Reflection by The Rt. Rev. Jake Owensby
Our now-thirty-year-old son, Andrew, was still a toddler. My wife Joy and I loved being exhausted rookie parents. Students were quickly filling my intro philosophy classes, so the prospects for tenure looked great. Home life and career couldn’t have been more rewarding.
And yet, a persistent resentment, punctuated by episodes of sadness and self-doubt, pulled at the threads holding the fabric of my life together. My past was unraveling my present.
My parents had divorced two decades earlier. My abusive father had used me as a pawn to injure my mother. Effectively isolated by my father’s manipulations, my mother had only me to lean on as she endured her own fear, outrage, and misery. This all left an enduring mark on ten-year-old me.
I wish I could say that by the beginning of my fourth decade I had gained admirable perspective. But that’s not true. I remained angry with both my parents for different reasons. And while forgiveness presented itself as the only reliable path to peace and sanity, the art of navigating that sometimes tortuous way eluded me.
Eventually, I sought spiritual guidance from a priest whom I barely knew.
“I can’t forgive my parents,” I told him.
He paused and then asked, “Can you ask Jesus to forgive them?”
In hindsight it’s clear where he was leading me: “Can you recognize that the brokenness they caused in you arose from something broken in them? Can you desire for them the same wholeness that you seek for yourself?”
Paradoxically, his question showed me that my healing involved receiving God’s forgiveness for my unforgiveness. I had developed the habit of coping with pain by resenting the one who hurt me. Even though others were accountable for the initial injury to my heart, the spiritual practice I had developed was dismantling me from within. I needed to unlearn the practice of resentment and replace it with the practice of forgiveness. For my own sake.
Jesus made this point with his disciples. Reflecting on the suffering that Pilate’s cruelty and a freak accident had visited on two groups of innocent Galileans, Jesus urges them to repent. External circumstances can bring us to our knees. But the internal motions of our heart and mind and soul can shatter our lives from within.
Forgiveness has nothing to do with giving others a pass for destructive behavior or being someone else’s doormat. Instead, a forgiving soul recognizes that the world has battered and bruised us all, and still chooses to focus on doing what it can to mend what is broken.
Follow along with us this Lent season with our daily devotional and engage in discussion in our closed facebook group moderated by The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner & The Rev. Jan Kwiatowski.
In this group, participants will have a chance to share their responses to the prompts in the daily readings, and also the chance to receive additional material for reflection.