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The Sacrament of Forgiveness

Posted on June 5, 2019 by Jenn Zatopek

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are both arduous days for many of us.  For many of my counseling clients, these days triggers a cascade of memories, both joyful and painful.  I’d like to gently remind you that this is normal, and also suggest that taking care of yourself on those days is paramount.

Please keep in mind that you do not necessarily have to get together with a parent simply because it is a national holiday, especially if that parent has a history of abusive behavior, is not remorseful, and is neither able nor willing to change hurtful patterns of interaction.  Healthy self-love tells us that limiting one’s interaction with family members who engage in hurtful dialogue is crucial to living well.  If family members are neither able nor willing to provide safety and trust, then we need to keep ourselves safe. That is our God-given right as human beings.

I know this is tough for I, too, would like healthy, safe, and trusting relations with my primary caregivers, but that is not my story.  At least not yet. 

I want you to know that you are not alone in needing to keep a respectful distance from certain family members.  Jesus himself was not accepted by his family, and He, too, knew the importance of getting away from the crowds to rest and recover.

Today I’d like to share some of my thoughts on forgiveness and grace as we walk together, one step at a time.

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Holidays like Mother’s and Father’s Day are wearisome days for many of us. Where is grace when we have experienced grief and trauma, especially regarding a primary caregiver?

I think grace, for me, means I practice passing on the hurt I received to the One who’s got me.  I forgive the people who have hurt me and I let that hurt go.  I do this to save my soul from bitterness and hatred, hurt and anger.  Because, like you, I am worth the work of transformation.  I am worth caring for.

Grace in this instance is forgiveness at its hardest, most undeniably powerful.  It is so simple and yet not easy.  It is not easy to let go of someone who is supposed to be there for you, and the fact that our parents failed us is a monumental betrayal. It deserves our attention and compassion.

Forgiveness remains a practice, one that when we engage in, allows our hearts and consciousness to enlarge so we experience the expansive and never-ending love that the Divine has for us.

But no one talks about the cost of grace, though.  How difficult it is to let go of anger and forgive.  How often you have to forgive someone for the wrongs they have committed.  Especially when they keep committing the offense.  And how often people remind you to socialize with individuals who inflict damage, for the sake of family, thus hurting you again and requiring you to forgive yet another person.

Yet, I know that I have made mistakes too, which gives me compassion for others, including my parents.  I acknowledge that to be human is to hurt and the trick is to pass on love instead of pain, to pass on healing and joy and peace rather than suffering.

No one ever talks about how love burns away your armor and exposes your pain at receiving the trauma and fear of isolation and loneliness.  It is a reckoning of sorts, becoming aware of how we harbor resentments and old lies and learning to let go of these things is a path that many of us will take, when we are ready to do so.

As I think back on my life, I remain grateful for the friends whose children with which I am able to have relationship.  Truly, I am blessed when I think of my long-time friend who lives in the Upper Mid-West and whose four children I get to love, encourage, and support.  God has been good to me.

So today, I will pass on forgiveness and with the help of the Divine, I forgive.  I offer grace, through tears of struggle and a complete lack of understanding as to why I was gifted with sorrow, of triumph for surviving terrible losses and choosing wide-eye wonder and joy and delight instead.

My encouragement to you is this:  go be the good parent you deserve today.  Set compassionate boundaries with those who have hurt you.  Spend time with people who are kind, loving, and uplifting to you.  Remember your essential goodness resides in the core of your being.  God began His story with a garden (see The Book of Genesis) and then it ends with a party (see The Book of Revelation), which is a really good thing for all of us!

What this means is that you are worthy and always have been so because God created you for love and joy, for the freedom and serenity that forgiveness brings.  Choose to trust that truth today, not just to believe things about God, but believe God, today.

Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face?  Did I say words of healing?  Did I let go of my anger and resentment?  Did I forgive? Did I love?  These are the real questions.  I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come. (Henri Nouwen)

(Photo of a sunflower against a blue sky from Unsplash)
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  • Vicky Dobbs

    Thank you again for your wonderfully expressed wisdom. From another perspective, it is also hard as a parent of an adult child who is angry with you and disagrees with actions you’ve taken (or your spouse) that aren’t abusive but aren’t what the child wants. Relationships are hard.

    • Vicky, thank you for your encouragement and your support! Truly, you are a gift! I am so sorry to hear about you and your adult child. I can guess that you set reasonable limits with this person and it was not accepted. That really stinks. That is similar to what I hear from my other friends with adult children who engage in unhealthy behavior. Know that you are not alone. Keeping you in my thoughts today. xo

  • Carolyn Goldsmith

    Another amazing essay, Jenn! It points us to the One who will help us through difficult human relationships!

    • Thanks, Carolyn! Your support and encouragement is a true gift to my soul! xo