When Jesus began his ministry he said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Mark 1:15 Repentance is not simply feeling remorse for wrongs done. Rather it is a time of turning around. True repentance is a radical reassessment of how we live our lives, opening ourselves to change our whole way of thinking, reasoning and being. It’s letting ourselves see the world as God sees it and turning away from those parts of our lives which limit our compassion, our goodness and our following Jesus. Lent is such a time of reconnecting and of turning around.
Many years ago, I knew a woman who could not let go of her anger at a sibling. The event in question had happened in her childhood. By then the woman was growing frail, yet she continued her long grudge. Her sibling had reached out many times in the sixty years since that breach. Other family members had intervened. She, however, refused all efforts, all kindness, all willingness to understand. She would not allow herself to be reconciled.
As I listened to her reasons, I thought how sad that she would allow those thoughts to destroy the friendship of a sibling who genuinely cared about her. I thought of a relationship she had missed out on and the family gatherings she had excluded herself from. I thought of her ongoing loss. What I found especially sad was how much healing would have come to her, if she had only been willing to let go of her pride and forgive.
That we are willing to forgive others is important to Jesus. Who other than Jesus, or a mom with a brood of kids, insists that we forgive each other? The problem with hanging onto resentment is that eventually it will eat us up. Long term grudges imprison our possibilities. We cannot live our lives with joy, while simmering with resentment.
The need to forgive is just as real and genuine as our need to be forgiven. Not forgiving destroys our spirits and our souls. When we refuse to forgive it causes not only us grief, but God. Paul said as much when he wrote these words to the people of Ephesus: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander together with all malice and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:30-32
In your life there may be a person who needs your forgiveness. There may be a person who really needs to know that you have decided to forgive. Who in your life might that be? What can you do to express that forgiveness? What symbol can you share? May God give you grace to forgive, even as God has forgiven you.
*The season of Lent begins this year with Ash Wednesday on March 1.