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Forgiving but not forgetting

Why letting go of anger is good for us

In a recent visit with Tim (not his real name), I came to meet an individual who was being held hostage by hurts and anger that dated back nearly to the beginning of his life. Now in mid-life, Tim was having fits of anger and outbursts of rage that were directed most often at his wife and their two children. Through the course of our discussion, Tim shared with me bits and pieces about his sad childhood. A time in his life that should have been one of happy memories was instead dominated by the recollection of the actions of a verbally abusive father and a mother who did very little to shield Tim from his father’s wrath. Over time, those words of anger, spoken by Tim’s father, slowly transformed into lasting memories. In time, those memories became like an anchor in Tim’s life, always dragging him back to the sadness, powerlessness and fear that marked so much of his growing up.

Tim was in his teens when his dad died, and he had never had an opportunity to let go of his hurt and anger in a healthy way. Instead, it was now manifesting itself in very unhealthy ways toward people who had nothing to with its origins. The anchor of Tim’s anger was threatening to hold Tim in the muck of past hurts, and it was keeping him and his loved ones from moving forward in a way that was loving, life-giving and mutually supportive. In order to move forward, we decided that Tim would have to do the nearly impossible – he would have to cut the anchor cable by working, over time, to forgive his father.

Slowly, Tim has managed to let go of the anger, the hurt and the frustration. He has let go of the anchor that was holding him back and which was dragging has family down with him. With God’s grace through the sacraments, Tim has begun the slow but steady process of healing. Instead of being held in place by the anchor of anger, Tim is now sailing forward into a new and transformed life, bringing his wife and children with him on the voyage. Yet, he has not forgotten the hurts of the past. Instead, he has chosen to learn from them so that he might be a better person, husband, father and man of faith.

Forgiveness is not an easy task, but it is necessary if we wish to move forward in life and faith. Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting or pretending that awful things didn’t happen, when in fact they did. In the sacraments, God offers us the grace to heal and grow in such a way that we can leave behind past hurts so that we can move more fully into life. God also gives us the wisdom to evaluate the circumstances that led to those hurts, so that we might learn new ways of living which protect and uphold the dignity and goodness of all those around us. In choosing to forgive, we may still recall the hurts of the past, but we no longer allow them to have power over us. With God’s help, we can cut the anchor cable of unforgiveness and sail forward into new and renewed life. And so, our journey in FAITH continues.