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Monday, January 25, 2016

Our Lord's Gentle Caress

Over the years, I have developed a personal defense mechanism I liken to a sophisticated filing system.    When someone hurts or offends me, I forgive them by simply filing the pain away in an imaginary filing cabinet in my head.    I verbalize my forgiveness and on the outside, I appear indifferent to the betrayal, but deep inside my subconscious, I’m building a secret file against them!  I have over thirty years of business experience and filing is Secretary 101 so you can bet your "sweet bippy" that if someone hurts me or someone I love, I will accurately maintain that mental file until Jesus comes again!    

My husband is a recovering alcoholic and for the first seven years we were together he was active in his addiction.    As you can image, my husband’s file in my mental cabinet was overflowing, in fact, I’m certain he had his own drawer!    I  had worked in the chemical dependency field and was familiar with the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. When my husband made the decision to get sober through this fellowship, I knew about Step Nine and expected my apology immediately!     I learned quickly that my time isn’t God’s time.   My husband and I both needed to walk through our respective pain and realize the mistakes both of us made in creating the dysfunction that was our life together.        My husband made his journey through AA and I chose the path of Alanon.   When my husband made his amends to me two years later, it was not planned, but it was one of the most beautiful moments in our marriage.     He apologized to me, I forgave him and then I made my amends to him and he forgave me.    We told each other that we loved one another and the matter was closed.    It was at that moment I felt completely free; the years of anger and resentment were suddenly gone.    We gave each other the “soft caress” of forgiveness.   I’m happy to announce that my husband will have seven years sober in April and his  filing drawer has been purged and all the files shredded!  

The year 2015 was filled with tremendous emotional turmoil that ultimately led to my resignation from a job I loved.    My mind has healed substantially over the past few weeks and I honestly believed I had worked through my feelings of hurt and betrayal, but lately I have been reminded of past events and I feel the old wounds resurfacing.    I’ve deceived myself into believing my ability to “file” my feelings is forgiveness but in reality, I never work through the pain.      I need to remember my defense mechanisms are survival tools I no longer need.   

Like I said, over the past week I have been struggling with some old wounds but like most problems, I cried out to God for help.    God does indeed have a sense of humor and I felt as if he was having a little fun at my expense last week.     I have a free app on my iPad called “Jesuits”.   The Jesuits are a Roman Catholic order of priests and brothers who were founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1534.    Their mission is to find God in all things and they dedicate their lives to the greater glory of God and the good of all humanity.  Our beloved Pope Francis is of the Jesuits order.    Let me just say,  I love the Jesuits!    They are in touch with what is happening in today’s society.   Their daily reflections are on point, thought provoking and relatable.   Not too shabby for an ancient order established almost 500 years ago!      

Now each morning for the past year, I've open this App, read the opening quote for the day, scripture reading, daily reflection, and prayer,  but last week my app got stuck on January 16th and refused to update.    I struggled with this malfunction for five days!    I tried all the standard electronic remedies; rebooting and reinstalling, but nothing worked.   I felt like Bill Murry in the movie Groundhog Day!    On the fifth day, I decided that maybe, just maybe, God was trying to send me a message, so I decided to read the January 16th post again.       The opening quote for that day was from Pope Francis “God forgives not with a decree but with a caress.”   The reading was Mark 2:13-17 about Jesus being confronted by the Pharisees because he was socializing with sinners and tax collectors and Jesus’ answered them by saying, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.”  The reflection for that day was entitled “Merciful Forgiveness” and the prayer encouraged us to be an "ambassador of mercy".    I think God was trying to tell me something!

I understood that God wanted me to forgive,  but I didn't know how, so once again, I turned to prayer.     It’s amusing how God keeps steering you towards the light.   Over the next few days, God took me on this crazy scavenger hunt for the truth, giving me little clues and urging me to seek the answers on my own.     The issue with the daily reflection application made me think about how I found the app.    I was facilitating a six-part adult faith formation series by Father Albert Haase entitledCatching Fire, Becoming Flame:  A Guide for Spiritual Transformation”.      Session three of this series was about prayer and Fr. Albert was teaching about the Examen, a spiritual exercise developed by St. Ignatius.   I was intrigued by the Examen and while gathering information about this unique method of prayer,  I stumbled across the Jesuits App.  See what I mean about God’s scavenger hunt!    Thoughts of Fr. Albert led me to grab his book off the shelf.  My intention was just to look at the table of contents and skim through the subjects, but instead, I randomly open the book to Chapter 26 “The Challenge of Forgiveness”.     Yes, I believe, God is calling me to forgive!    So I prayed, “Okay Lord, apparently my intricate filing system is not working.   You know I'm not always the brightest bulb in the pack so please, give me step by step directions on how to forgive!"    

I began reading Fr. Albert’s chapter on forgiveness and was enlightened.   I felt as if he wrote this chapter about me and for me personally.    In the opening paragraph Fr. Albert writes, “The simple truth is this:  you can never fully enter into your identity in Christ if you resist forgiving someone in your life.”   Wow!    Those are very powerful words.   In this chapter,  Fr. Albert goes on to outline a simple format to help you truly forgive and let go.    Ask and you shall receive! The following are Fr. Albert’s suggestions for forgiveness from his book “Catching Fire Becoming Flame”.  
1)    Ask yourself, “Whom do I need to forgive?  Why?”
2)    Recall the incidents of betrayal or hurt
3)    Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to empathize with their hurtful word or action.
4)    Make the decision to forgive the person.
5)    Recommit to that decision on a daily basis until your heart softens and you are set free from the grudge. 

Pope Francis is quoted as saying,  “God forgives not with a decree but with a caress.”   There have been so many times in my life that I have received the caress of forgiveness from our Lord.   I also realized that I haven’t been so willing to offer the same to those who have offended me.   A very dear friend of mine shared that she has difficulty praying “The Our Father” because the words “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” are too difficult for her to utter.    I now understand what she means.    Do I really want God to measure His forgiveness of me by the same instrument I use to forgive others?      

Over the next week, I plan on working through the steps suggested by Fr. Albert.     I know I need to reach in my mental filing cabinet and reopen that file.   The journey will not be easy but for the wound to heal I need to stop picking at the scab!     Fr. Albert stated, “Even though the gift (forgiveness) might simply lie in our heads, over time we will find it gradually making its way down to our hearts, where it loosens resentment and frees us from the past.”    God has taught me some valuable lessons this week.   He has opened my eyes to changes I need to make in my life and even gave me a blueprint on how to get the job done!       I am grateful that I have been able to feel our Lord’s gentle caress.

Source:   
Albert Haase OFM, Catching Fire Becoming Flame:  A Guide for Spiritual Transformation, (Paraclete Press, Brewster, Massachusetts, 2013) Chapter 26


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