Each Tuesday during Lent, my home parish of Immanuel, puts on a Lenten Lunch with guest speakers. Today I got to be that guest speaker. This year’s theme is forgiveness. Here is what I had to say.
Like many of you, I say the Lord’s Prayer regularly. I use the modern English translation and I have to admit that every time I say, ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who we sin against’, I stumble a little. Really, God, you want me to forgive others the way that you forgive me, really! I have often found that it is easier for me to be the one who asks for forgiveness rather than the one giving it. I don’t think I am alone in this struggle.
I want to share with a bit of my story with the church, and just to be clear this is my story and not my husband’s. My story is not that unusual and what happened to me I think happens far more frequently in the church than we would like it to.
We lived in Kenora, Ontario for just over 10 years. The first 7 years or so were good. I made friends, I worked for the wider church, I hosted a lot of parties at our house, I taught Sunday School in our local parish, I was active in making space for new families at the church to feel welcome and helping them to have a place in it, I was raising three busy teenagers and all that goes with that. In other words I was busy and happy.
Then things shifted, really shifted and they shifted badly for me.
My husband had to go on medical leave. I was asked to stop teaching Sunday School (something I love doing to this day). I was asked to step back from my involvement at the church. I was told I shouldn’t be as engaged in planning things for the families of the church. I was told to step back. Those of you who know me, will know that this was a very difficult thing for me to do.
People who I thought of as friends ignored me, didn’t ask how I was doing, didn’t ask how the family was doing. If they saw me in town they would walk away from me. People stopped talking to me. The few times I tried going to church it was made clear to me in looks that I wasn’t welcome. In effect I was shunned by the one place that I expected would be drawing me in closer, the church. It was in fact quite brutal and very lonely for the next three years. I cried more tears than I thought it would be possible to do.
To top it all off, not only did I lose my local church community, I lost my job with the wider church. Thank God for Facebook, blogging and email as they were some of the few ways that I had to reach out to those not in Kenora.
As I tell you all this, I am back in the midst of this pain, it was one of the hardest times of my life.
When we moved here I decided to just bury those feelings. I hoped they would go away. Moving here felt like the well needed fresh start. I think many of you will realize that those feelings of hurt, anger, betrayal, and dismay didn’t just go away. They lived like a stone at the bottom of my heart.
Last September I had the opportunity to attend a Healing of Memories workshop put on by Father Michael Lapsley from South Africa. If you are interested just Google healing of memories and you can find it. The workshop allows you to take a close look at those memories that are the hardest for you to look at and find a way through them and process them. Part of the process is to write on a slip of paper a memory that hurts that you want to let go of and then have that paper burnt along with ones from other participants. The memory that I wrote on that slip of paper was the one that I have been sharing with you today.
When I left the workshop and came home, I felt lighter and freer than I had in a long time. I realized that I could move towards forgiveness. I didn’t need anyone there to apologize to me, although a few have since we left. What I needed was to not let the memory hurt as much. That by forgiving that particular church community I could come to a place of healing within myself. That I could look back on my time in Kenora with more fondness than not. That I could cherish the times that I was held up by friends during that awful time, rather than focusing on that awful time. I could move towards forgiveness.
I will be honest, I am not the whole way there yet, but I have taken some steps along the forgiveness road. I am working on forgiving the sins of others so that my sins will be forgiven as well.