Walking Our Faith: The surprising gift of forgiveness

I’m always a little surprised when I hear of fractured relationships between adult children and their elderly parents. And yet, for years, that’s what I had.

Mom and I had a very close relationship through the last moment of her life, and even now, I miss her more than words can describe.

Yet during those last weeks of hospice, there were moments when either Mom or I asked the other for forgiveness — as if all the pardons we had extended over the years had to be restated for us to believe them now.

We didn’t always have a close relationship. When Mom and I began living together after my father passed away in 1996, it seemed like an unlikely arrangement. We were two very strong people, both of whom wanted the other to see things our way.

After Mom and I lived together for so many years, and then again for the last six months of her life, I realized that all those petty complaints, that kept us from seeing each other as individuals with our own separate identities, were colored more by our idealized imaginations of mothers and daughters. Mom pursued a career and five university degrees, when I wanted a traditional stay-at-home mother like my friends.

It was after I got to know my mother as a person that I discovered her love for me as my mother was much deeper than I understood. And I was able to ask her forgiveness for all the stupid things I had said and done when I was growing up.

Writing these words now seems so meaningless. But there is an important lesson.

When we are able to forgive one another, it breaks down a wall that allows us to love one another more freely. Behind the facade of grievances that have been magnified over the years is usually a lot of guilt. Once we get past that obstacle, our hearts open to love. Our ability to see one another sharpens, to recognize one another as we are: imperfect individuals in need of receiving love and giving love.

I’m thankful that Mom and I enjoyed years of closeness because we did the hard work of forgiveness.

As hard as it is to forgive someone, it can be equally hard to believe we are worthy of forgiveness, to internalize that we have been forgiven. Somehow even hearing those words from someone we love is often not enough to let us completely release the fear that we are not worthy of forgiveness. And so, in moments of crisis, we asked for forgiveness again, as if we needed reassurance that all was OK between us.

There was a time in my walk of faith that I wondered why God wanted us to specifically ask for forgiveness of our sins. After all, since he is omnipotent, he knows if we are repentant of our wrongs. Shouldn’t that be enough? Why the need for a formal prayer of forgiveness?

After my mother’s death, I have a new appreciation for the need for forgiveness. This act of acknowledging our wrongs and accepting the pardon of the one we have wronged is like a cloth that wipes away the darkness, so that the cleansing light of love can shine in.

That light was always present, of course. It was only our own without that blocked it from our view.

So it is in our personal relationships and so it is with our relationship with God.

God’s love is never dependent on our sinlessness because we are never without sin. Instead, our relationship with God invites us to clear the darkness from our hearts so the light of God’s love can shine through. This message of forgiveness, redemption, resurrection and reunion is the message of Lent.

I hope during Lent you will consider reconciliation with those in your family who have become estranged. And return to God, who waits with open arms.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” —Psalm 103:12

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