Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent:....
Ash Wednesday, page 264, BCP
Years ago I remember Deacon Tom English, who has worked with the family members of murder victims, among others, commenting that these people have taught him that forgiveness is not a feeling, but a decision. Once made, it is a decision that must be remade again and again, until over time the heart finally accepts what the head decided was right. Even though most of us are never faced with forgiving another for causing the death of someone close to us, be it through murder, accident, or an act of war, deciding to forgive when we really don’t feel like it is extremely challenging for most of us. How fortunate we have all of Lent to meditate on the first sentence of the Ash Wednesday collect.
Forgiveness is hard so much of the time because it tends to get tangled up in other emotions - pride, anger, fear, as well as grief, to name a few. Why should I forgive him? He started it. Why should I forgive her? She’s the one who refuses to end it. If I forgive him/her, then I’ll have to behave differently. And there it is. The only person’s actions or emotions over which we have control are our own. As long as we focus on how other people’s behavior has impacted us, we can ignore what we’re doing or not doing ourselves. At the point that we choose to let go of the animosity we feel toward someone else, our perspective not simply about that person, but about all of life begins to change. For one thing, we may have to forgive ourselves for what we know to be our own involvement in whatever has led to the ill will between us and that other person. When we do that, regardless of whether or not the other person expresses any sort of regret, or even knows of our change of heart, we let go of an incredible burden, thereby freeing ourselves to grow more and more into the people God intends us to be.
We know forgiveness is important. We pray for God’s forgiveness every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, promising at the same time to forgive others as God forgives us. Let us take that promise seriously this Lent, remembering Jesus who forgave those who crucified him, Stephen those who stoned him, and all the people we have known who have forgiven us, whether we asked for their forgiveness or not. Let us never forget that God hates nothing that God has made, and forgives the sins of all who are penitent.