One of the most challenging and engaging subjects in my religious education classroom is forgiveness.
While the discussion is always vibrant and diverse, often, many of the teens return to a recurring theme and want to know why they should forgive someone who has done something, in their minds, that is unforgivable. I use the opportunity to expand the conversation by inviting them to change their perspective. I explain to them that forgiveness is as important to the person doing the forgiving as the person who is being forgiven. One of the most immediate and powerful experiences of forgiveness happens to those of us who choose to forgive, as that area of our heart that was once filled with hate, anger, or sadness, is cleansed and almost miraculously emptied. In freeing our hearts of these vices, we are spiritually opened and lifted up and become capable again of being filled with the love of God, thereby strengthening us to continue loving others. While this sounds so easy, it is in reality, one of the hardest things to do.
Approximately 15 years ago, I had to make a very difficult decision; to break ties with my mother. To be fair, my mother and I never had a great relationship. I was not the daughter she wanted. I was instead the ‘black sheep’ of the family; I was the first person in my immediate family to finish high school and proceeded to post secondary for a teaching career and although I was not raised Catholic, I was also the first to have a relationship with God; albeit later in life.
Over the 15 years, I had wondered what I would do if I saw her. She knew where I lived and worked, but I was not given the same information about her after she moved. I had always thought that she would get in contact with me wanting to reconnect with myself and her grandchildren, but the reunion I wanted never happened.
Last fall, I was challenged in a way I never thought I would be; the death of my mother.
I received the call that she was dying while I was teaching and was given the opportunity to say goodbye to her over the phone. She wasn’t conscious, but I wanted her to know that I loved her, I had always loved her and that I forgave her. There was no funeral to go to as I was not invited to be there.
As days turned into weeks, I was so angry. I was angry with her for never reaching out to me and I was angry with myself for never trying to reach out to her. Mentally and emotionally I was a mess. I had no one to talk to because those in my life just assumed that I was fine seeing as I had not seen her in so long. Not only did I have to forgive her, but I had to forgive myself.
Although I knew the decision I made to break ties was necessary 15 years ago, it was the most difficult decision I ever had to make in my life. With her death, I questioned if I had done the right thing, and struggled with the feelings that I was a horrible daughter. I went to prayer so often with this issue, and it was in prayer that I received the grace and mercy that I needed to truly forgive her and myself. After 15 years, I was finally free. I was able to actually focus on me and realized how much anger, hurt, and rejection I had been carrying all these years. It may have taken a long time, but I was finally able to start the process of loving myself and who I had become instead of loathing myself for who I thought I was; the daughter who was never enough.
Since forgiving myself and her, I have lost weight, got closer to Our Loving Mother, and have been able to move on. Forgiving was not as easy as I may have made it out to be in my classroom. Not only did I struggle enormously with forgiving, but I realized that just saying it, did not make it so. It is only when you are at peace, that forgiveness has occurred. Like anything else worth doing, forgiveness is a process. A journey into the divine to be washed clean. Whether it takes minutes, hours, days, weeks, or years, do the work. Take it from me, it will all be worth it in the end.