Forgiveness is not for the other person, forgiveness is for you~ Bill Ferguson
For some unknown reason, I found myself visiting the church I attended as a child today. I’m not going to launch into a “God led me there” discussion. We all have our beliefs and I want to focus on what I found there. If you’re expecting me to say I found my salvation, I’m afraid you will be disappointed. You see, God and I have had an on-again/off-again relationship for over 30 years. It’s never been a question of God, but rather organized religion as THE guiding light of my life.
It is so simple to proclaim your religious affiliation. It is much harder to live your faith. I was raised in a traditional church and can still recite the service almost verbatim. I know when to sit and when to stand. When to sing and when to bow my head are all part of my upbringing. But, what about my faith? Do I blindly believe the words I can recite from memory? No, I do not.
The Christian Bible, as well as many other religions, proclaim that forgiveness is a path to salvation. By forgiving, we are showing God’s mercy. My question is, for whom? If I forgive “those who trespass against us,” and I’m doing it for God, how do I know that is what God wants? I can interpret what happens in my life in light of the belief that this is all God’s will, but how do I know?
My answer is, I don’t. As I sat through the lightly attended service, I started reminiscing about my past relationship with this particular community. I could “see” the ghosts of the adults who made up the village that helped raise me. At certain moments, it felt like those people were physically present as we said the words proscribed by my religion. Did all those people do God’s will? I don’t think so. They lived their lives as human beings who make mistakes ad try to right their wrongs. They had faith that despite their mistakes, they were good people.
I know at least one of them was not. I’ve held onto that grudge for 30 years. You’ll just have to trust me that the individual really earned a special place in the afterlife. This hatred (and as I previously mentioned, I don’t generally use the word hate) of one individual came flooding back as I recited the words from my childhood. So there I was, worshipping in a location that was the cause of so much pain in my life. And I made a choice.
I chose to let go of the hate. In those quiet moments this evening, I chose to forgive this person. I chose to stop giving this person so much control over my life. I banished that particular ghost from my past. It doesn’t feel like an enormous weight has been lifted. It’s more like I’ve taken a big step forward. Like all decisions, it will take time to work its way into my life. But, it’s a start.
The individual I held responsible for some pretty reprehensible things is long gone. Tonight, I forgave that person. Tonight, I set two people free. Tonight, I decided to “forgive those who trespass against us” and to allow myself to move forward. Because forgiveness isn’t for the ghosts, it’s for the living.