In Larry McMurtry’s Terms of Endearment, there is a powerful scene when young Tommy and his mother, Emma, who have not been getting along well, are saying good-bye. Emma is dying, and the boy is tense and awkward as he hugs her.
She then tells him how much she loves him, and that she won’t be around much longer. Even though he can’t or won’t express his love for her, she wants Tommy to know how much she loves him. Emma knows that he will remember that she read him lots of stories, make him lots of milkshakes, and shared other good memories. She said to him, “You’re going to remember that you love me. … You’ll wish you could tell me that you’ve changed your mind, but you won’t be able to, so I’m telling you now that I already know you love me, just so you won’t be in doubt about that later.”
Who is the strong one here? Not Tommy who tries to act strong and macho, but Emma, his dying mother, who reaches out with love and understanding, mercy, compassion, empathy and forgiveness. She is trying to protect her son from feelings of guilt, which she knows are sure to come. Forgiveness is not weakness! Forgiveness requires great, great strength!
When will we learn? We spend weary days and sleepless nights brooding over our resentments, calculating ways to get even. We demand our pound of flesh, seethe over our grievances, and wallow in our self-pity, shackled by our silly pride – unbending, unmerciful, unable and unwilling to forgive. Isn’t that horrible and tragic?
A cruel word is finally only an echo. Revenge actually is never sweet; it ultimately becomes a sour stomach and a bitter mercy. Violence breeds more violence. Hate poisons the soul! Jesus knew this, and he called us to be bridge builders, to be peacemakers, to seek forgiveness and to offer it to others. How we need the spirit of forgiveness, kindness, compassion and empathy in our world today!
Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
The goal of forgiveness is not success, only the continuing practice itself. God is love and mercy. Each person is the image of God. We are to imitate and project that love and mercy to others.
The only people who pray well are those who keep praying! Likewise, the only ones who forgive well are those who keep forgiving! In fact, continued reconciliation (re-connecting) is what I mean by forgive, not the occasional reconciliation that we may experience. Each person needs God’s forgiveness daily. Likewise, each person needs to practice loving and forgiving someone daily.
I’ll never forget a conversation that took place on the football field of Nativity Elementary School when I was in the eighth grade. Some of the players were griping and complaining and bashing Eddie, one of our teammates, who was penalized and thrown out of the game for roughhousing an opponent during last weekend’s game. The coaches wanted to take a vote from all the players as to whether we should banish Eddie from the team. There was some discussion amongst the players.
I’ll never forget how Tony, one of our teammates, handled the situation. He said, “You know, I have too many faults of my own to criticize and blame someone else. We are a team. Besides that, we’re part of a Catholic school. We are supposed to be a Christian community practicing mutuality amongst its members, and we’re a team! I don’t even know why we’re considering this idea.”
Afterward, there wasn’t a vote. Practice, that day, went on as usual. Eddie remained on the team.
Whenever we have a hard time forgiving someone who we think has done something hurtful to us, it helps to remember that the first step is to recognize our own faults. The second step is to accept God’s gracious mercy. Forgiveness is all about welcoming and accepting our True selves and others.
Rev. Tom Cici is the pastor at First Christian Church of Hoopeston (502 E. Main St). Please go to www.fcchoopeston.org for inspirational sermons and much more.