On January 1, all over the country, people jump into freezing bodies of water in celebration of a new year. While “polar bear clubs” involve bravado, good cold fun, and sometimes too many Bloody Marys, they also have a more serious side. There is something about our human nature that appreciates a clean slate, a fresh start, a chance to wash away the past and begin again.
Forgiving family members, friends, or colleagues has much in common with jumping into an icy lake. The process of forgiveness can involve taking a plunge that is at the same time painful and exhilarating. Wrapped warmly in our layers of self-righteousness, hurt, and anger, we are reluctant to expose ourselves to the elements. Yet if we decide to jump into the waters of forgiveness, we may be surprised at the healing we find there.
When our parents need our forgiveness. Samuel, father of two, said that he carried anger toward his father from young adulthood through his early 30s. His father often accused Samuel of saying or doing terrible things that were not true. “The anger I had toward him almost felt good,” Samuel says. “I would replay conversations in my head, and I would hear how wrong he was. My anger was justified; my dad had really hurt me.”
As Samuel got older, he recognized that behind his father’s cruelty was mental illness: His dad struggled with paranoia. “I was able to move toward understanding my father—and I’m not sure where the line is between understanding and forgiving. But holding onto my anger was exhausting. It has been freeing to let go of it and not expect my father to change. I have been able to accept that he has a different perception of reality.”
For Samuel, forgiving his father did not happen in one heart-to-heart talk. It is unlikely that Samuel’s father even knows his son has forgiven him for all the hurtful untruths he has spoken. Instead, for Samuel, forgiveness is an ongoing attitude of letting go of hurt and disappointment and allowing acceptance to take its place. …continued next week
By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for four years running. Here’s a sample issue.
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