Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.
Two years post divorce from my ex husband FP, despite all the healing that had come, I knew that God expected forgiveness before I would be free. I approached forgiveness like I approach most issues. I read everything I could get my hands on, including the Bible and secular self -help books. I conjured up all my inner fortitude and determined I would get the job done.
Nothing remotely close to forgiveness filled my heart. I still wanted accountability most of all, and then justice, as I defined it.I finally realized God would have to make forgiveness happen. I started to pray continuously for forgiveness to take hold, admitting in my prayers that I didn’t feel like forgiving my ex husband.
Surprisingly, in response to months of prayer, God’s response was that my first step was to ask others to forgive ME. The lawyer in me started to argue the facts, proving beyond a reasonable doubt why my ex and others in our story should be asking for MY forgiveness. By then I had learned if I was obedient to God it ALWAYS worked out. So I surrendered and followed instructions.
God first seemed to show me the faces of those that had been injured as a result of a marriage that blew up right out of the gate. Six children ages 15 to 22 at the time, three from each of our first marriages, were left in the rubble of the divorce.
I went one by one to my own children, apologizing for my actions and poor choices, and asked for their forgiveness for my mistakes. Their voices echoed a unanimous sentiment: they were glad to “have their mother back” out of the grip of a distraction from the important job of helping them launch into young adulthood. It was as if a blockade was released and my children moved closer than ever to me.
Next, it was FP’s children. FP and I had no clue on how to maneuver blended families when we’d married. FP’s son and I had fallen into an easy rhythm, one daughter seemed to go with the flow, but there had always been tension with one of FP’s two daughters. She was next on the list.
One day in the church hall after services I asked her to join me in the empty church, sitting in front of the icon of the Mother of Christ, the Virgin Mary. As I sat there in the presence of the pure and most holy Mother, I apologized to this lovely young woman for my ineptitude as a step mother. I admitted my insecurities in the shadow of her own strong mother, and asked for her forgiveness for whatever I had done to cause her heartache during my marriage to her father and the resulting divorce. She shared some life lessons she was learning in her own journey as a college woman, and I felt a mystical release and forgiveness fall over us as we hugged.
Since I was on a roll I decided to have a similar meeting with the woman who had “rescued” FP from our home when I filed for divorce. I had been furious with her and her husband for many complicated reasons, beyond just the rescue mission. I staged a literal “come to Jesus” meeting asking her to join me in front of the icon of Christ when the church was empty.
There, with my “holier than thou” attitude where I had called her to ask for forgiveness, I instead told her off. She ended up in tears, and I had tapped into a whole pool of anger that I didn’t know I had left inside me. I went back into continuous prayer which unveiled that anger is ALWAYS about the one who feels it. More insight into what I needed to change in myself.
Soon Lent approached. The Greek Orthodox begin Lent at sundown on the Sunday before it officially commences with a “Sunday of Forgiveness” service. We line up in front of the altar and each of us goes down the line, individually greeting or hugging each person present, asking for forgiveness. Even the priest asks for forgiveness from the congregation as a whole and then from each of us, acknowledging that his sin has a particularly devastating impact.
It may seem odd to hug a five- year- old child or a stranger you don’t know in the line, but as Christians we believe as a group we are the “body of Christ”. The theme for this is something akin to “one bad apple DOES spoil the whole bunch.” When you fall short, your actions have a ripple effect that sometimes you don’t even realize.
FP hadn’t attended Sunday of Forgiveness since our divorce until after he became engaged to one of the women he had been dating. The two of them came to the service and lined up in the “forgiveness reception line”. As I approached FP my heart was racing. For one thing, I did not know how I would cope with hugging him. I was still trying to un-layer feelings I had and I worried that it would trigger painful memories to hug him and have my face next to his. Also, how would I deal with the innocent fiancée? She was new on the scene and had not been a part of our story.
I greeted those in the line one by one, and finally I landed in front of FP. I looked him in the eyes through my own tears, and at that moment all I could see was a wounded soul on life’s journey. In that instance, God showed me clearly that he was not only to be forgiven but also to be loved. I hugged him gently, put my cheek next to his and whispered “forgive me X” addressing him with the pet name I had called him in our marriage. He whispered back, “forgive me Y” with his pet name for me. In that moment, solely through the power and grace of God I forgave FP and turned him totally over to God. I also spontaneously let go of discounting and legitimizing my own actions, acknowledging silently to God what I had done wrong in the marriage.
I next hugged the fiancee and asked for forgiveness. With my arms around her I silently prayed to God for her to be happy in her marriage to FP.
Forgiveness had come. As I walked out of the church I experienced something that, up until that moment, only God had known I needed.-I forgave myself.