I harbour irritations, annoyances, grievances, and injustices. I’m not breaking the seal of the confessional by sharing that with you, because I’m not very good at keeping it hidden. If you know me, you know about my propensity to get overwrought. I’m working on it, and there are stretches of time when I do quite well, but I inevitably fall back in the habit of harbouring yet again. In part it’s because I’m human. On top of that I have a sensitive nature; and I have Germanic blood, which means I’m genetically disposed to expecting everyone to follow the rules – and when they don’t, I take it personally. God can work with that. I figure He built that into our characteristics for us to do good things with, and also to be the thorn in our flesh that we may be humbled and to remember that while we may always be right (ha ha) we need God always and all ways.
It’s the ‘harbouring’ that is a real problem. Think about what the word means: to provide safety, shelter, a resting place. I’ve put out a beacon light for those petty grudges and given them a berth in my heart. I’ve offered them protection! All my little boats of virtue and holiness and peacefulness and charity are tossed and unsettled by the storm I’ve brought into their midst.
The wreckage affects more than my inner tranquility – though that is no small cost in itself. There is an internet meme that reads:
“Forgiveness doesn’t excuse their behavior.Forgiveness prevents their behavior from destroying your heart.”
I am called to use my feminine gifts – particularly those of being life-bearing, and being concerned with the relational, the personal – in order to be salt and light to the world. But if I damage my heart through unforgiveness, and permit it to be stubbornly shut against real love, how can the world be transformed? We are one body, as the song goes, so my attitude toward the hand of Christ is bound to also affect the foot of Christ.
For example: If I scowl at you in line at the grocery store because you ran your buggy into me (when your little one grabbed all the chocolate bars off the display rack), you’re more likely to be short-tempered when you get home, which encourages the other children to be cranky, meaning your husband will spend a frazzled night with little sleep, so he’ll snap at his colleagues the next day when they’re late for a meeting. Direct and observable consequences of my resentment. How different it would have been if I’d smiled at you instead, offering to help you pick up the Kit Kat bars because I could see you needed a break.
It pains me to say it, but I have observed that women have a tendency toward unforgiveness. Not all of us have this struggle, and many of us have learned to overcome it, thank God. I believe it is the way Satan has twisted those gifts I mentioned above, so that instead of giving selflessly, being concerned for the other person and wanting to nurture them, we turn inward, think of ourselves first and dwell on what we believe we are owed. Nursing that attitude is not conducive to being light to the world!
Allowing ourselves to experience the freedom found in forgiving others prepares the way for deeper prayer, more profound conformity with the Heart of God, and greater communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
This outpouring of mercy cannot penetrate our hearts as long as we have not forgiven those who have trespassed against us. Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see. In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father’s merciful love; but in confessing our sins, our hearts are open to His grace. (CCC 2840)
Christian prayer extends to the forgiveness of enemies, transfiguring the disciple by configuring him to His Master. Forgiveness is a high-point of Christian prayer; only hearts attuned to God’s compassion can receive the gift of prayer. Forgiveness also bears witness that, in our world, love is stronger than sin. The martyrs of yesterday and today bear witness to Jesus. Forgiveness is the fundamental condition of the reconciliation of the children of God with their Father and of men with one another. (CCC 2844)