By Richard Rohr: The Power of Forgiveness
Sunday, August 27, 2017
Among the most powerful of human experiences is to give or to receive forgiveness. I want to share with you a personal story of forgiveness that happened in my family near the time of my mother’s death.
She was lingering on the threshold, and for several days she had been talking about “a mesh” she couldn’t get through.
I was sitting by her bed, telling her how much I would miss her. She said she wanted to hear that from my father, whom we always called “Daddy.” Of course, Daddy had been telling her that for weeks.
So Daddy came over and effusively told her, “Oh, I’m going to miss ya.”
She replied, “I don’t believe it.”
I couldn’t believe my ears! I said, “Mother, you’re a few hours from death. You can’t say that!”
She persisted: “I don’t believe it.”
Daddy redoubled his efforts: “I ask your forgiveness for all the times I’ve hurt you in our fifty-four years of marriage, and I forgive you for all the times you’ve hurt me.”
I said, “Mother, isn’t that beautiful? Now say that back to Daddy.” And suddenly she clammed up. She didn’t want to say it.
I said, “Mother, you’re soon going to be before God. You don’t want to come before God without forgiving everybody.”
She said, “I forgive everybody.”
I said, “But do you forgive Daddy?” and she became silent again.
Then Daddy jumped in and said, “Honey, I never fooled around with any other women.”
We all knew that. She even said, “Well I know that, I know that.”
My siblings and I still don’t know how Daddy had hurt Mother. But any married person knows there are many little ways a couple can hurt one another over fifty-four years.
Then I said, “Mother, let’s try this. Put one hand on your heart, and I’m going to pray that your heart gets real soft.” I placed one of my hands on hers, over her heart, and held her other hand and started kissing it.
After about a minute she said, very faintly, “That melts me.”
“When you kiss my hand like that, now I’ve got to do it.” After a pause, she continued: “I’m a stubborn woman. All of my life I’ve been a stubborn woman.” (Mother was an Eight on the Enneagram!)
“Well, Mother, we all knew that,” I said. “Now look at Daddy and you tell him.”
So she looked over and she didn’t call him “Daddy,” as she usually did. She spoke to him by name: “Rich, I forgive you.”
I prompted her again: “Mother, the other half—I ask for your forgiveness.”
She started breathing heavily and rapidly. Then she summoned her energy and said, “Rich, I ask your forgiveness.” A few more moments of labored breathing, and she said, “That’s it, that’s it. That’s what I had to do.”
I said to her, “Mother, do you think that was the mesh?”
She replied, “It’s gone! The mesh is gone! And, God, I pray that I mean this forgiveness from my heart.”
Then she said, referring to my two sisters and my sister-in-law, “Tell the girls to do this early and not to wait ‘til now. They’ll understand a woman’s heart and the way a man can hurt a woman.”
Mother was so happy then, and fully ready for death.
That’s the power and the grace of forgiveness. But let’s do it now and not wait until later! Let’s ask for the grace to let go of those grudges and hurts we hold on to. How else will we ever be free? In forgiveness, we live up to our true and deepest dignity. We then operate by a power and a logic not our own. We live out of the True Self and not just the tiny self that is always offended and complaining. Without forgiveness nothing new happens, and we remain frozen in a small past.
Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Feister, Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (Franciscan Media: 2001), 141-144.