The Absurdity of Hatred/The Audacity of Forgiveness

It may seem crazy to imagine Satan having any defining joy in his life. Seriously! Does he countdown days to special holidays? Review photos of favorite vacations with the family? Post pics of him and his buds at a hockey game? Laugh hysterically at anything remotely comical?!

Well…there is one thing – and only one thing – that does get him all giddy in the midst of his miserableness, and we stupid humans seem to love indulging him. It happens when we judge others and refuse to forgive. That is what Satan thrives on and we seem so eager to comply, even those of us who profess to be Christians. I would go so far as to say “especially” Christians, get sucked into that ego driven sense of superiority over others. Being honest, I have to confess that I am just as guilty, though I’d like to believe I’m better than I used to be. I suppose it depends on who you ask.

Nearly twenty years ago, I thought the “revelation” that came to me about forgiveness when I was in Kentucky (which I write about in my book) was my most profound life changing moment ever! Until it wasn’t. Even though I came away from that experience proclaiming the magical, mystical healing power of God!

Oh, for sure, I played the game. The “I’m fine. Great actually. No, really! I’m totally healed of all my past shit” game! The game God reveals when, for a split second, I get out of His way. That moment when I let my guard down and leave just a crack in the door of my hardened heart and He shoves His foot in before I can slam it shut again. I hate when that happens!

Recently, I was confronted again by the call of God to forgive. The two people that caused me the most suffering and hurt – my mother, and the relative I have never named publicly, have both passed away. The funeral services were unremarkable and sparsely attended. The realization of that struck me profoundly! Two people that caused me so much hurt, I believe now, suffered more than I did. I never considered that possibility.

I was given the gift of grace when I was able to see the brokenness of their lives and truly feel empathy for them. Yes, they both made messes in my life, but I have also experienced healing and as a result, have, for the most part, lived a rich and fulfilled life.

I have been blessed with a loving family and friends and have so much to be thankful for, most importantly, a God who never gives up on me, never keeps count of my sinfulness, and loves me unconditionally often in spite of my foolishness and forgetfulness of His mercy and love. The profound truth of God’s love gets so lost when we prefer to live on the periphery where it is safer and Satan tries his best to keep us there.

A life of faith has always been about transformation; our dying to self and being renewed. It takes place when we step outside our theology of reward and punishment; when we decide we are bone-tired of suffering and causing the suffering of others. It happens when we step into the terror as well as awesomeness of being human. In that place, God does His best work and can awaken the creation of something new within us. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Father Richard Rohr tells us:

For many of us, suffering is a cycle. We go back and forth, holding on and letting go, healing, hurting anew, and healing again. Suffering, of course, can lead us in either of two directions: (1) it can make us very bitter and cause us to shut down, or (2) it can make us wise, compassionate, and utterly open, because our hearts have been softened.

We’re not perfect. The project of learning how to love—which is our only life project—is quite simply learning to accept this….If you really love anybody then you have learned to accept a person despite, and sometimes even because of, their faults.

Also consider these thoughts of Desmond Tutu on what he calls, “Essential Humility”:

We are able to forgive because we are able to recognize our shared humanity. We are able to recognize that we are all fragile, vulnerable, flawed human beings capable of thoughtlessness and cruelty. We also recognize that no one is born evil and that we are all more than the worst thing we have done in our lives. A human life is a great mixture of goodness, beauty, cruelty, heartbreak, indifference, love, and so much more.

The Good News Reimagined

For three years, Jesus walked with and taught his disciples. He dared to love those cast aside by society. He healed the sick, turned unbelieving hearts toward God, and challenged those who believed they held the ultimate power.

The problem was that his disciples wanted to follow him on their own terms. Time and again, they failed.  Why? Their desire to change was ever frustrated by their inability to know God as Jesus knew him. Their frame of reference for God’s love was within the realm of deserving and undeserving. It was something they could control by their actions.

In Jesus’ Passion and death, they witnessed his total self-giving to his Father. God revealed by the resurrection his radically gratuitous love for his Son, the disciples, and. Though that love is given freely, it calls for a response from us. I can’t help but wonder if that’s why we, like the Israelites, settle at the foot of the mountain in a comfortable, risk-free faith. “Nuh-uh, I ain’t goin’ up  there!”

Before Jesus’ crucifixion all of his wishy-washy disciples ran away in fear of meeting the same fate. (Just a little reminder here: the women stayed! You know that, right? Power to the women!) Anyway, the manly men finally came out of hiding and ran head-long into Jesus transfigured. There was now no denying that what they witnessed they were compelled to share with a lost and hurting world.

For the disciples, transformation came through their realization that this Jesus, standing before them, the same human person they knew before, now reveals his divinity. Through his resurrection, they are also made a new creation by the power of the Holy Spirit. That reality released within them an unshakable love beyond their human capacity.

Can we possibly grasp the implications of that love in our own lives? We zealously take care of “number one” in a world laden with mistrust and fear. How does that correlate with the fact that we were made in the image of God? It doesn’t.

As Christians, we too were created anew by the resurrection and empowered by the Holy Spirit. That is Good News! And we have a mandate to take that Good News into the world. If fear holds us back, it is grounded in the denial of who we really are. Fear clings to the old self, refuses to relinquish control, and ties the hands of the Spirit. God’s sacrificial love is meant for all, and I am to be an instrument of that love, or my faith response is inadequate.

Confession time. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be an “instrument” of God’s love on my own terms, just like the disciples, and I blew it – big time – just like they did! BUT I’m still breathing, so I still have time for a course correction. Sooooo, let me get all my “stuff” out there now and pray for that clean slate God is so good at freely offering us. You might want to fasten your seatbelt!

You see, I always felt the need for certitude about something, anything, in my, messed up, confused, and broken life, but I wasn’t sure about trusting that to God. I mean, up to that point, he didn’t seem to pay any mind to me or my trials. I was convinced I was screaming into an echo chamber when I complained about the raw deal life handed me. It sucked for real! So, I went about creating a new and different me, and it seemed to work just fine – on the outside – for a while.

After my husband and I were married, I became a card-carrying member of the Catholic Church. Then with a cross around my neck and a big fish on the bumper of my car, I sat and waited for the angels to break out in song. It never happened. I never got so much as a thumbs up or “atta girl”.

For several years after my official dunking, I still lived in a state of doubt, constantly questioning the very essence of my faith. I read the Bible from front to back even though my eyes glazed over, trying to wrestle with the Old Testament. Still, I came away from that experience believing I now knew everything about everything God, Jesus, Spirit, and leprechauns (Okay, not leprechauns, I just threw that in to see if you were paying attention), but God, Jesus, and Spirit, yes!

I was also good at making you look bad to make me look better. Listen, I could easily admonish you for all your faults and failures without skipping a beat. I could even quote scripture verses to shore up my convictions. “Oh yeah, you think you’re a shoe-in for heaven? Well, I’ve got news for you – you’re screwed. Matthew says so, ‘For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few – very few – almost no one!’” (Matt. 7:13–14). I hate to tell you (NOT!) but this is not your lucky day and tomorrow ain’t lookin’ too good either if you don’t change your ways! Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You’re welcome.”

Jesus side-eyed me for my attitude more times than I care to admit!

Then, one fine day in 2006, I was accepted into a graduate program at Aquinas Institute of Theology! Yeah, surprised the hell out of me too! Now I thought I would have even more ammunition in my arsenal to judge and condemn you while promoting myself. Sweet! I have shared my experiences at Aquinas in previous posts. So, let me just say that, like Paul, I was knocked off my high horse and taken to task because of an arrogant assessment of myself. It was not pretty.

Now, since I am very stubborn and hard-headed (duh) my transformation was very, very slow. Truth be told, I muddled along for several years after graduation trying to sustain my convictions. After all, who would I be if not this person I created to shore up my sense of self, albeit a very fragile and false self?

So I trudged along searching – for what? I didn’t know. Longing for something out there that could give my life meaning, I tried desperately to fill the void. I left the Catholic Church in frustration and wandered into other Christian churches. Some sent me running out the door with my hair on fire! Why was I struggling so hard to find a faith with the correct beliefs that spoke to me? For a moment, I considered communing alone with nature! Then I had a vision of St. John the Baptist running naked in the woods, eating bugs and swatting mosquitoes! No thanks.

And then – my glorious and long overdue AHA moment arrived at my doorstep unannounced. In my search for a belief system that I could buy into, I suddenly realized what I was actually longing for. At that moment, experience and dogma clashed head-on, and I understood that I wasn’t searching for correct beliefs. That has never been what drew me to God. The experiences along the way showed me God’s love beyond anything I had ever known. It just took this long to accept that God could actually love me like that. Experiencing God in relationship, not knowledge of God, wells up within the very depth of our hearts – where he resides. I was finally home within my very being – where my deepest longing and hunger reside.

I could beat myself up for all the years I wasted wanting faith on my own terms, but God has spoken tenderly into my brokenness and heartache. That voice was not a voice of condemnation that I was taught to believe was God’s. It’s not helpful that we are reminded every Lenten season that he had his beloved Son killed because of our wretchedness. NO! That never worked for me. I believe Jesus was killed by a power structure that feared him. He lived a life that he had to know would get him killed, but he did it anyway out of a self-giving love at the core of his being.

I now trust that the God I long to surrender to also longs for me. The God who knew his Son would suffer terribly and die showed us his unwavering love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness in the person of Jesus.  

John 15:12-13 tells us: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Seeing Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in the context of John’s gospel of love have cast a new and beautiful light on what I now see when he says, “I am the way”. His life and love show me that if I follow in his way, I will be living my purpose: to love unconditionally, serve where I am called, and offer freely the same forgiveness and mercy God has shown me.

The Easter question for me, for us, as for the disciples, becomes, “What do you believe about me?” What I say I believe must manifest itself in the way I live my life or it is a lie.

A Blessed Easter to you all!

Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Choices

We’re not talking about regrettable tattoos, people. Although, if you trusted a tattoo guy who never got past the third grade– well – you’re a bonehead! Let’s move on.

We’re talking about serious, life-altering, fast-track to hell choices. If you can look me straight in the eye and deny you have ever made any decisions that tipped your halo sideways I will be the first to recommend you for canonization to sainthood. Oh, not Catholic? Then, sorry, you’ll just have to settle for hopes of an honorable mention (which comes with no monetary rewards).

Now, know that I am not talking about the likes of the Catholic baby, later confirmed, Hitler turned adult monster. There can’t be any doubt in most people’s minds that he did not pass GO and did not collect $200 on his way to hell. Right? Or at the very least still resides in Purgatory because his momma was the only one who may have wanted to pray him out of there but she died long before him. Never mind him. If you think for one minute that Purgatory will be your saving grace. Well, that’s a major attitude fail on your part and God will side-eye you every time you knowingly sin and make no corrections.

It seems the idea of Purgatory came to life in the late 1100’s. Thomas Aquinas and the Church quickly latched onto the concept. Aquinas likely had a personal stake in it because he was a no good, very bad boy in his early days and the Church quickly realized it was a money-maker for them. Pay to play. Cha Ching. In my humble opinion though, Purgatory makes no sense. Let me tell you why I believe that. And, again, I don’t know. No one does.

Anyway, several years ago, I went through a year-long training to work with hospice patients. The most profound learning for me came from reading books written by nurses and doctors who worked for years with hospice patients. First off, they believed, as I do, that anyone who sits with someone taking their last breaths should remove their sandals because they are standing on holy ground.

During the time I sat with dying patients I only witnessed two deaths. Both experiences were intense for me and I came away with a much different belief about the idea of “cleansing” than what the Catholic Church teaches. I watched the process evolve to the final stage when they were given morphine. At that point they seemed incapable of any type of movement or communication, let alone a deathbed confession.  

BTW, deathbed confessions raise all sorts of anger among the snobby self-righteous. Being certain that sinner is destined for hell secretly makes the rest of us happy knowing they didn’t get to live their whole life being a total ass and then received an eleventh – hour Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. NOT FAIR!  

Anyway, though I had not known anything about those two people prior to their deaths it was clear that something was happening within them that I was not privy to. There was restlessness not a sense of peace – not until the end. In both of those situations, I had an opportunity to meet briefly with a family member before I left and in each case they shared the struggles their loved one had during their life.

Do these encounters prove anything? No. But, I came to believe, as I still do, that if cleansing is an actual thing, it probably happens in those moments just before we die. Who knows? As for me, I decided long ago to hedge my bets and make course corrections in the moment I know I did or said something mean or unkind to someone. And if you’re still hanging out there waiting for an apology from 1985, pm me and we’ll meet for lunch while I beg forgiveness.

When God says, “I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it” he means it. But that doesn’t mean he won’t roll his eyes or admonish us when we screw up. It means we can go to him trusting that he will forgive and forget our stupidity. Those we have hurt may not be so gracious, but that doesn’t change anything. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want my indiscretions to cause God to do a head smack and question the wisdom of creating a doofus like me and then take some big ole God sized eraser to my sorry self. Even if for a split second he thought about it. I mean, do I dare bring up the antics of Moses to take the pressure off myself? Sure. Why not?

I think Moses got a raw deal. If it was me, I would have bid those cranky Israelites adieu early on, “I’m done here. You guys are on your own. Good luck!”  Remember Moses tried to worm his way out of God’s calling to lead them (Exodus 3:1-12:42). Maybe he later agreed because of a bigger than life ego. “When I get these guys to the Promised Land they will surely erect a statue of me and bow to me profusely! It will be epic!”

But, toward the end of those forty long years he totally lost it. It wasn’t what he expected and what with all the whining and complaining about everything and blaming it all on him. “No food – your fault! No water – you’re fault!” Their anger slammed up against his vision of them worshipping at his shrine. So, what does he do? What any self-righteous, self-serving guy would do. He begged God to “DO SOMETHING! I can’t deal with them anymore!” So, God sent him back to wave a stick around in front of a rock and then he (God – not Moses – a small detail Moses left out) would make water pour out from it.

Anywho, Moses thought that was a terrible idea. So, he devised a better plan when he remembered seeing this witch doctor work some magic on a Netflix special back in Egypt. Back when they had Internet and modern conveniences and stuff!

 

Everyone thought he was to blame for all their problems. Fine. He would show them how powerful and mighty he was. The poor guy probably still had abandonment issues from that whole baby-in-the-basket-in-the-river incident, so this seemed like a great plan to bolster his sense of self. Surely they would bow down and worship him then.

So, instead of waving the stick around in the air, he beat the crap out of the rock with it and voila water poured out! The people went crazy! Yeah, it was all fun and games until God stepped in.

Personally, I think Moses possessed some HUGE nerve in his life. In a temporary lapse of judgment he did some awful things, like, I don’t know, defying God and then getting all up in his business. And, lest we forget, in the end, his antics kept him from joining the Israelites in the Promised Land. That ship was sailing without him. (BTW, I don’t recommend you use this material in a Sunday School class. It’s all made up. You’ve been warned.)

So, now, put on your big boy/big girl pants folks and gird your loins cause it’s up to you how the rest of your life will play out and your journey will end. I have had regrets in my life and will probably have more because that’s the foolish me who can’t seem to learn the first, second, or zillionth time! But, God still forgives a zillion + one times, if that’s what it takes.

I would just recommend that you don’t stand before him with unfinished business and a shit-pile of complaints from those you didn’t treat right along the way. Because, again, no one knows what that encounter will be like and who wants to be handed a fireproof robe and a one-way ticket south, especially if your momma isn’t around to pray for you, you little schmuck? So clean up your mess and make better choices from now on! GEEZO!

The Mother’s Day Card I Never Sent

Mother’s Day is not always filled with Hallmark moments. My experience growing up would have never made endearing copy. There were frequent outbursts of “I HATE YOU”! – spewing from my mouth on a regular basis. I recall first shouting those words when I was five, after having been beaten. My mother’s response followed, “I KNOW YOU DO! Now go to your room!”

Mothers are supposed to protect their children, teach them how to love by their example, and be evidence for God’s tender care. God lends children to their parents and wants them back as the same person he created. Instead I grew in fear, anger, emptiness and distrust. I never recall my mother (or father for that matter) holding me, telling me she loved me, or showing any semblance of nurturing. (A few years ago, my great-aunt confirmed that she never witnessed any affection in my family.)

I don’t recall thinking about Mother’s Day as a child. I doubt there was a card on the market that would have expressed my true feelings:

Mothers Day
you’re mean!   i hate you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was older, my pain and sorrow overwhelmed me every Mother’s Day. I would go to the Hallmark store, stand at the card rack, and cry. I tried to hide my anger and pain at the sight of the words on those beautiful cards: My Dearest Mother, Love, Thank You, Fond Memories, Laughter, Hugs.

Words I never experienced or expressed.

That emptiness stayed with me for much of my life. After I divorced my first husband, my daughter and I lived with my parents. They had to know, when I was in my twenties, that I partied and drank to excess. Did they not ever see me leave for work some mornings still drunk? They had to sense there was something wrong. At the age of twenty-two, when I tried to kill myself, no one seemed to notice. We were all just surviving – and barely doing that. There we were: mom, dad, daughter, granddaughter, and the 800 pound gorilla making messes everywhere.

Until the day my mother died I longed for her to tell me she loved me, “Please, just once” – and to say she was sorry. It never happened. My older sister suffered more abuse than me or my brother, and she needed healing as well. So, I decided that perhaps I could help her.

Seven years before my mother died, my parents decided to move to Arizona. One evening, before they left, I managed to initiate a conversation concerning my mom and my sister. As gently as possible, I told my mother that one day one of them was going to die (okay, I know that doesn’t sound so gentle!) and leave the other one to suffer memories of a relationship that desperately needed healing. Could she find it in her heart to talk to my sister and mend that relationship; tell her she loved her and that she was sorry? I recognized the empty expression staring back at me. “No” – that’s all she said. After they left I cried because I knew that I would never hear those words either.

My sister is still waiting; still unable to get beyond the pain. But by the grace of God, my life has changed because I did not want continue carrying the hatred and bitterness that was consuming me. As my heart began to mend I could see things differently. The false self I presented for so many years has been gradually taking a back-seat to the true-self God created. I have had to do a lot of forgiving, and a lot of soul searching to accept my own faults, and to seek forgiveness to help mend the hearts of those I have not loved well.

You see, it is only in experiencing God’s forgiveness, as we admit our own failings, that we can freely forgive others. It is only by standing broken at the foot of the cross, that I could now see my mother as someone who did the best she could. She failed to be the mother I needed her to be because of her own brokenness, not because I was unworthy of her love. I have forgiven her and I am sure God has too. Can I get an Alleluia!?

My mother has been gone for over thirty years. I believe it’s time for me to send her that Mother’s Day card I always longed to send:

happy mothers day

Now, how about you? We all, every one of us, is a mother, or has one. The only perfect mother was Mary and I am certain Jesus never had a problem choosing a card for her on Mother’s Day! And Father’s Day probably was a delight for him too!

As for the rest of us: “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23). Not some – ALL! – every last one of us. And it’s just stinkin’ thinkin’ to imagine otherwise.

So, this Mother’s Day what do you say? Go to that card shop and pick out the most beautiful card there. Give it to your imperfect mother, hug her, and tell her you love her. And if, like me, your mother is no longer with you, buy it anyway, write what you would say if she were here, and tuck it away somewhere.

If you are the mom not sure of receiving that loving card, this may be the time to ask for forgiveness. Even if your kids are a total mess – you are the parent – let the healing begin with you. It’s not about laying blame; it’s about laying a new foundation for your relationship. If you’re still breathing – it’s not too late.

Here’s a grace-filled moment for you: Recently, I was thinking about my mom and wondered if things would be different today because I’m different. I am in a place now where I could show her a love she probably has never known; that we could possibly heal our relationship. Even though my mother is gone that thought took me to the realization that when I struggle in relationship with one of my kids (even though they’re adults it happens!), I am still here! I can initiate the healing. As long as I am willing to seek forgiveness, please God, they will never be left, as I was, with open wounds in their hearts.

Is taking that first step to reconciliation with your child too hard? Then try this. Go to the card shop and pick out the card you would most want your child to give you for Mother’s Day. Take it home and pray over it. Pray that God will make you the mother deserving of that card and see what happens!