As slowly the holiday season begins to encroach on the sacred space reserved for the one we love and now grieve, many experience a sense of dread and foreboding. We are susceptible to every reminder of the one we love who will no longer be part of the occasions of our life as those around us feast and celebrate. In the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay, “The presence of that absence is everywhere.” Inevitably, grief will be part of our holiday gathering with friends and family.
Our feelings are sensitive at this affective time of year, especially when we grieve. During the holiday season, likely we will encounter someone who has neglected us, someone who was a conspicuous “no-show” at the time of death, a relative who could not “handle it”, or someone who said a thoughtless word we will forever associate with him or her and the death of our loved one. We may be thrown together with people who have chosen simply to ignore our pain and act like nothing happened. They do not know how to respond to our grief because they have not yet experienced the death of a loved one in their own life.
During the holiday season it is not unusual for the small resentments, hurts, and anger we have put aside or stuffed down somewhere deep inside of us to bubble up and spill over in unexpected outbursts of emotion. When conflicts erupt, as they often do during the holidays, this is the moment to forgive. Forgiveness is often vital to the survival of our soul during the holiday season.
We know this about forgiveness: God asks only that we acknowledge our need for forgiveness in humility and true repentance. When we ask, we are forgiven. We experience Christ as the embodiment of God’s love through the redemptive grace of unconditional forgiveness. We read in 1 John 4 verse 16, “So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
Forgiveness is an act of human grace that calms our soul and reminds us of God’s forgiveness and faithfulness to us. Forgiveness honors the memory of the one we grieve and hold dear. Forgiveness moves us toward reconciliation. Forgiveness is the better part of love.
Though it is not always so, during the holiday season often we find gifts of grace at the back door of our heart, wrapped in our need to forgive.
- When we forgive, we release those who have been thoughtless or inconsiderate from being hostage to our grief.
- When we forgive, we experience the power of forgiveness to overcome every hurt and every wrong.
- When we forgive, wounds inflicted by the past begin to heal. In forgiveness there is healing, and in healing there is forgiveness.
- When we forgive, we bless the spirit of another with the gift of human grace. Human grace reminds us that forgiveness is at the heart of God’s love, the gift we celebrate in Christ.
- When we forgive, we move forward in grief toward peace and joy.
About a year after my mother died, I needed to have an MRI, quite literally to have my head examined. To distract myself from the noise of the machine, I found myself scraping back through a long laundry list of unresolved issues leftover from our complex, complicated, and largely failed relationship.
I do not know exactly what happened, but suddenly I realized that there was simply no point in continuing to nurture my woundedness. Or perhaps God was at work, examining not only my head, but also my heart.
For in a single moment, something changed, and I felt that all was forgiven. I forgave my mother, I forgave myself, and God forgave us both. When the MRI was over, I got up from the table and felt an almost indescribable lightness in my spirit. I realized that I had dropped my heavy load into the grace of God’s forgiveness.
Forgiveness can enrich our experience of the holiday season far beyond anything we might hope for or even begin to imagine. In Ephesians 4 verse 32 we read, “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” In the grace of forgiveness, we stand in the radiant glory of the presence of God through Christ. In forgiveness we find our deepest experience of God.
Forgive, and you will be forgiven.