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  • Writer's pictureSarahHauer

Forgiveness: The Most Challenging Ingredient

Updated: Jun 26

Humor In Chaos

Searching for Joy Series

Forgiveness: The Most Challenging Ingredient To Finding Joy



I’ve already gone through some of the ingredients to finding joy in my life, and there are more for me to talk about in this book. And there are others I won’t be able to tackle because there are so many, and some need to be discovered on our own because they are individual to us, who we are as the children of God He made us to be. This one particular ingredient is universal; yet, it may be the most challenging one to nurture. It’s forgiveness.



A lot of people avoid forgiveness at any cost. Whether it’s Catholics refusing to enter the confessional or anyone of any faith taking extra steps to avoid the people who have hurt them or they have hurt. We all have to deal with this at times in our lives. No one is immune from pain. No one is immune from betrayal. No one is immune from sin. It’s a price we pay for being here. It started with Adam and Eve and that damn serpent; and it has remained with us ever since. Only Jesus was without sin, and, if you are Catholic, you probably know our Blessed Mother was born without original sin. The rest of us here on earth, yeah, we’re not so perfect.



The people who know what happened to me and my family over the last number of years do not understand how I have forgiven my husband so easily. They don’t understand that it did not happen with ease. It did happen quickly, but not easily. It was a painful struggle that is continuing.



Pain. If there is one thing I understand well, it’s pain. Physical, emotional, gut-wrenching pain has been a part of my life for a long time. Not just me. My family too. My kids. Even my ex. My goal in forgiving is to alleviate as much of that pain as possible so my grandchildren have a chance at not carrying around generational pain. Yes, I know that Ezekiel 18:20 tells us that God does not punish the child for the sins of the parent and vice versa. But, society does when it says things like, “The apple doesn’t fall from the tree.”



Us older adults know, we do have a tendency to become like our parents, the good and the bad, if we do not take deliberate actions to prevent those tendencies.



Who teaches our children and grandchildren to do better? We do, the parents and the grandparents. We teach them by action, not by preaching, like I’m doing now in this paragraph. I don’t want to preach it. I want to show it. How do I show it? By forgiving, quickly, painfully if necessary, and fully.



How did I do it? First thing I had to do was get a better understanding of what forgiveness is and is not. Then, I needed to come to terms with who I was forgiving and what for. I had to walk through all the painful memories and emotions with each one on the list. Finally, I had to hand it all over to God, each and every day as necessary, for as long as necessary, because forgiveness is a process, not a one and done.



What is forgiveness?



There is a platitude that’s been around forever that says, “Forgiveness is a decision.” Um, no. Forgiveness is not a decision. Forgiveness begins with a decision to take the journey towards forgiveness. The journey can be a short step or two, or it can be years of intense therapy, or anywhere in between. For some, it never ends.



I learned through example of a couple of friends going through their own traumas that bitterness comes with not taking the forgiveness journey. Over time, bitterness causes more problems than the blisters on our knees from kneeling to pray to God for a map of the forgiveness journey.



Outside of the church, I wasn’t raised with discussions on forgiveness. I am a Gen X kid who was left on my own with my friends to pretty much figure things out for ourselves. I wasn’t taught to say sorry when I hurt someone. Not many people said sorry to me when they hurt me. We would argue over stuff, sometimes full-blown fights, and then get over it.



I recall a fight between two boys on the school playground when we were in fourth or fifth grade. I remember their names, but I have no idea what the fight was about. I didn’t come upon it until after it got started. But these two were beating each other bloody. Black eyes, split lips, etc. They were both exhausted but kept swinging as soon as each caught their breath.



Those of us standing around didn’t try to break them up. There was some discussion between us in attendance about the start of the fight, but no one seemed to know, and I’m not so sure the two gladiators remembered either. Instead, we all kept watch for the adult playground monitors. When they came around, we would give a warning signal. The boys would stop, and we would all act like nothing was going on. We could tell the one monitor was suspicious. She would walk away, and the fight would resume along with our discussions about the potential cause and who was the guilty party.



It ended when one of the boys was so exhausted and so hurt, he started to vomit. We still couldn’t make heads or tails about who was right or wrong. I have no idea how long that argument lasted. Eventually, it was over.



The girls weren’t much better. One would get mad at the other, go home, and gossip to her friends. The backstabbing would grow until everyone got bored with the story, and all would be well again at some point.



No one was learning the skills talk things out, apologize, and forgive. No adults were around to teach us that. We truly were the generation that raised ourselves.



There were two main places that taught us morals and values: tv and church.



On tv, we watched Laura Ingalls get schooled by her father on how to be a good little girl, and at church we got to hear how God would punish us if we didn’t behave like good Christian soldiers. My mother used to threaten me that the priest was going to take me out back and spank me if I didn’t behave. Half the time, I didn’t know I was misbehaving.



And then came HBO, MTV, John Hughes movies, and must-see tv. These are the sources of our moral lessons for Gen X teen years, those of us born between roughly 1965 to 1980. We were not taught how to handle conflict, what it means that Christ died for our sins, and how to forgive.



The only direct lesson I was taught on forgiveness, as a girl, was forgive and forget. That is a quick path to being a constant victim. Get hurt by some boy or man in my life, forgive, reconcile. Get hurt by the same person in the same way, forgive, reconcile. All of the responsibility for that relationship was put on me. Over and over again. That lesson left a sour taste in my mouth for forgiveness.



Thankfully, I learned better from my Catholic upbringing that did teach me year after year, and reminds me every Sunday at Communion, every year during Lent, and every time I go to Confession, that that is not what forgiveness is.



I don’t know when it started happening. It was sometime during my mid teen years. I was at a Good Friday Mass, and it finally hit me the extent of the pain Jesus suffered carrying the Cross and dying on it. It all meant I was forgiven. All I needed to do was ask and open myself up to Him. Over the years as I got older and had children of my own, I started crying during Good Friday Mass thinking about how He died for my family too, if they accepted His forgiveness.



That’s one of the things I love about the Catholic faith. We delve into all that every year and every Sunday. We focus on both the suffering Jesus went through, and then the beauty of His Resurrection. I thought my ex-husband understood that too.



In 1997, my husband informed me out of the blue that he decided to join my Church. He was Lutheran, and I was Catholic. I was okay with that. His religious choices were his. I was okay with it because I grew up with my best friend who not only is Lutheran, but her father was a Lutheran pastor. I was comfortable with the differences between the two denominations. More important, I was understanding of what was the same, mainly that our Lord and Savior is one and the same. My best friend and her family loved Christ at least as much as me if not more.



My Lutheran husband wanted to be Catholic. I was excited at the prospect of us attending Masses together as a family and raising our children in one faith together. He did the RCIA program. He made close friends with members of the churches we attended over the years, even when we moved. He was an asset to the various church communities. People saw in him what I saw, that he loved Christ, the Church, and his family. Having us worship in the same faith community was amazing!



I don’t know when that ended within him. He didn’t tell me. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. I do know that my upbringing taught me that I needed to forgive him and reconcile because that was my duty as a Christian woman and as his wife. So, I rushed to forgive him hoping it would lead to reconciliation.



Here's what I had right. I was right in wanting to forgive him because so does Jesus. Here’s what I had wrong. Forgive and forget do not go together. Forgive and forget leads to more opportunities to get hurt. Forgive and forget does not lead to healthy reconciliation. In fact, forgive and reconcile is only the right path under the right conditions. And we did not have the right conditions.



What conditions were we lacking? Simple. He didn’t want to try to reconcile. I don’t know if he even wanted forgiveness. Because of the childhood we had, we didn’t know how to have any of the necessary conversations to prevent what happened, nor the conversations to reconcile after.



I desperately wanted to forgive him, completely. And I wanted him to know it. I tried to force it on him. Forgiveness doesn’t work that way.



There is a wonderful yet depressing quote by the Anglican novelist, poet, and theologian Charles Williams in his book, “The Forgiveness of Sins,” that says, “Many promising reconciliations have broken down because, while both parties came prepared to forgive, neither party came prepared to be forgiven.” I have no idea if my ex had intentions of finding forgiveness between us, but I certainly didn’t get the impression he wanted it from me.



I took a step back and researched forgiveness deeper. Going on without forgiving him wasn’t an option. The constant pain I felt day and night was tearing me apart. The one thing I did know was that forgiving him would help me let go and grow; therefore, I was going to do it for me and my kids.



I went to Confession. Why? What had I done that I needed to go to Confession? After all, he was the one who was breaking up the marriage. Because I thought there had to be reason within me as to why he was leaving. I was mostly wrong about that, but partly right. I was partly at fault.



Idolatry. Meaning, I had put my husband above my God. Instead of Jesus being the center of my life, my husband was. That’s not a lesser sin than what my ex did. There were other things he did, but that is definitely what I did.



An interesting phenomenon happened with all the people around us. They wanted to see my husband and I as a good guy and a bad guy, everything is in terms of black and white, no shades of grey. Well, given all that happened in our marriage, I can see why people want to see him as the sole bad guy and me as the angel in distress. If one was to take the sins he did and weigh them on a scale against the sins I did, there would be a serious disproportion. However, that isn’t the whole story. Beyond mortal and venial, God doesn’t measure sin like we do, and He knows things we don’t know.



Before my husband left, I knew our marriage had some problems. I mistakenly believed they were not that serious. I think I didn’t want to know. And, as I already pointed out, I had sinned in putting my husband above my God. I did sin. I did contribute to the demise of the marriage.



His sins overall, well, let me just say the weight was greater on his side when added all up. I do not want to air his dirty laundry. There were problems, sins, between us, that we both needed to address and were both equally responsible for. All the things he did outside of the marriage were and are all on him. Those were and continue to be his free will choices.



Free will is a gift that can also be a rope from which we hang ourselves based on our own choices. Bad things can be done to us, but sin happens by choice. We each made sinful choices. His sins do not negate my own.



So I went to Confession three times.



The first time, I was still deep in my despair. The tired priest, there was a long line of people, was trying to hear me out but had a heck of a time making sense of my blubbering. It was also the first time we had face to face Confession available since the covid lockdown. We were all in our face masks sitting six feet apart, and here comes this weeping woman, mask drenched in tears and snot, talking incoherently, but obviously not in tongues, just super hurt and sad. I attempted to explain that I had sinned but that I didn’t know what I had done.



With people waiting behind me, we talked for a long time. He asked me if I knew in my heart how I had sinned even if I couldn’t find the words to explain it. I replied that I only knew I had. He gave me absolution. Still, I could tell he wasn’t certain it was appropriate, but he did say he knew I was as sincere as I could be at the time and that maybe as healing came I could try again. Not that I needed more absolution necessarily, but I definitely needed healing quickly which would come best with understanding.



I needed healing urgently. I was on the verge of my lupus acting up again. Everyone could see I was at serious health risk. I lost fifty pounds of weight off my body in a matter of weeks. I was shaking from head to toe nonstop. I was visibly dehydrated from all the crying. I couldn’t drink enough water to keep up.



I found the words a few weeks later at home while listening to a Catholic online Bible study. The priest presenting the subject went through all the different ways us humans practice idolatry. Oops. I was guilty. I made moves to consciously make God my center and returned to the Confessional.



Unfortunately, figuring out that sin of mine came on the heels of another sin I committed. I had an affair of my own. We were in the process of divorce and no longer together, but the divorce was not complete. It was too soon.


It’s against my morals and values system. I knew I was vulnerable. Way vulnerable. Though separated for quite some time, I was still married. I was in loads of emotional and physical pain. My health was at risk in one direction. My soul was at risk in the other.



People around me were in two camps. One half pressured me to do what I could to save the marriage, which was the camp I was trying to be in. I loved my husband despite what he was doing, and I wanted to preserve the covenant with God. The other camp pressured me to be done with the marriage and my husband who was not being nice to me at all, and find someone new. I listened to world voices instead of heavenly voices. When it ended, I went back to confession to set myself straight.



I expected this priest to lecture me. He did not. He did talk with me to help me discover what was motivating me. It was not revenge for what my husband was doing even though that happens often with people in situations like mine. It was pain escape. Understandable, but still a sin.



And the gentleman got his heart broken. He didn’t deserve that. He was kind to me. He deserved better treatment. When I broke it off, he could have been cruel to me. He was gracious and understanding.



I had a marriage covenant to be tended to in the best possible way. I needed to focus on forgiveness so I could heal. That was my task at hand. My husband was pushing for the divorce. The battle for both of our souls was on. I needed to be mindful of that even if he was not. Isn’t that the job of a spouse?


Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more!



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