Forgiveness

Wednesday’s Word: Forgiveness

“For God has made all people prisoners of disobedience, so that he might show mercy to them all.”  Romans 11:32

 

Sometimes we mess up. Maybe, if you’re like me, you get down on yourself when you do.  I should have known better.  Why can’t I keep my mouth shut? I’m hopeless—what’s the use?

 

Maybe we should give up.  Give up trying to be perfect, that is. Give up trying to earn salvation by being good enough. It’s been said that if God wanted us to be perfect, he wouldn’t have made us human.

 

Does that mean we shouldn’t try to do what’s right? Should we ignore those twinges of conscience?  Of course not.  But it is okay to acknowledge our weaknesses and failures.  Instead of trying to cover up our mistakes, make excuses, or beat ourselves up, let’s turn to God’s mercy, grace, and love.  He’s waiting to forgive us – but how can we receive forgiveness if we’re too busy kicking ourselves or trying to justify our own behavior? That keeps us focused on our own egos instead of God.

 

Honest acceptance of where we are – faults and all – leads to healthy humility. Instead of wasting time wallowing or rationalizing, we can give thanks and praise to our loving Father, who, through Christ, does for us what we can never do for ourselves. Freed from guilt and regret, we can become who we’re meant to be. Confession really is good for the soul.

 

Prayer:  Thank you Lord, for your mercy and love.

 

Reflection for sharing:  How can savoring God’s forgiveness help us forgive ourselves and others?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Looking Back or Moving Forward

But Lot’s wife behind him looked back, and was turned into a pillar of salt. Genesis 19: 26

 

The Bible doesn’t say how long Lot’s wife looked back, but however long it was, it stopped her from moving forward.

 

Like Lot’s wife. I spend a lot of time looking back. When I do, it can stop me from moving forward, too.

 

On the one hand, acknowledging my mistakes and imagining what I could have said or done differently can help me avoid making the same mistakes again. It also shows me if I need to make a change—or an apology.

 

On the other, there’s a difference between looking at the past and staring at it. Wallowing in remorse doesn’t help me or anybody else. Dwelling on my regrets keeps them alive—but only in my head. It doesn’t change the past or help me take positive action in the present. It keeps me stuck.

 

The rear-view mirror is smaller than the windshield for a reason. We need to glance back, but focus on where we are and what lies ahead. That’s how we move forward.

 

Prayer: Lord, You love us in spite of our imperfections. May your mercy help us move forward in love.

 

Reflection: How has dwelling on the past kept you from moving forward?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Compassion

Tell them not to speak evil of anyone, but to be peaceful and friendly, and always to show a gentle attitude toward everyone. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, and wrong. Titus 3: 2-3a

 

It’s so hard to keep from judging others. People do some stupid, infuriating, hurtful things. So how do we begin?

 

We might start by admitting that if we’re looking at others’ failings, it doesn’t mean we don’t have any ourselves; it just means we aren’t paying attention to them. So when we find ourselves looking down on others, it might help to call to mind the times we’ve done thoughtless, hurtful things. In fact, the things that annoy us most about others are often the very traits we have ourselves. You spot it, you got it, as they say.

 

We don’t have to beat ourselves up over the poor choices we’ve made. We can be honest about them and still offer ourselves some compassion. Prostitutes and tax collectors flocked to Jesus. He welcomed those who were well-aware of their own shortcomings. We tend to be open and receptive to those who are friendly and welcoming.

 

When we ease up on ourselves, we naturally ease up on others, too. We’re all in this together. Only One is perfect and he offered himself for us and for those we look down on.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me see myself and others with eyes of compassion.

 

Reflection: Who do you look down on? What do you have in common with them?

Wednesday’s Words: True Confessions

I confess my sins; they fill me with anxiety. Psalm 38: 18

 

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. 1 John 1: 8-9

 

Where did some of us get the idea we have to be perfect to earn God’s love? Why do we think we have to cover up our imperfections to be acceptable? The Bible’s filled with stories of God’s love and faithfulness—in spite of our sins. We turn our backs on God, not the other way around.

 

God knows our weaknesses better than we do and loves us anyway. What else is Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son about? Or the parable commending the tax collector who acknowledged his sins, trusting God’s mercy, as opposed to the religious official whose prayer to God was a spiritual resume? Or Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross to do what we could never do for ourselves—perfectly obey our Creator? As St. Paul said, if we could put ourselves right with God by keeping the law, then Christ died for nothing. (Galatians 2: 21)

 

Covering up our flaws is the world’s way, not God’s. Denying our wrongs, blaming others, creating excuses, that’s the way of the world. Trying to look good on the outside when we know the truth on the inside creates tension. No wonder the psalmist said his sins filled him with anxiety.

 

It doesn’t feel safe to be honest about our liabilities in the dog-eat-dog world. On the other hand, it‘s a relief to be honest about our faults with God and with ourselves. Surely we can find at least one trusted human being we can trust to understand and to keep our sharing in confidence. It’s fundamental to recovery for countless people in Twelve Step programs. The Catholic Church has wisely recognized it as a means of obtaining God’s grace through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It does our hearts good to come clean in a safe atmosphere, and what atmosphere could be safer than God’s welcoming arms?

 

Prayer: Lord, I trust in your mercy and love.

 

Reflection: What secrets are creating tension within you? How can you find a safe and trustworthy way to unburden yourself?

Wednesday’s Words: Accepting Forgiveness

iStock_000003550839XSmall“I will renew my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord. I will forgive all the wrongs you have done, but you will remember them and be too ashamed to open your mouth.” The Sovereign Lord has spoken. Ezekiel 16: 62-63

 

Why is it so hard for us to accept forgiveness as the gift that it is? We want to deserve forgiveness or earn it. We can’t. If we deserve it, it’s exoneration, not forgiveness.

 

When we try to excuse or deny the hurt we’ve caused others or the damage we’ve done to ourselves or to our relationship with God, it gets us nowhere. When we create alibis to prove what we did wasn’t so bad, it does us no good. When we acknowledge our wrongs and are truly sorry, God forgives us. We’re better off honestly acknowledging our weaknesses. Then we can recognize the truth:  forgiveness is about God’s goodness, generosity, and love, not our worthiness. We don’t have to open our mouths except to say thank you.

 

Once we accept God’s forgiveness as the free and precious gift it truly is, there’s no reason to keep wallowing in our misdeeds and mistakes. We can stop going on and on about it. We don’t need to dwell on our sins once we have honestly laid them at God’s feet. Once forgiven, we are free to move on and do likewise.

 

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the gift of your forgiveness.

 

Reflection: Can you trust God’s forgiveness enough to let go of your regrets?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Life-giving Love

iStock_000003550839XSmall…Every sinner will be destroyed. Isaiah 29: 20

 

Although destruction of sinners might conjure up harsh images, it reminds me of an Abraham Lincoln quote. When told he should destroy his enemies instead of trying to befriend them, Lincoln asked, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

 

It would seem that God’s amazing plan for destroying sinners is to offer them his mercy. We’re told that God is love, a love demonstrated by Jesus’ death and resurrection. He lavished unconditional love on us by his willingness to suffer and die for us. He lavished forgiveness on the enemies who mocked, abused, and crucified him.

 

God chooses to destroy sinners—and we’re all sinners—by forgiving us and welcoming us back into the loving relationship broken by sin. But God is a lover who respects the free will he gave us. He won’t force his will on us. He leaves us free to accept or reject his invitation, an invitation that involves dying to self and rising to new life in him. The choice is up to us.

 

Prayer: Lord, lead me away from the self-destructive choices that keep me from your love.

 

Reflection: What in you needs to be destroyed by God’s unconditional love?

Wednesday’s Word: Annoyances

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Don’t be angry with someone for every little thing he does wrong. Don’t do anything out of injured pride. Sirach 10: 6

 

It’s the little annoying things that can drive us up the wall. “Why can’t you ever come the first time I tell you dinner’s ready?” “Do you know you left the laundry room light on—again? It was on all night.” “Why do you always have to leave your dirty dishes in the sink when the dishwasher is RIGHT THERE?” Sometimes we’re just waiting for the other person’s dirty socks to land on the floor next to the hamper for the umpteenth time. Irritations have a way of gaining momentum.

 

Constantly pointing out annoying behaviors only contributes to the friction–nagging is pretty annoying, too. Besides, people tune us out when we harp on the same thing over and over again. On the other hand, trying to rise above minor irritations doesn’t always work. When we stuff our feelings down, they can fester and build until they finally explode. That leads to hurt feelings, damaged relationships, and maybe guilt—or at least embarrassment—about over-reacting.

 

So what can we do instead? Sirach offers us a clue when he warns us about pride. What does pride have to do with being annoyed? There’s a sense of superiority in pointing an accusing finger at someone else’s fault—especially a fault we don’t happen to share. It gives our egos the illusion of moral high ground.

 

How can we be honest about what we’re feeling without judging others? Maybe as we explore our feelings honestly we can follow through by acknowledging our own weaknesses. Maybe something like: Okay, I’m really ticked off that he interrupted me mid-sentence again, but let’s remember I do annoying things, too. How often has he complained that I come home late without calling? And yeah, he put the milk carton back in the fridge with just two drops of milk in it yet again, but who banged his head because I left the cabinet door open? After all, our comfortable habits might just be somebody else’s pet peeves.

 

Sirach also points our mortality further on in the passage. “We are only dust and ashes; what have we got to be proud of? …Even a king may be alive today and dead tomorrow.”  (Sirach 10: 9-10) Life’s too short to dwell on the things that annoy us. Do we really want to squander precious time judging others? Lent begins with an Ash Wednesday reminder of our mortality and human limitations. Lent is also a good time to turn our attention away from other people’s shortcomings and face our own. As we recognize our need for mercy in our day-to-day living, we also become aware of the gift of mercy God offers us through his Son. God looks at us—warts and all—with eyes of love. When we remember this, it’s easier to look at others with those same eyes of love.

 

Prayer: Lord, may we forgive as we are forgiven.

 

Reflection: What habits of yours might be annoying to others? Are you willing to ask God to help you change? What else are you willing to do?

Wednesday’s Words: Loving Glances

iStock_000003550839XSmall“Whoever welcomes this child in my name, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, also welcomes the one who sent me. For the one who is least among you all is the greatest.” Luke 9: 48

 

During Mass today, I noticed a father steal a glance toward the back of the church where the children’s choir stood. He stole a moment away from the priest and the altar to look back at where his little girl or boy was singing. Maybe he was glancing back to reassure his child of his support. Maybe he was just peeping back in pride. Maybe a little of both.

 

Distracted from worshipping God? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Jesus taught his disciples that welcoming a child is also welcoming Jesus, and God the Father. That fleeting glance away from the altar toward his child took only a few seconds, but was packed with love for that child, and, no doubt, for Jesus and the Father, too. I don’t remember today’s homily, but I do remember the message of love my heart received.

 

We were all little children, once upon a time. God loved us then and loves us now. Maybe he lovingly glances at us as we perform our jobs at work, or school, or home. Not to catch us messing up, but just because he can’t resist watching us. I’m sure that father at Mass today didn’t care if his little one hit a wrong note or two, or fidgeted, or scratched an itchy nose. Our best is good enough for our loving Father. Our imperfections can’t dampen his love.

 

Prayer: Father, thank you for lovingly watching over us.

 

Reflection: What would happen if you immersed yourself in awareness of God’s love for even just a moment?

Wednesday’s Words: Mercy, Hope, and Joy

iStock_000003550839XSmall“O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, from the depth of our troubled, weary souls we cry out to you. Hear us, O Lord, and have mercy on us, because we have sinned against you. Baruch 3:1-2

 

Troubled, weary souls have been around a long time. If mankind could have gotten its act together on its own, it would have done so by now. Instead, we continue to cry out to God. If we’re honest, like Baruch, we can admit that we need mercy because we have sinned against God. The fact of the matter is, if we could save ourselves, then “Jesus died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:21)

 

So we cry out from the depth of our troubled, weary souls. And we have hope because God has done—and continues to do—what we could never do for ourselves. We anticipate with joy celebrating the birth of Christ who brought us the gift of mercy and freedom from the bondage of self-defeating sin. That beautiful carol, O Holy Night, describes what we feel: “a thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming into our troubled, weary hearts and world.

 

Reflection: Where do you most need the thrill of hope today?

Wednesday’s Words: Love Power

iStock_000003550839XSmall“…But to the people of Judah I will show love. I, the Lord their God, will save them, but I will not do it by war—with swords or bows and arrows or with horses and horsemen.”  Hosea 1: 7

 

God saves us by love, not war. Hate can’t be conquered with hate. That only generates more hate on both sides. Responding to hate with love shows up hatred for what it is and refuses to justify it. Jesus didn’t respond to violence with violence. He was victorious without resorting to the enemy’s tactics. Love is more powerful than hate.

 

When twelve-year-old Maria Goretti’s neighbor forced himself on her sexually, she resisted. Enraged, he stabbed her 14 times. As he attacked her, she expressed concern for his soul. As she died because of her wounds, she forgave her attacker. Her forgiving love haunted him for years. While in prison, he converted. Upon release, he begged Maria’s mother for forgiveness and lived out the rest of his life as a Capuchin monk. Such is the power of love.

 

Who doesn’t want to lash out when we’re being attacked? Choosing not to respond to hate with hate takes amazing strength and courage. We can’t do it on our own, but only by the power of Christ’s spirit within us. Love doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings and it doesn’t mean we allow ourselves to be abused. There are times we need to defend ourselves and others. But, with God’s power, we don’t have to allow hurtful assaults to tarnish our nature. Responding to hate with love takes a miracle, but God is in the business of miracles when we trust him.

 

Prayer: Lord, teach us the power of love.

 

Reflection: How can you appropriate God’s loving power in the face of antagonism?

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Meditations

But Jesus answered “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

All Bible quotes are from the Good News Translation unless otherwise noted.

 

It is reassuring that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his followers. These were laymen, not Scripture experts. It is wise to seek guidance from religious scholars and clergy who have studied Scripture to avoid errors in interpretation. But the Bible is also a gift given to each of us, to use as a basis for prayer and meditation.

 

I’m not a Biblical scholar; I’m an expert only on my own experience. Following the Scripture passage is a brief meditation along with a question or two as a springboard for your own reflections. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or insights on the passage by adding a comment. All comments are moderated, so please allow some time for your comment to be posted.

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