Forgiveness is the path to reconciliation
Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy in It’s OK to Die, wrote that one of the important tasks in dying is for family and friends to say, “I forgive you for,” and then fill in the blanks. It is necessary for both the patient and the family to share their forgiveness with specific issues in mind. It is not enough to say, “If I ever did anything to hurt your feelings, please forgive me.” Rather, “Please forgive me for the time I took your credit card and maxed out the available line of credit.” Even if the event happened decades ago, the memory may be as fresh as the day when we transgressed the other. A dark and smoldering anger may still be brooding in our souls.
Or, we might ask for forgiveness, and discover that we were forgiven a long time ago. “Oh,” your mother might report, “I forgave you for that years ago. I haven’t thought about it since.” You both are relieved and wonder why this discussion had not happened years ago. Would it have made a difference in your relationship when there were plenty of years left? But at the very least our consciences are scrubbed and no one goes to their grave doubting the other or with the burden of guilt.
Some people might think that forgiveness is just a “religious” issue. And for many religions around the world it certainly is. But even people who are not claimed by a religious tradition or a personal faith need forgiveness. Forgiveness is as important a force in our lives as hunger, thirst, security, and human sexuality. Worse, perhaps, than hunger and thirst, is the need for relationships and community. We need relationships because our identities depend on it. We did not fall out of the sky with a fully developed personality and character. We need parents, family, and communities of every sort to shape us into unique people who are loved and nurtured. We need each other if we are to grow into women and men of conscience. We need others to help us understand the basic values of our lives together, the minimum ethics of society, and what are the limits are of our behaviors. Others make us accountable for our behaviors. And we live in a time when the future depends on accountable women and men. People who think they are accountable to no one become narcissists and sociopaths.
When we violate the boundaries and break the rules we not only hurt others, but we become isolated. We are alienated. The Garden of Eden story about Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit is not a story about apples. It is a story about isolation. Even they understood that they had become alienated, not only from God, but also from one another and the earth. No one can live alone.
The way out of isolation is forgiveness. Forgiveness is the path to reconciliation, and I do not know of any human being who does not need to be reconciled with someone at home, or work, or in the wider society. Forgiveness recognizes the offense and our need for one another. Please do not think for a moment that the death of someone erases the need to forgive and be forgiven. Relationships last much longer than our bodies. Never pass up on the opportunity to forgive and be forgiven. It will bring much peace to this world and the next.
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Chaplain Gary Blaine, D.Min., provides Pastoral Care at Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital. He received his Doctorate of Ministry from Emory University, and holds certifications as a grief counselor and a grief group facilitator. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.