I am thinking about Hope today. In 2010 I published a novel named Hope and a Future. It was based on the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.…” God promises a prosperous future. And yet I still worry. I don’t trust him enough.
Last Saturday, Beta Sigma Phi, the international women’s social, cultural and service organization, invited me to speak at their regional meeting. We had a great time together and I met very impressive women. Here is part of the talk I gave:
1. People need to connect emotionally. A writer, to be successful, needs to connect with her readers through the emotions she creates on the page. We, as women, are usually much more aware of the need to interact emotionally with people, than many men who sadly have been taught to focus on productivity rather than relationships.
2. Everyone needs some creativity in their lives. For me writing is therapeutic. For others it might be painting or singing, drama or woodwork. We adults need to play! By trying our hand at creativity, we discover that we can keep learning and improving as we go. Without play we can become dull and mechanical. And we won’t have the imagination to see what we could be, if we try something new.
3. You can’t make someone like you, or what you write, or even make them read what you write. My oldest daughter can’t bring herself to read my novels because she’s afraid there will be sex in them. No one wants to connect their mother and sex in the same thought. I may have been a little devious lately when my husband drove our daughter and me to Seattle. I read novel # 3 aloud and she was forced to listen the whole way. I have to admit, she could have put on her headphones and listened to music, but she didn’t. She says she tried the door but the child safety locks were on.
4. We all hate to leave our comfort zones. Novels often open with a glimpse of the ordinary life and its challenges. Then some event or person disrupts that life or causes the hero or heroine to have to leave it behind. Our current life starts looking pretty good to us when it is proposed to us we need to change it in order to accomplish some good.
In my first novel, Hope and a Future, poor Colm, who is terrified of flying, must leave Ireland for a temporary teaching position in Portland. Otherwise he would never meet Marjorie!
We all hate to leave our comfort zones. But if no one did, even when it becomes very uncomfortable, we wouldn’t make this world a better place.
5. We are all on a quest. Our life story is written day-by-day as we work toward becoming the best version of ourselves. So is everyone else’s, so it makes sense to sometimes be the subplot friend who helps accomplish someone else’s goal. You never know, you might even be making progress on your goal at the same time. But despite setbacks and detours, we need to keep making progress toward our goal.
6. We need friends to help us along the way. Think of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter. Or any 70s sitcom, for that matter. Think of your friends. Without friends, the mission would be doomed.
7. We all have flaws that keep us from being the hero we’d like to be, or doing the deeds that we’d like to accomplish. I struggle with introversion and so I don’t reach out to others as much as I wish I did. Some main characters are proud, or distrustful, or lack self-confidence, or courage. They must overcome their flaws to achieve their goals.
In Hope and a Future, my heroine Marjorie lost her husband of 25 years in a car accident. Her guilt over the failings in her marriage keep her from being open to any new love in her life. Her Irish hero-to-be, Colm, has so many phobias that he lives a very limited life, at least until he starts facing his fears one at a time.
Our weaknesses often are what bring us to growth, when we face them and steadily overcome them, or … at least beat them into submission for a time.
Our flaws, on their flip sides, can be also our gifts. One stubborn daughter is also tenacious and has persevered her way into being a successful engineer. One overly quiet, watchful child grew up and turned her deep thoughts into great academic success, and avoided many common pitfalls by observing and avoiding her friends’ mistakes. One daughter as a teen declared she wasn’t going to work too hard for A’s anymore because she was tired of being a Goody Two Shoes. Now as a school counselor, she has a special connection with the type of students who tend to fall through the cracks.
8. Sometimes going home is extremely challenging. Remember fearful Colm from book 1? He is terrified of horses, and grew up on a horse ranch. In the sequel book 2, Where Hope Leads, his father wants him to come home and take over the business. The poor guy must fly back to Ireland but suffers a panic attack, missing his plane. Going home can be an ordeal.
In book 3, When the Vow Breaks, Kay left an abusive father behind when she fled Montana and moved to Spokane. Now her mother and father need her to return to take care of them. She really doesn’t want to go.
But going home can teach us a lot about ourselves. We all need to look back on our childhood with the eyes of an adult, with the advantage of some time and distance between us and what happened in our families. Sometimes, we can mend hearts that were broken and reconnect to people we truly love deep down.
9. Conflict is good. Our struggles help us to grow so we can overcome that main character flaw that keeps us from succeeding. We fight, we fail, we learn from our mistakes and the next time we get closer before we fail again. But each struggle brings us more information and calls out a better self than we were before. Each attempt, whether a success or failure, leads us closer to our goal.
You might say, “That’s fine for a character in fiction. A good story has to have conflict. In fact, one of the most common errors of new writers is being too easy on their characters. As a mom, I spent 25 years of my life trying to limit, solve, resolve or forbid conflict. I’m not sure I’m done yet. My poor characters, on the other hand, are subject to me increasing, enhancing, and in general bringing all sorts of unpleasant conflict into their lives.
Looking back as a mom, I see how the struggles my children had in their young lives taught them lessons that continue to serve them well in life. One daughter has Tourette Syndrome and had to learn interdependence to make it through. She is just as willing to help as to ask for help and, after working as a special education teacher for several years, is now a mother of two and is back at school working toward a Physical Therapy doctorate. Her personal experience with special needs has made her tender heart want to reach out to help those who struggle to meet goals that are easy for others. Conflict is good.
10. We are often drawn to our opposites. In romance writing, the hero and heroine can be so different that they are at first repelled by each other like opposing magnets. In fact, you can predict the end of a romantic comedy by seeing which man and woman dislike each other the most at the beginning. Consider Mary and Matthew in Downton Abbey. Or Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. Somewhere along the way in most romances, the magnetic field flips and the attraction becomes powerful.
Like good romance heroes and heroines, in real life, we are often drawn to our opposites. I think this is because we are meant to learn from our “soul mates” so that their strengths teach us to overcome our weaknesses. We are meant to learn from each other, but we tend instead to polarize and become more extreme in our strengths and weaknesses. The emotional spouse takes over all feeling while the rational spouse takes care of business. Or the introvert becomes overwhelmed by the extrovert, and rather than learn to enjoy a little more socializing, becomes even more protective of privacy. Perhaps the responsible person watches the fun-loving date become an irresponsible spouse and resents him, rather than learning to lighten up a bit and helping the other grow.
In When the Vow Breaks, independent Kay eloped with compliant Wade on graduation night. When they returned home, peace loving Wade agreed to an annulment to appease his mother, thinking it was only temporary. Heart-broken and angry, Kay fled home planning to never return … but then later found out she was pregnant… with twins. (That’s the cruel writer heaping conflict on her poor characters.) But if Wade had learned some independence from Kay, or Kay some peace keeping from Wade, well… it would have been a much shorter, duller novel. As it is, the novel actually starts 18 years later when their twins have just left home.
11. We need to use what we’ve gained to help others. At the end of any great quest, the heroine should bring back what she learned, or accomplished, or attained, in order to improve the lives of the people she left behind. In The Lord of the Rings the quest brings peace back to the Hobbit’s Shire. Harry Potter, in every book of the series, makes the world a safer place for wizards and muggles alike. In my sequel to the first novel, Where Hope Leads, Marjorie and Colm both want the other to relocate to their homeland. Marjorie hopes Colm will stay in Portland, and he hopes she will fall in love with Ireland. I won’t tell you who wins, but I can assure you that by the end of the book they’ve grown enough to consider the needs of others as important as their own. When they are willing to be open to God’s leading, they find a way to help their version of the Shire.
12. We want satisfying endings, and usually in books, though not always, that means happy ones. Daughter 3 once was so upset when a favorite character died, she threw her book in the freezer to punish it. I think we’ve all gotten to the end of a book or a movie and thought, “No, that’s not the right ending!” We feel like we’ve been cheated. We invested hours in reading or $15 at the theater, and we aren’t satisfied. Sometimes I wonder what God thinks as we move away from the direction he wanted us to head. I imagine he might like to throw us into the freezer for a while. Which might explain me growing up through Montana winters!
I suspect that when our time on this earth is over, we will look back and be satisfied with our lives if we’ve done something meaningful, if we’ve improved this world, either by making it more beautiful, or helping others, or by the wonderful children we’ve raised.
So, to sum up, the truths I’ve learned while writing fiction:
- Relationships are deepened through sharing emotion. Don’t be afraid to love, laugh, enjoy, but also to cry, grieve, and let anger inspire you to positive action.
- Expressing creativity sets us apart as human and is necessary for happiness.
- We can’t make people like us. That’s ok. It’s more important to like ourselves.
- No one wants to leave their comfort zone, but wombs get tight, and we can’t grow unless we do.
- Friends make the road seem easier and help us make it through our journey.
- We will all have challenges. They make life interesting, and as difficult and even devastating as they can be, they help us grow.
- We are meant to learn from our loved ones how to grow stronger in our weak spots, not how to avoid growing. If both people continue to grow throughout their journey, the travel is sweet indeed.
- We each have a quest that only we can achieve. To succeed we need to face our flaws and fears and grow through them.
- Then we need to bring back what we learned for the good of others—
- So that we can have a satisfying ending.
Wishing you all successful quests and meaningful lives.
Last Sunday, I listened to Luke’s version of Jesus’ passion and death. The words that struck me most profoundly were, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” So spoke Jesus while being murdered; while dying an excruciating death which he didn’t deserve, his prayer is one of forgiveness. How petty I felt in my failure to forgive hurt feelings or slights to my family. How can I justify holding on, ruminating, feeling “righteous” anger, when my wounds are so inconsequential compared to his?
Jesus’ exhortation to us to forgive is not simply for the good of others. Forgiveness, he knows and tries to teach us, benefits us even more. We heal when we forgive others. We grow and discover the joy and happiness we thought someone stole from us.
I know myself. I know I’ll continue to feel umbrage when someone, in my perception, wrongs me. Even more so when they hurt my loved ones. But I hope, through this Lent and the Jubilee Year, I can learn the lessons of mercy that are available to us. May every Good Friday remind me, as I ponder Christ’s suffering, how very small my suffering is and how, with forgiveness, I can reduce it even further.
So how am I doing on forgiving? It’s a process, not a one-time decision. A few recommendations that help me:
- We should acknowledge the anger and hurt we feel, at least to ourselves. If possible, we should voice it calmly right away to the person who hurt us.
- Don’t continue to “lick the wound.” Dogs make their sores larger by doing this, and so do we when we dwell or obsess on them. Practice “thought stopping” when you find yourself doing this and instead—
- Pray for the person who hurt you. Place them in God’s care. Remind yourself you want to be a forgiver.
Here are a few more quotes on mercy and forgiveness from people wiser than I:
Allen Hunt in Everyone Needs to Forgive Somebody:
- Learn to forgive the small things—with friends, family, or coworkers. Be a person of grace. Don’t dwell on the hurts. Recognize you are still prone to mistakes as you become the-best-version-of-yourself, just as others are.
- Make a conscious decision to forgive. Resolve today you will be a forgiver. Those who forgive benefit from a better immune system; lower blood pressure; better mental health; lower anger, anxiety, and depression; and enjoy more satisfying and longer-lasting relationships than those unable to forgive.
- Perform an act of kindness. First do it for anyone. Next week, perform a kind act for someone who has injured you. Being kind to someone who has taken advantage of you prevents you from feeling resentful and can also change his or her heart.
- Write a letter to someone who has hurt you very much. You may choose to mail it or not, but writing the letter is an important first step toward your healing and the release of the power the person holds over your heart. Express the specific hurt and that you forgive the person.
Fr. Peter Siamoo:
- Each family member, and therefore each Christian, should seek to reconcile with all the family members, regardless of the magnitude of the hurt, or who was right or wrong. We know that there are some family members who do not talk to each other. Some have been like this for years. The pope’s intention is that this Jubilee Year should not end while leaving this ungraced state of the family members unchanged.
- Develop devotion and a habit of praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet daily. (www.thedivinemercy.org ) Read the promises which our Lord gave to St. Faustina Kowalska. Our Lord said to her as she writes in her diary, “It should be of no concern to you how anyone else acts; you are to be My living reflection, through love and mercy. … As for you, be always merciful toward other people, and especially toward sinners.”
- Extend God’s mercy to anyone who needs it, anyone who has hurt you at any time of your life, whether that person is alive or dead. Forgive without any condition.
- Be humble enough to ask for forgiveness from those whom you have hurt in any way. If they don’t accept your apology it is not your problem, it is their problem, just pray for them that they may discover the beauty of forgiveness and the joy and peace that come from it so that they may have enough courage to forgive.
- Reach out to the family and group members whom you know are struggling with forgiveness. Seek to be the reason and agent of family reconciliation, peace, and prayer.
- Be active in the ministry to the poor and vulnerable in your community to extend God’s mercy and love to them.
- Mercy is not only an action of the Father; it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his children are. In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us. Pardoning offenses becomes the clearest expression of merciful love, and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves. Let go of the hurt, entrust it to the Lord and from the forgiving heart sincerely pray for that person.
- Wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.
And perhaps two of the simplest quotes, which encompass the others:
- Mercy is love in action. – Fr. Donald Calloway MIC
- Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Matthew 5:7
Thank you for welcoming my thoughts—and other authors’ wisdom—into your email and your lives throughout Lent. I hope you’ve enjoyed and grown from at least one of these writings.
Happy, blessed Easter!
Last week I quoted from Beautiful Mercy, a collection of authors brought together by Matthew Kelly, about the Corporal Works of Mercy that exhort us to care for the hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick, imprisoned, and dead.
I suspect every one of us could practice one of the following Spiritual Works of Mercy daily, and our efforts would bring healing to our relationships. Parents, particularly, are constantly given chances to act with mercy for their children’s sakes as they instruct the ignorant or correct sinners. And, oh my, does anyone with siblings or coworkers not have to bear wrongs patiently sometimes? What teen doesn’t need counsel when the human weaknesses of authority figures cause them to doubt? Every marriage can benefit from both parties being willing to forgive offenses willingly and quickly! We struggle to comfort the afflicted as we walk with our friends through their illnesses and heartbreaks. The older we get, the more of each there seems to be. And how do we manage all this when so much is beyond our control? Sometimes all we can do, while at the same time the very greatest work we can do, is pray for the living and the dead.
By now these long posts probably seem daunting and are easy to put off for later. Instead, please read just one of the following each day and ponder the wisdom of the quotes.
Instruct the ignorant (unknowing, unaware)
- Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6
- Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. – Pope Blessed Paul VI
- Instructing the ignorant aims to help each person find his or her role in this great story of salvation, giving him or her meaning and purpose—and ultimately a mission to do the same for others. – Sarah Swafford
Counsel the doubtful
- To counsel means to assist someone in the act of deciding, not just to give vague or generic advice. Giving counsel to the doubtful is that work which helps the undecided to come to a good and upright decision rooted in the call to holiness and the goal of attaining Heaven by God’s grace. – Msgr. Charles Pope
- We do not need a degree in theology or catechetics to counsel the doubtful. We all know that some of the most convincing people of faith have been the simplest individuals we’ve known. They just love God and their neighbor and live straight from the heart. … God doesn’t need us to defend him, but these hurting doubters do need our forbearance. People should be able to say of us: “If your God is anything like you, I want to know him.” – Sr. Helena Burns, FSP
- Are you a sinner? So am I. That is a good place to begin. – Matthew Kelly
- Whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. James 5:20
- The key is to recover what it means to be merciful in our communication of truth. Are we patient and self-sacrificing with those who need to hear the truth? Are we courteous and do we avoid a confrontational style that will easily lead to closed hearts and minds? Do we recognize our own weakness and sin in humility? Are you prepared to gently and reverently reveal what God has done in your life? Are you deeply aware of your own need for a savior? Love builds a bridge over which truth can pass. – Daniel Burke
Bear wrongs patiently
- Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing. 1 Peter 3:9
- On earth, did Jesus act out of a sense of fairness? No, he acted out of love. For love to endure it must be patient, especially in the face of injustice. – Matthew Kelly
- The wounds we have received didn’t come about overnight, and the healing won’t take place overnight either. It takes time, perseverance, and determination. … Regardless of where you have been or what you have done, be at peace. The only sin God won’t forgive is the one you will not ask forgiveness for. – Matt Fradd
Forgive offenses willingly
- The Our Father is an incredibly powerful prayer. Pray it slowly, and let the words “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” sink deep into your heart. – Matthew Kelly
- Mercy is required when we are faced with the inexcusable and tempted to declare those offenses unforgivable. When we experience the scandalous, unjust, lavish, outrageous mercy of God at the depth of our being, it will utterly transform us. Our attempts to hold on to past grievances and harden our hearts to those who have caused us injury will seem to be mere comedy. – Fr. James Mallon
- While forgiveness is a decision, an act of the will, it is rarely an event. For many of us, forgiveness is a process. First, a person has to realize that he has been hurt. Second, since mercy is rooted in justice, one needs to weigh what the other person “owes” him. Third, he or she is called to make this one decision: “While justice demands that you give me what you owe me, I will not make you pay me back. I release you from your debt.” You may have to repeat this process many times for the same offence. But each time you do, you will become more and more free, and you will become more and more an image of Jesus Christ himself, who forgives our offenses willingly. – Fr. Mike Schmitz
Comfort the afflicted
- Blessed be…the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:4
- In the midst of a sin-saturated world, people need to know that they matter, that their pain matters, that they are seen. … What a difference the presence of a comforter can make. … Nothing makes us more effective ministers of comfort than having suffered ourselves. Not one of your tears of pain will be wasted if you allow them to be redeemed in the life of another. God can use every ounce of what you have been through to make this world a better, kinder place. – Lisa Brenninkmeyer
- To step out of my own needs and my own preoccupation and take notice, and then to move into another’s life with comfort, is not only a revelation of the nature of the universe and the God who freely chose to create it, it is also the key to unlocking God’s mercy in our own lives. – Curtis Martin
Pray for the living and the dead
- The basic belief is that nothing, neither life nor death, separates us from the love of Christ (see Romans 8:35). Praying for the faithful departed is an expression of great love in Christ. – John Michael Talbot
- Perhaps one of the greatest joys of heaven will be seeing how much of a difference our prayers made, even the distracted and perfunctory ones. … Our deceased loved ones go to the judgement seat of Christ. And that is worth praying about! How consoling and merciful our prayers must seem to our beloved who have died! – Msgr. Charles Pope
Blessings on your final week of Lent!
In his book, Beautiful Mercy, Matthew Kelly enlists the help of 26 authors to discuss the quality of mercy, particularly organized around the corporal works of mercy (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead) and spiritual works of mercy (instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, correct sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, comfort the afflicted, pray for the living and the dead.) He suggests we imagine how the world would be different if everyone practiced just one work of mercy each day. Are you willing to take him up on the challenge?
Here are ideas from his book, and a few suggestions from me (B) for the corporal works of mercy. Next week we can look at the spiritual works.
Corporal Works of Mercy
Feed the hungry
- Give money, adopt a child in a poor country, volunteer at a food pantry, make sandwiches for the homeless, give change to a beggar, take food to a shut in. – Fr. Larry Richards
- Organize a food drive, start a food pantry at your parish, make dinner for a family in need, make dinner for your family with love, “bring home the bacon” for your family, start a walkathon to provide for the poor. – Fr. Michael Gaitley MIC
- See if your church, like ours, takes meals to the homeless regularly. Bring a casserole or be one of the servers. Volunteer for Meals on Wheels. – B
Give drink to the thirsty
- “The Latin word for mercy, misericordia, means ‘a heart which gives itself to those in misery.’” Become a living witness to the well of Christ’s “living water” for others. – Christopher West
- I don’t have to travel halfway around the world to find folks who thirst. A friend who single-parents a child with special needs thirsts for compassion, understanding, and welcome. And often my own family thirst for my care and attention. – Lisa M Hendey
- Conserve water at home. Consider a donation to organizations that provide safe water to communities; see http://water.org . – B
Clothe the naked
- Give your extra clothes to those in need, knit caps for those losing their hair to cancer, extend your Christmas gift lists to buy clothes for those in need. – Dr. Allen R Hunt
- Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Colossians 3:12
- Choose a day annually or seasonally when you simplify your closets and donate the excess to local charities. – B
Shelter the homeless
- Support groups like Catholic Charities who provide homes for the homeless, volunteer at a homeless shelter. Family must always be home, the shelter for the lonely, disabled, or elderly family members who can no longer care for themselves. Family members should never feel homeless, no matter what their condition. – Cardinal Donald Wuerl
- Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2
- Work for legislation to help the homeless. – B
Visit the sick
- There is no substitute for human interaction. You can send a gift, make a phone call, write a letter, even say a prayer, but nothing compares to a smile and a hug. Nothing says “you matter,” “you have dignity,” “you are loved” quite like a personal encounter. – Matthew Kelly
- Whether they are physically ailing or “sick at heart,” just a visit can be healing…. Just being present and praying is all that is needed. Do not forget about members of your own family who might need a visit. Without being a medical professional, you visited, you healed, and you gave comfort! – Fr. Donald Calloway MIC
Visit the imprisoned – ransom the captive
- One of the wonderful parts of being in a merciful community is that our fellow community members are able to see things in us that we might not see in ourselves. … gifts, talents… They see our faults too. We help each other stay on the right path when we can. And even in our imperfection, our own brokenness, we can help others heal. Together, and with the grace of God, we are lifted up, let out, set free. – Kerry Weber
- The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed. Luke 4:18
- Treat a caregiver to a break, whether by babysitting, or sitting with someone’s elderly parent. Volunteer with prison ministry. Look for groups that assist families of prisoners. – B
Bury the dead
- I have seen the birth of such life in young women who came to the fountain of mercy after suffering from abortion and in young men who came seeking healing after being wounded in the darkness of pornography and addiction. … Yes, it is painful to be at Calvary, yet because there I meet Jesus, the one who is the life and Resurrection, even when I’m there to bury the dead or walk with those who are spiritually dead, I stand there with hope, to carry hope, and to pass on hope. – Mother Olga Yaqob
- You matter. When everything boils down, that is what this work of mercy—burying the dead—is all about. Looking closely, we see that this work of mercy actually hits home in the most intimate place of our hearts: our deep thirst to know that even our greatest vulnerability—death—doesn’t take away the meaning and purpose of our bodies. Rather, in death, our bodies separated from our souls in the ultimate poverty and powerlessness, await Someone who will come and bring this body back to life. In burying someone we are saying: “You are worth reverencing. You are sacred. And you belong to Christ.” With this act, we surrender to the earthshaking reality of the truth of ourselves, body and soul, and the mad love God has for us. – Sr. Marie Veritas, SV
I’ll close with this quote from Fr. Larry Richards: “Now you might be thinking, ‘OK, OK, I should start to do something.’ But thoughts and good intentions are not enough—you need to turn these thoughts into reality. So what are you going to do? [..]. Let God use you and start to change the world!”
Last week we began Fr. Peter Siamoo’s steps to forgiving ourselves, or granting ourselves mercy.
- Acknowledge what we’ve done.
- Talk about it.
- Learn from it.
- Make peace with it.
This week we will continue with Father’s words.
Since we are social beings created for a purpose in life, any mistake we commit has three dimensions. It is against God, it offends and hurt others, and it hurt us. If we want peace to be restored after mistakes, then we need to touch or address those three dimensions, namely God, others, and oneself.
Ask for and accept forgiveness from God.
What kind of God do you believe in? The majority of religions including the three major world religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) believe in God who is loving and forgiving. Those religions have different ways of seeking and obtaining God’s forgiveness. (Sacrament of Reconciliation, Lent, Yom Kippur, Ramadan.) The common point is God readily forgives our transgressions when we sincerely ask for it.
Use whatever you are familiar with according to your faith tradition and seek God’s forgiveness to free yourself from the negativities of past mistakes.
Jesus said, “Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7).
Forgive and request forgiveness from others.
Give forgiveness. Despite the hardship of forgiving major transgressions, choosing not to forgive is not an option for the spiritual, psychological, emotional, and even physical wellbeing of the offended.
The perpetrator has already wounded you. He or she does not have the credibility, dignity, nor honor to be remembered and carried in your heart all the time. We might occasionally remember them when we are praying for their conversion, asking God to change their hearts to make better choices for their sake and the sake of other people who might be the recipient of their poor choices, as we once were. Otherwise we need to let them go from our hearts.
What is the right thing to do when I feel that I cannot forgive, at least not for now? Do not condemn yourself by saying “I will never forgive!” Rather, it is better to tell yourself or the other person for that matter, “I do not feel ready at this time!” You need to process more. You may need help from a professional counselor, spiritual director, or your clergy to assist you as you explore and make a safe way out of that mess. It means you are not permanently putting yourself in the corner of “lack of inner peace” where you might not have an escape.
Be humble enough to ask for forgiveness. The scriptures indicate that God prefers reconciliation over sacrifice. We read, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” (Matthew 5:23-24).
Since asking for forgiveness works whether the victim accepts your request or not, it gives you 100 percent control of the situation or process. This means you are not under the mercy of anybody while working to free yourself from the bondage of those negative emotions which rob you of your peace. This fact makes you ultimately in charge of the entire process of restoring your peace.
Do you remember the saying, “Charity begins at home?” If it is good for other people to be forgiven of their transgressions, it is good also for me to forgive my own transgressions. But forgiveness of self is a very unfamiliar concept to most of us.
Self-love is biblically mandatory and demands self-forgiveness: When our Lord was asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” He replied:
“The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Luke 10:27)
In summary, forgiving yourself after messing up is:
- An act of appreciation for God’s love and forgiveness; it is accepting it and owning it
- Self-love that restores your inner freedom and peace
- A choice you make to acknowledge and accept God’s mercy and choose to treat yourself better than what you think you deserve for doing that wrong thing
- Worth doing it because you are special and unique and therefore you deserve a better life than carrying guilt around
- A way of imitating God who has forgiven you, and
- Important to be happy, since life is short, and we should make the most out of it
As a last step of the process of inner peace restoration, do something small or big, as the situation demands, to repair the damage and restore the relationship.
Where possible, pay back the whole of what is owed and repair the damage in full. More often it is impossible to make a full repair. In that case amends as a token should be made. It is necessary, acceptable, and enough.
It might demand further action to prevent future occurrences of the same mistake such as attending anger management classes, DUI classes, AA meetings, or seeking help from counseling professionals, etc.
As a closure of the process, making amends is intended to open a new page and start a new chapter of the restored relationship. Psychologically, it might make the perpetrator feel better that at least he did something positive to make up for the mistakes, and to the offended that the offender desires a new beginning and cares enough to do something about his mistakes.
Yes, being perfect is our call and our goal, but it is also true that no one is there yet. Demanding perfection of ourselves sets a path for hopelessness and despair which are a good recipe for low self-esteem and depression.
The point is, love yourself enough to forgive!
Thank you, Fr. Siamoo, for your wise words. We hope it won’t be long before your full book on this subject finds a publisher!
Next week, Works of Mercy. Blessings until then!
Fr. Peter Siamoo, a priest from Tanzania who studied and worked here in Portland until he was called back to Africa, asked me to edit two of his manuscripts to polish his already masterful English. We are working to get them published, but in the meantime he has given me permission to share with you his writing about self-forgiveness. In Fr. Peter’s work as a counselor in hospitals and prisons, he found the inability to forgive oneself to be both prevalent and destructive. Perhaps we too have trouble letting go of our mistakes, weaknesses, and past sinfulness. Don’t we, in this study of granting mercy in our relationships, also deserve to be merciful to ourselves?
From Fr. Peter (his words are not italicized):
Each person, regardless of what evil he/she has committed, has inert goodness which is permanently engraved down deep in the soul. The image of God is always there. This inert-inner-goodness cannot be destroyed or killed by anybody. However, it can be clouded or covered in such a way that one may live as if it no longer exists.
The healthy approach in dealing with our past wrong mistakes is not to run away from them or pretend they don’t exist or even beat ourselves up. It is to be proactive in addressing those wrong choices and put them to rest in order to allow you to live your life.
This week we will cover Father’s first 4 of 8 steps to granting ourselves Mercy:
- Acknowledge what we’ve done.
We cannot do something and at the same time claim that we didn’t do it. Remember, there are two persons you can’t cheat at all: God and yourself!
By acknowledging our wrong doing, we are setting our feet onto the path of truth, empowerment, and freedom. When we name the mistake we have made, we define it and in so doing we begin to diminish its power over us while we are claiming our power back.
By identifying the problem, we begin to separate ourselves from it. We caused it, but we are not that problem, and so we can deal with it since we are not within it.
“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge (confess) our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.…” (1 John 1: 8-9).
2. Talk about it.
Trust between the talker and the listener has to be established before meaningful talk can take place. This trust can be grounded on the personal or professional relationship. The victim has to feel safe that the information given will not bite the person back.
Talking about any problem serves to give room for clarification and reinterpretation or reframing of the concepts around the issue in question. Talking brings healing, that is why in psychotherapy, whether in the group setting or one-on-one, talking is the main task of therapy.
We should be alarmed if a person cannot dare to talk about the problem they are facing. It means that the problem is such a monster to the person that it is overwhelmingly controlling the thought process and controlling the person in an unhealthy way.
Since talking helps to define, clarify, analyze, and possibly refine and reframe the problem, a real solution to the problem is next to impossible without it.
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16). The scripture is very clear that whenever we happen to have troubled consciences, we need to talk it over. We need to establish trusting relationships among Christian believers. Each should be ready to lend a non-judgmental ear to his or her fellow brethren and provide a safe outlet for those negative emotions and allow him or her to regain the lost inner peace.
3. Learn from it.
Every mistake can become a great learning opportunity. If we don’t learn, it becomes a double loss! Remember the saying: “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.”
When we choose to learn from our mistake, it is likely that we will grow from it. We become more informed and mature. We are going to make better future decisions if we allow ourselves to be taught by our mistakes.
We change the value of our mistakes and give them some positive value when we turn them into our school. They become a source of knowledge, inform us, and might make us resourceful, not only for ourselves, but for those who are struggling with the same predicament and who do not know the negative side of their potential mistakes.
4. Make peace with it.
Since we can’t disown what we did, we are going to live with it. But no one wants to live with an enemy! It, therefore, make sense that we make peace with what we did so that it does not keep haunting us.
How do we do that? Ask three simple basic questions:
Are you the first one to do it?
Are you the last one to do it?
Does what you did make you the worst person in the world?
The sincere answers to these questions will always be NO! You are just one among many. The message it gives is that you are just a human being who happened to make a wrong turn.
Making peace with your mistakes normalizes the situation which is necessary to allow you to continue with the process of peace restoration. It also helps you accept yourself and prevents the possibility of beating yourself up by discovering that what you did was just a human error despite its severity and magnitude.
This step sets the ground for self-forgiveness (addressed later in the steps) when one discovers that “I am just one among many.” Again,
Some virtues are grown out of our own mistakes if used wisely. Making peace with our own mistakes demands humility that accepts and acknowledges that we are human beings, that we are not Angels, and that we have our flaws but still remain lovely children of God. Making peace with our mistakes presupposes taking responsibility for them. In this way our wrong choices and their outcomes can also make us equipped for ministry to those who are going through the same predicament. In this way we become wounded healers.
Next week we will continue with Father’s final four steps:
- Receive forgiveness from God.
- Request forgiveness from others.
- Forgive ourselves.
- Make amends.
Blessings on your week. May you process and release your guilt.
Last week we considered Mercy’s two meanings:
- to be compassionate and forgiving to someone
- and to provide help to those in need.
In discussion of the first meaning, one reader asked, “When is it time for mercy, and when should I stand firm?” In answering, I’m keeping in mind three concepts:
- Jesus admonishes us to forgive “seventy times seven.”
- We must set limits to protect ourselves and others from people who feel no remorse when they take advantage of us.
- If in authority, we must teach others about responsible behavior.
I read a quote lately something to the effect of “Forgive the unrepentant and accept the unoffered apology.” It seems whenever I try to write about forgiveness, a beloved member of my family has been deeply hurt and so I truly struggle with my subject matter. The temptation for me is to not even try to forgive people who show no regret for what they’ve done.
That’s certainly the easier path; if they aren’t sorry, why struggle to forgive them? Because a lack of forgiveness grows into bitterness and harms our mood, our nature, and our very souls. We forgive the unrepentant, in part, to keep them from having negative influence over us. In addition, our own pardon depends on how we have pardoned. In the Our Father we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We must work through our hurt in order to be ready to reconcile if the offender ever does apologize and ask for forgiveness. For more on Steps to Forgiveness , click this link.
Consider the story of the Prodigal Son, who after demanding his inheritance squanders it on immoral living. When the money is gone and he is hungry, he realizes the error of his ways and returns repentantly to his father. This story could also be called the Merciful Father. He has been watching daily for his son to return and, when he sees him in the distance, the father runs to his son with open arms and even sets a feast to celebrate his return. Obviously this man had done the hard work of forgiveness long before his son reappeared.
The son was sorry, the father forgave him, and showing him mercy, celebrated his return. But notice, when the son left, the father didn’t search for his son and drag him back, only to have the son leave again. The father’s mercy and forgiveness were ready and waiting for when the son had learned his lesson. I think of push-over parents who never quite enforce the threatened or natural consequences for their children’s disobedience. These parents are not being merciful. In fact, in their desire to be always the “happy, friendly, cool parents” they are keeping their children from learning the lessons of growing up responsibly. They are not merciful, they are selfish. They don’t want to feel those temporary emotions of their child’s anger, and instead forgo an opportunity to teach the child a valuable life lesson.
In short, within our relationships, we must work to forgive time after time. However, mercy is not the same as leniency and our children must learn lessons from their mistakes. Those lessons are our responsibility to teach them. No matter how many times they make mistakes, we must continue to love them and be ready to run to them with open arms. People whom we are not in authority over are also deserving of our ready forgiveness and unending love, and in some cases we’ve built a strong enough relationship that they might be open to learning from us. But if not, and if that person continues to be harmful to us or our loved ones, we must set boundaries for acceptable behavior and sometimes limit contact with them. However, we should never “cut a person off” permanently.
We do the work of forgiving them in hope that in the future we can reconcile. A person who hurts us or others repeatedly must sometimes be loved from afar. This might mean putting a child in time out and then discussing why before they return to play. It means avoiding someone who is destructive in their treatment of our family until they show through their actions and words that they understand the extent of the damage they caused to such depth that it will keep them from ever wanting to repeat their behavior.
In serious situations, this realization may require counseling or spiritual growth to accomplish. (As may our attempt at forgiveness.) An abuser must realize how he or she makes the abused feel. An unfaithful spouse must acknowledge and know the hurt he or she caused, to such a profound depth that the very idea of hurting a person they love that way becomes unbearable.
There is a time for mercy and a time for justice. Where would our society be if a court always granted leniency to criminals? Our parole boards exist to make this choice carefully. A serial murderer requires the full extent of justice to protect our society. Sometimes the balance between justice and mercy is obvious. But in those times when it isn’t, when we aren’t sure which direction to lean, let’s err on the side of mercy tempering justice’s demands.
We must ask ourselves, what is in the long-term best interest of the person to whom we consider granting mercy? Because a child needs to learn responsibility, the long-term merciful choice is to enforce consequences, so they become well equipped to deal with the adult world. If an adult has learned a lesson and is truly repentant, mercy rather than punishment is due. If he or she is unrepentant, justice and discipline may bring the transgressor to realization of better ways.
An element of Justice exists in Mercy which keeps an unscrupulous person from being allowed to continue bad behavior without consequence. Mercy is not a warm fuzzy emotion that accepts any behavior. It is hard-won forgiveness (sometimes a daily decision) and a reaching out to someone who understands their mistake and is determined not to repeat it.
Author of Christian Love Stories:
Hope and a Future (Oaktara 2010)
Where Hope Leads (Oaktara 2012)
When the Vow Breaks (CreateSpace 2015)
This Lent we will pursue the topic of Mercy in Relationships.
Pope Francis proclaimed this to be a Jubilee Year of Mercy. Let’s start with understanding this a bit better.
What is a Jubilee?
In the Old Testament, God proclaimed to Moses that every seven years a Sabbath year should be proclaimed when the land, and by extension its workers, should be given a rest. After seven Sabbath years, a fiftieth year would be proclaimed as a Year of Jubilee.
8 ” Count off seven sabbaths of years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. 9 Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan. 11 The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. 12 For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.” (Leviticus 25:8-12 NIV)
Here are some of the above elements broken down and suggestions for how to apply them today:
- Day of Atonement – Forgive yourself. Forgive others’ debts to you. Ask for other’s forgiveness.
- Sound the trumpet – Rejoice! Celebrate!
- Consecrate the fiftieth year – Declare or set apart sacred time, a year to discover the better life God offers you.
- Proclaim liberty throughout the land– Commit to release yourself and others from the shackles of injustice, addiction, dependence, negative habits, and attitudes.
- A jubilee for you – Focus on yourself, for others.
- Return to your family property – Slaves were freed in a Jubilee year and returned to their homes. Return to your homeland. Go home again and see what home can teach you about yourself. Or take a pilgrimage, pondering what has enslaved you, and how you can be freed.
- Each to his own clan – Reunite with family, reconnect, make peace, reaffirm your roots.
- Do not sow, reap, or harvest – Refuse to worry. Trust in God’s provision for what is necessary and even abundant.
- Eat only what is taken directly from the fields – Subsist or simplify, so you have time to ponder.
- For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you – Where is God in your life? First? What does holy mean to you? What would make this year holy?
- For you – Realize what a gift God offers us in rest, forgiveness, celebration, family, and even work.
A few more notes on Jubilees:
In the Old Testament, a Jubilee year was a year of remission of sins, slavery, and debts, therefore, preeminently a time of joy.
Some believe that Jesus proclaimed a Jubilee year when he read from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” then rolled up the scroll and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:18-21
The Catholic Church has often proclaimed Jubilee Years, beginning in 1300. It symbolizes a Holy Year by un-bricking a particular door of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In 2000, Catholic Churches throughout the world celebrated the year as a Jubilee Holy Year. Each parish designated a particular door as their Holy Year Door in a campaign to Open Wide the Doors to Christ. Passing through a holy door harkens back to the idea of a guilty person asking for sanctuary or immunity from punishment by entering a church. Priests, nuns, and monks have long celebrated their Jubilees, or 50th anniversary of religious profession, and tenacious married couples celebrate a Golden Jubilee when they have been married 50 years.
The Jubilee 2000 Coalition petitioned the world to proclaim a Jubilee Year and cancel the debts of the earth’s poorest countries. Then-President Clinton offered a Jubilee debt forgiveness to Third World countries who would spend the money on children instead. Canada and England followed his lead.
Near the same time, the Coalition for Jubilee Clemency petitioned President Clinton to release, on supervised parole, Federal prisoners serving long sentences for low-level, nonviolent offenses.
So Pope Francis has asked the world to celebrate a Jubilee Year (a year of remission or pardon) based on Mercy. But…
What is mercy?
In the Merriam Webster dictionary, mercy is defined as compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.
The Christian tradition, however, adds another element to the word, focusing on kindness or help given to people who are in a very bad situation, or a willingness to help anyone in need.
In the weeks ahead during this special, holy year, we will look at what mercy might mean in our relationships, whether relating to God, ourselves, our families, or our communities. Until next week’s email, think about what Mercy means to you and when you have granted it, denied it, or received it.
Blessings on your first week of Lent!
Author of Christian Love Stories: Hope and a Future (Oaktara 2010) Where Hope Leads (Oaktara 2012) When the Vow Breaks (CreateSpace 2015)
Last week I met with the ladies of the “Vigilante Food Book Club” to discuss my novel, “When the Vow Breaks.” They provided me with a wonderful potluck dinner, great conversation, and some thought-provoking questions. Since it takes place in Butte, Montana, a copper mining town, I brought each a little copper mug stuffed with BUTTErfinger candy bars. Thank you for a delightful evening Patsy, Janine, Joanne, Michelle, and Kathleen!