As I knelt in prayer after communion one Sunday morning, I became aware that my praying had been subliminally replaced by the words of the hymn being sung by the choir. It was a sweet melody, and the lyrics had grabbed hold of my soul:
Loving and forgiving are you, O Lord,
slow to anger; rich in kindness,
loving and forgiving are you.
(You Tube: Psalm 103: Loving and Forgiving)
I stayed on my knees savoring the significance of the words, realizing how blessed I was to be the recipient of God’s love and forgiveness. The hymn ended, but the lyrics continued to demand my attention. I imagined myself to be loving and forgiving, slow to anger, and rich in kindness. I thought “how awesome that would be.”
The themes of love and forgiveness are not new to Christians. They echo through religious writings, and occur often in the Bible. In Colossians, Chapter 3, we learn that “if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.” In that same chapter, St. Paul reminds us to put on “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (v. 12), and “over all these things, put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (v. 14).
Practicing love and forgiveness is usually associated with spirituality, but it does not reside there alone. If not in our personal lives, as pastoral counselors, we encounter clients whose health and/or relationships are compromised by an inability to forgive and love. Oftentimes they believe that expressions of love or forgiveness might be misinterpreted for weakness. Therefore, our initial task might sometimes be to help our clients release themselves from bondage by practicing forgiveness. We help them recognize how challenging it is to love when filled with rage and resentment. Forgiveness offers them freedom to love.
What happens when one refuses to forgive?
If you’re unforgiving, you might pay the price repeatedly by bringing anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience. Your life might become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can’t enjoy the present. You might become depressed or anxious. You might feel that your life lacks meaning or purpose, or that you’re at odds with your spiritual beliefs. You might lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others. (Mayo Clinic)
We can reverse those symptoms. When we love and forgive we imitate Jesus, who with his dying breath asked his heavenly father “forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). We must strive to love and forgive as our heavenly father loves and forgives us. “God never gets tired of forgiving us; it is we who get tired of asking for forgiveness” (Pope Francis I).