The Necessity of Forgiveness

This coming week Christians around the world will begin the season of Lent.  For most people, this time will pass just like any other time during the year and that is tragic, as we miss a great opportunity to take a long hard look at ourselves and what needs to change.  Notice I said “what needs to change” and not what we would like to change.

For an Orthodox Christian Lent begins with the Sunday of Forgiveness.  It has become the custom in my church at the end of the Sunday Divine Liturgy for all in attendance to ask forgiveness from each other for things we might have done and those things that have been left undone.  We do this face to face, looking in each other’s eyes, and asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness at the same time.  This might seem trivial but it is important to forgive if we are to embark on what I hope will be a time of spiritual renewal.

This small ceremony cleans the slate and allows us to begin the holy season of Lent in a peaceful way.  As long as we are withholding forgiveness we will never be at peace. We will not be at peace with God, we will not be at peace with each other, and we will not be at peace with ourselves.  At the very start of the Orthodox Liturgy are the words, “In peace, let us pray to the Lord.”  We cannot pray if we are not at peace.  Forgiveness equals peace!

The withholding of forgiveness is a destructive force in the soul and if the soul is sick the body will also be sick.  There is profound evidence of this link between spiritual health and physical health and vice versa.  We are composed of body and soul and both need to function at their best if we are to be healthy and be in balance, and forgiveness is part of that.

Physical health is a multimillion dollar business in America today and many people spend hours in the gym and on the track.  We watch what we eat and are always conscious of how we look.  The first part of any visit to a physician is to get on the scale and see how much you weigh.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if, as you walked in the doors of the church, there was some kind of device that weighed the health of your soul?  In my opinion if people spent half the amount of time they spend on their physical appearance on their spiritual health they would find their life much better.

Forgiveness is not easy mainly because we feel that if we forgive someone that means we forget what they have done to us and that is just not true.  As long as we withhold forgiveness we are giving the other person power over us and we are giving them permission to continue to harm us.  The moment we forgive that power now belongs to us and we are now in control of our lives.  We must forgive but we do not have to forget.  We should not stew over what has happened, for that is just as destructive as the lack of forgiveness, but we need to learn from that experience and ensure it never happens again.

With all of this said I will admit that forgiveness is not easy.  Some of us have been carrying things with us for years and if we forgive then we become a different person.  Our lack of forgiving the other has become part of us and we use it as a tool that will affect all of our interactions.  If we let go of this we will be required to change, and change does not come easy, especially if we do not want to change.  But I will say this again – lack of forgiveness is destructive to our spiritual health and our physical health.

Sacramental confession is a large part of the spirituality of the Orthodox Church and I find it one of the most essential ministries that I am blessed to provide to my community.  To guide someone to the place where they are ready to forgive is an amazing thing.  I have witnessed people’s entire physical being change from being hunched over to standing straight up once that weight has been lifted.  We may not even notice it about ourselves but once we release all of that negative energy we change, and that change is good.

Who have you been withholding forgiveness from?  Maybe a family member or a neighbor or someone from your past; if so, now is the time to forgive them.  We think we are doing harm to the other person but we are actually only doing harm to ourselves.

This essay originally appeared in the Quaboag Current, and the Tantasqua Town Common.

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