One of the things I like most about confession in the Catholic church – and I honestly don’t go as often as I should to appreciate its benefits more fully – is being reminded by someone whom I’ve just confessed to that I am forgiven. Sure, I’m supposed to know that I am already, especially if I asked and received forgiveness from someone I have offended. But it seems we are always the hardest on ourselves. When I was much younger than I am now (oh, back in my teens and twenties), I used to hold onto so much against others and especially myself. You could say, I was my own worst parent, lol, always after myself because I hadn’t done this or that, or I had done something which I shouldn’t have done.
But as I grew, I learned about being forgiven as well as truly forgiving. It’s not just about me forgiving the other person for what they did wrong against me or someone else. Forgiveness is about forgiving the other person – regardless of the offense – for my own mental, emotional, and spiritual health. When I let myself walk around being angry and resentful because someone offended me, I was preventing me from being my best self. By not getting past my feelings of hurt and disappointment, I was holding myself back from moving on from the deed that happened. Instead, I was staying focused on it, reliving it in my mind over and over and over again. And, the funny thing is, the other person had often moved onto other things, even living as though nothing had happened. Because, perhaps, the slight didn’t affect them so much as it had me?
Then there was the guilt about how much time I was wasting away by letting the situation get the better part of me. I couldn’t move past the person, the event, or the feelings. As hard as I tried to be forgiving, I would beat myself up for not acting better at the time, not having enough courage to confront the person sooner when the situation was more relevant, or not knowing how to move beyond the feelings of disappointment, grief over what happened (or didn’t happen), and the continual desire to “fix” things but not knowing how. Then, there was guilt that perhaps I wasn’t being forgiving enough; if I was, wouldn’t these feelings disappear? And, then I would chastise myself that I wasn’t praying about it hard enough; if I was, the situations or feelings would go away, wouldn’t they?
Then, when I “happened upon” the word absolution (a formal letting go of guilt or wrong-doing), I started to see how forgiveness works. I was able to walk lighter. I was able to think more freely. I was able to awake and go through my day focused on what I needed to do rather than sulking on what someone did to me and how they mustn’t care about me, otherwise they would be trying to seek my forgiveness. I realized that sometimes forgiving someone else’s offenses against me or someone I loved and cared about also meant walking away from them, releasing their offense, and going on with my life. But then, this caused other feelings of discontent. In my efforts to be kind always, to forgive and forget, and to be evangelizing, I became weighed down with feelings of failure and guilt when what I thought should occur didn’t happen.
Learning to take responsibility for myself and letting others take responsibility for their own self was a big help. And learning to seek absolution for my own doing, my own guilt, my own misgivings, my own difficulties in coming to terms with a situation gave me the opportunity to see a situation from other angles. I could choose to continue to hold the other person accountable, and in some cases I have, or I could just let go and leave it all in God’s hands. Either way, I was able to examine the situation for what it was – an emotional attachment, on my part, due to being attacked, disappointed, and even disgusted by the event(s) in question. Being absolved of those feelings, or shortcomings, caused me to feel better instead of holding onto my hurt feelings and wanting justice or retribution against those who offended me.
Of course, I do realize absolution is only part of the answer. There are many times when confronting the other person in a non-threatening environment is important. Sometimes it clears up misunderstandings, sometimes not. In most cases, it helps to see what happened more clearly, and then a decision can be made on how to proceed. At other times, I have found that it has led to a whole new viewpoint in which the current upset is a result of lots of little offenses over time. Until a line of communication was established though, I would never have guessed there was ever a problem. And other times, no communication with the other person(s) is the only answer to the situation; everyone must agree to disagree and simply move on.
Forgiveness and absolution give us the opportunity to review, digest, and distinguish how a situation evolved or occurred and how we want to treat it from hereon after. Do we want an offense against us to take up rent in my our mind for the rest of our life? Do we want to continually beat ourselves up for a failure to perform as we once expected or thought was appropriate or exceptional? Do we want to hold resentment and bitterness close to our heart rather than love, joy, and peace? The choice is always ours. But I have found that finding a way to forgive and move on from the situation, and possibly the person, is always best. We cannot be our best self if we are holding ourselves back with anger or disappointment.
Forgiveness is for us, not the other person. When we learn to forgive, we give ourselves a new life. Whether we can forgive the other person or not, depends so much on the circumstance and the other person. If the other person doesn’t feel they did anything wrong, then sometimes walking away is the answer. But without communication, we may never know. Every step we take to reconcile or not brings with it other feelings or emotions. And this is why I write so much about forgiveness for self. Life is great, but it can be hard, too. With every action we take, we can make a poor one – in relation to self or to others – that leads us to negativity, those thoughts where we beat ourselves up because we “should have” made a different choice.
But that’s what forgiveness is for. Jesus came for all of us. God understood our humanness. We are a conflict of goodness mixed in with setbacks, good intentions, and failings. We love, but we get hurt. We are compassionate, but we are firm in our dealings. We strive for happiness and yet we experience sadness, depression, and gloom. Once we realize all our humanness is a good thing and how it plays into our relationships, we can learn to forgive easier. We can forgive others – and our own self – for not doing what was expected, for falling short, for failing to meet the bar. And we can seek absolution – release from guilt – from a priest for whatever it is we feel guilty about. And I focus here on guilt, as this is the one thing I have the most difficulty with. I feel guilty about not loving others more. I feel guilty about not being more than I am. I feel guilty about not doing more in a day. I feel guilty about not being more compassionate. More, more, more….
So, I don’t commit a lot of “major” sin. But I do fail everyday to do certain things, to follow-through, to complete a task, to love more, to be more of the me I am meant to be. And the guilt I feel from failing at simple everyday to-dos weighs heavy on my mind and heart. It’s like I know better and, therefore, I should be held to task. I believe, being held accountable as a young child for chores and to care for my siblings has to do, in part, with this feeling. So, it can be an everyday struggle. Receiving absolution, during Confession, has an amazing effect on how I feel about myself, in general, and how I walk through my days. It’s like running through an endless field of daisies with a slight breeze on my face and flowing through my hair. I can breathe without the weight of scolding thoughts shackling my mind with unnecessary guilt or blame. I can feel as though I am free to be “more” without all the guilt weighing me down. And every time, this amazing feeling lasts longer.
If you are living with this type of struggle, I highly suggest seeking absolution from a trusted clergy member. It is a wonderful feeling, strange at first, but like being thrown into a pool of refreshingly clear, endless water and realizing you have always known how to swim as a dolphin. Whether it is the act of confessing, or the absolution itself, the freedom from those weights of self-criticism, failure to meet imaginary or unrealistic goals, and the guilt of continual failure at so many things from proper social courtesy to pet or self care, is amazingly wonderful. So, take time to think about it, and seek absolution for yourself – if this is what you feel or think you need.
In the meantime, be gentle with yourself. Hold onto the good in life and let go of the not-so-good. Remember that others struggle with similar feelings of guilt, disappointment, and everyday uncertainty about so many things. Life is full of contradictions, inconsistencies, and questionable situations. Keep in mind that we can’t save the world, but we can do one good thing in our own little corner of it. And that’s not only okay, it’s enough. Life is busy. We are asked to be so much from spouses, parents, employees, co-workers, friends, mentors, and also be deciphers of truth in a social media world. It can be exhausting!
So, keep smilin’, keep lovin’, and keep forgivin’ others and yourself.
Until next time….
Love & hugs, Virg