love myself sometimes. I have forgotten to turn the other cheek (it doesn’t seem to come naturally to me). I have been selfish, uncaring, unkind…not always of course, I’m not a total jerk, but I have missed the mark and fallen short of divine glory.

I have fallen short of my own highest ideals, I cannot even tell you how many times. I have said and done things, and left things unsaid and undone that have caused me to spend hours in tears before the God of my understanding begging for healing, restoration, redemption. And I have found such moments to be cathartic.

The reason that when I fall and sometimes fall hard I want to be washed clean as it were, restored, renewed…is because the mistake, the bad attitude, the uncaring act or the pain caused to someone else is so not what I as a child of God am. The errors feel bad because they are foreign to who God has made me to be.

So I don’t want people to think of themselves as sinners. I want people to think of themselves as beautiful expressions of a holy God, made perfect, made of God’s own love, and when we think of ourselves as incarnations of divine love, then when we are unloving, we will feel out of phase with our truth, and we will want to get back on course.

I don’t believe God is keeping score. I think when God looks at me, or you, God sees what God made…a miracle. But when we fall short of our potential, we feel badly, and so seeking divine forgiveness or reconciliation or restoration isn’t about getting God to stop being angry, it’s about tapping into God’s grace so that we can forgive ourselves and be healed and do better. God doesn’t get caught up in our dramas, but God does help us heal from the pain caused by our dramas.

Praying for reconciliation can help us unload a burden, but that’s for when we’ve messed up. What happens when other people’s mess ups hurt us? Peter asks Jesus, “if someone hurts my feelings, how many times should I forgive them? A handful?” And Jesus says, “oh Peter, so much more than that.”
Really, Jesus? Do you know some of the cartoon villains who come for me regularly?

But, Jesus practiced what he preached. He didn’t even wait for people to ask before he forgave them. While he was being tortured to death, he prayed, “God forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.” If Jesus could forgive his executioners, maybe I can work on giving people some slack.

Marianne Williamson says, “All of us are made of love, yet all of us make mistakes.” I’ve made mistakes and needed another chance. Maybe the people who have stepped on my toes also need another chance. Not to do it again…but to be seen as more than their worst moments. I certainly don’t want to be limited to my worst moments.

Don’t take this to bizarre extremes…I’m not saying to disband law enforcement or that you should never ground your misbehaving teens or that you should stay in an abusive situation.
I’m saying, in our personal relationships, pain can be healed by forgiving the past…not reliving it, not repeating it, not justifying it…but releasing it to the past and demanding a better present and future.

When Pope John Paul 2 was shot, he might have had some feelings about that, but it sent a powerful message to the world when he went to his assailant in prison and forgave him. Yes, the assailant was held accountable and not allowed to hurt others, but the pope, and the assailant, and maybe many others experienced healing by the act of forgiveness.

My father and I had a strained relationship, and that is the hugest understatement I have ever made. I was terrified of him as a child, and I had plenty of experience to justify that terror. Eventually, fear morphed into hatred. Hatred over many years (and some intense confrontations) mellowed into something close to indifference. And then he became very ill. We started having strained, polite conversations. I started making gestures toward him, and he to me, though they weren’t always obvious. He told me he was proud of my academic achievements. I made him his first dirty martini. On his death bed, I told him I was sorry our relationship has been so difficult. I told him I was ready to put that behind us. I told him for the first time in my adult life that I loved him. And strangely, to my amazement, it was true. Two days later he died.

I don’t know what that moment of forgiveness did for him, but I can tell you it changed my life. I speak of him now with genuine affection. Forgiveness didn’t undo some truly terrible childhood moments. It didn’t require pretending to have a different past than I did…what it meant was that the past was past and the future had infinite possibilities.

Marianne Williamson has said, “Whatever…happened to you is over. It happened in the past; in the present it does not exist unless you bring it with you.” I wasn’t denying or white washing the past…I was letting it go so that it could no longer hurt me. And the relief was miraculous. I later learned some things about my dad’s difficult childhood that made some of his behavior make sense. I could remember some of the difficult times without drudging up the old resentments. I could remember good things that actually brought me a sense of peace. I can’t change the past, but I can be free from its torments. That’s the power of forgiveness.

I can’t tell you what, who, or when to forgive, and you can’t tell me. But I can tell you that when you are ready to forgive, that is a moment of miraculous opportunity. It can be a doorway to profound healing. It takes courage, it may take time, it may take 77 times, but it’s worth the effort.

And this is the good news.

Dear God,
Heal my past hurts.
And fill my future with joy.
Amen.

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