I have to admit that I have an unfortunate talent for holding grudges. It might come from my Irish and Scottish ancestors, who certainly knew how to hold a grudge against the English. Actually, now that I think about it, that’s still one of my own grudges that I need to learn to let go of: Englishmen from history who oppressed my ancestors. I have more work to do than I realized!
I definitely have a hard time forgiving anyone who hurts or insults my family members or close friends. When I was in eighth grade, just before homeroom one day, I got into an argument with one of my best friends, and she insulted my parents. I was so angry I hit her on the shoulder. (I don’t think I actually hurt her.) By first period, kids were asking me if it was true that I’d been in a fight with Chrissy. They were incredulous because I was always a model student, but that’s just how angry I get if you go after my family. This particular case is one of my success stories; I quickly forgave Chrissy, and we’ve been on friendly terms ever since then. Other cases aren’t so easy for me.
As a teenager, I discovered St. Maria Goretti, and I’ve been in awe of her ever since. If you’re not familiar with this lovely saint, let me tell you a little bit about her. In 1902 Maria was not quite 12 years old when her 18-year-old neighbor, Alessandro, tried to rape her. She resisted him, and he began to choke her and then stabbed her 14 times. Lying on her deathbed in the hospital with her mother and a priest at her side, she freely forgave Alessandro and expressed her hope that he would join her in heaven someday. In prison for his crime, but unrepentant, Alessandro had a dream in which Maria came to him and offered him lilies. He accepted them, but they burned in his hands. He awoke from that dream a changed man and was actually in the audience at Maria’s canonization in 1950.
Maria is my heroine. For many years now I have asked her daily to pray for me so that I can become more like her. If that young girl can forgive her murderer, what is wrong with me?
Part of the problem is my desire for justice. I’m not out for revenge, but I do want to see people answer for the pain they cause. Shouldn’t they at least have to recognize that they have caused pain? If someone apologizes to me, I can forgive rather easily because I know from personal experience that it’s not easy to apologize and I know that it means that person has stood in my shoes for a moment and realized, “I wouldn’t want someone to treat me like that.”
But what do you do with the person who is never going to apologize? The person who gives no indication of empathy or guilt? As I sit here writing, I am starting to realize how many people I need to forgive even though not one of them will ever ask me for that forgiveness. Some of these infractions are quite small in the grand scheme of things, but others have caused me deep pain indeed. No matter the depth, all of this pain is real.
Of course, I recognize that often I am the one who needs to ask forgiveness. I make mistakes that hurt people and damage my relationship with God. As a Christian, I pray every day, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” There’s no getting around it that if I want God to forgive me, I have to learn to forgive others, so that’s going to be my focus for Lent this year. For forty days I am going to pray for the person who has caused the most pain in my life, someone I have been struggling to forgive for 12 years. This is the prayer I am going to use: “Lord, you know I have unforgiveness in my heart toward (Name). I don’t want this. I will to forgive, and I ask you to bless (Name).” I will not rush through this prayer or say it offhandedly. I will kneel. I will speak the words clearly. I will force myself to say aloud the name that I usually refuse to even think about.
Here’s my challenge for you: join me in this endeavor. Even if you don’t normally observe Lent, say this prayer every day from March 1 to April 15. Maybe you can free yourself from a burden that you may have been carrying for a long, long time. I’ll let you know after Easter how it has changed me.