Updated 11 May 2005
by Rev'd Ed Swayze
Often the emotional burdens that oppress us are ones we have placed on ourselves. We have hurt someone by something we did or did not do. If we could lift those burdens, it would be like getting a new lease on life.
The Gospel is about lifting these burdens. Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son talked about an awful son. He took his inheritance, squandered it, and ended up working like a slave. He went home to ask if he could work as a servant in his fatherís farm. Instead of being angry with his son, his father welcomed him, threw him a party and treated him as a son. Jesus teaches that God loves us and forgives us when we turn to him. Like the prodigal son and his father, we turn from God; God does not turn from us.
As Good Friday and Easter are approaching, we remember a benefit of Jesus dying on the cross and rising from the dead is that we are forgiven. On the night before he died, Jesus at supper with his friends took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, ďDrink this, all of you: this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.Ē
The Gospel provides for forgiveness, but how do we receive it? The promise of forgiveness is like getting a cheque in the mail, you have the cheque, but until you cash it you donít have the money. To be forgiven, you must ask for forgiveness.
How do I Receive Forgiveness?
To be forgiven, you say what you have done wrong. We call this taking responsibility for our actions; in church this is confession. Then ask to be forgiven. Forgiving someone is saying, I am not going to get even, I am not going to punish you, our relationship is restored. You promise to try not to do it again.
Forgiveness sounds simple, but in practice it is harder, especially for big things. I must ask God for forgiveness. I may need to ask the person whom I have injured for forgiveness. I may need to forgive myself.
When I consider asking the person whom I have wronged for forgiveness, I should consider what the effects are when I do this. Would more harm be done to satisfy my needs?
Sometimes it is easier to believe that God forgives me than for me to forgive myself. To forgive myself I must accept that I am not perfect. That is hard to do when I have lived with shame. Trying to be perfect is a defence against criticism, and accepting that I am not perfect is a major reorientation of how I live. Perhaps to forgive myself, the shame that I live with needs to be healed.
Why Canít I Feel Forgiven?
Forgiveness is a process. It may take time to work things out.
You may need to remember what you have done as the memories may be suppressed. You may need to appreciate the effects of what you have done on yourself and on the person(s) you wronged and may need to feel the pain to realize these effects. Seeking relief from pain may be the motivation for seeking forgiveness, but sometimes people rush forgiveness to minimize pain and consequently do not face what they did.
To work this out, pray about it and ask Jesus to forgive you and heal you. Ask for Godís grace to help you remember and work through the pain. Ask for Godís grace to give you wisdom on how to proceed. Ask for God to heal those whom you hurt.
You can talk about what you did with a third party such as a trusted friend or a priest. In the Anglican Church we have private confession, see the Reconciliation of a Penitent, Book of Alternative Services (BAS) page 167. Talking with a third party helps you think things through and release your feelings.
Attend worship. Praying in a worshiping community may help you encounter God. God may speak to you through the proclamation of the word. The general confession may be a time you can make a private one. Receiving communion may help. Fellowship with people will help.
Make amends. Doing something may help you receive forgiveness. What to do depends what the injury was. In the case of theft, returning what was stolen is appropriate or if you broke something, fix it. In the case of hurting someone while driving drunk, it may be speaking about the consequences of drunk driving to other people so they donít repeat your mistake. Sometimes owning up to what you did is sufficient amends, as in the case of gossip where owning up undoes what you said. Pray for God to guide you as to what amends are appropriate.
Forgiveness is such an important part of healing. It heals the soul, which may in turn heal the body. Practice confession and forgiveness so that they become a habit. It will keep your relationship with God meaningful.