Many of us have had times in our lives when we have said things like, “I just can’t do it, I just can’t forgive him, I just can’t forgive what happened.” And it has been true, we could not, at least at that moment. Forgiveness is difficult because it is not our natural first reaction after we have been hurt or offended. Our first inclination is to lash out, to get revenge for the wrong we have been dealt. Yet, forgiveness, giving it and receiving it, is at the heart of what we are called to do as disciples of Jesus.
In our efforts to forgive, perhaps we try to get to the actual forgiveness part too quickly. Since forgiveness is not something that we automatically do, there are a few steps that may be helpful in preparing us and moving us toward the eventual act of forgiving. Another way of putting it is to say that we may need a forgiveness starter kit called the HUG Approach.
The first step in the HUG Approach is having the humility to put ourselves on a level playing field with everyone else. This means acknowledging that as human beings we are all capable of doing tremendous good and doing tremendous harm. This humility may eliminate any arrogance that we are superior to others or self-loathing that suggests we deserved the offense committed against us. The next step is understanding that the human condition is frail. Understanding that hanging on to our anger or holding grudges just allows the offensive action of someone else to continue hurting us. The third step is generosity, realizing that it is very generous to be willing to wade through our personal hurt with the hope of letting someone else be free of our bitterness or feelings of revenge.
In the Gospel story of the Prodigal Son, when the errant son returned home the first thing his dad did was to hug him (Luke 15:1-32). After that hug, forgiveness came. For us, perhaps the road to forgiveness begins with a HUG: Humility, Understanding and Generosity. Try it. Then as teachers often tell little kids in school after they have accomplished something, hug yourself. Who knows, you may end up actually hugging someone else whom you have at last forgiven.
Together in faith,
Very Rev. Christopher Smith, rector