Kathy Chaffin's Spiritually Speaking: Forgiving opens our hearts

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 2, 2007

My minister told a story last Sunday about a woman who reported having visions of Jesus.

I can’t remember his exact words, but it seems the pastor of her church discussed it with his superiors. Afterward, the archbishop decided to meet with the woman and try to determine if her visions were real.

The next time you see Jesus, he told her, “Ask him about the sins I confessed the night before.” The woman agreed.

When the archbishop saw her again, he asked her if she had seen Jesus. She said she had, and as instructed, she asked him what sins the archbishop had confessed.

Jesus’ response, she said, was “I can’t remember.”

The sermon was about grace, one of God’s greatest gifts, and the importance of forgiveness. I was deeply moved by my minister’s words and thought about how wonderful it would be if we could not only forgive, but truly forget the hurts we cause each other.

In “Tuesdays with Morrie,” Mitch Albom’s book about the lessons he learned from his former college professor, a dying Morrie Schwartz offers this advice on living: “It’s not just other people we need to forgive. We also need to forgive ourselves …

“For all the things we didn’t do. For all the things we should have done. You can’t get stuck on the regrets of what should have happened. That doesn’t help you when you get to where I am.”

Schwartz shared many life lessons in his final days with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, but it was the part about forgiveness that stayed with me.

So many times, we spend years beating ourselves up over things we believed we should or shouldn’t have done. Letting go of regrets and truly forgiving myself may have been the most liberating thing I’ve ever done.

Forgiving everyone who I believed had hurt me also freed me in a way I never expected. So many times we hang onto hurts or perceived hurts for years, and over time, they only hurt us more.

In my life, I have lost a handful of friends due to unforgiveness, either on their part or mine. I still grieve their loss.

I believe there are few instances where people hurt each other out of malice. It’s usually in response to a perceived hurt or because someone triggered the memory of an earlier hurt that was never forgiven and allowed to fester instead.

I read once about a woman who reviewed her day every evening before she went to sleep, making a point to pray for forgiveness for anyone she had hurt or to offer forgiveness for anyone who had hurt her. I’ve tried doing that as well.

Most days, I can’t think of anyone who has hurt me. I’m fortunate enough to work with wonderful people who are kind and considerate and fun.

And my family has lost so many members and been through so many trials together that we’ve learned to try our best not to hurt each other, and on those rare occasions when we do, we forgive quickly and completely.

Unforgiveness closes our hearts and keeps us from living our best lives. Forgiveness opens them back up like a big, beautiful sunflower and allows the light to come in.

It is then that we shine our brightest.

Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or kchaffin@salisburypost.com.