Loving and Forgiving

PHOTO: L'Osservatore Romano

 

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).

My Lenten Journey: A Personal Catholic Perspective

On February 28, 2013, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope in 600 years to retire as head of the Catholic Church.  As I reflected on what this meant for me as a Catholic, I realized what a great act of submission this might have been for our Pope Emeritus, and the significance of it occurring during the holy season of Lent.

In my youth, Lent was synonymous with personal deprivation. We were expected to give up something meaningful and to abstain from meat and poultry on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays. Any digression warranted a trip to confession. Although I still abstain from meat on the required days, my Lenten practices have transitioned from deprivation to thanksgiving.

Lent culminates with Easter, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is significant because it brings meaning to our faith. St. Paul reminds us that if Christ had not been raised, our faith would be useless and we would still be in our sins. Therefore, I strive to make my Lenten journey less about what I give up and more about what I can do. It is about preparation, thanksgiving, and being engaged prayerfully and reflectively to celebrate Jesus Christ’s victory over sin and death.

Options for Lenten practices include community prayer, such as Stations of the Cross, daily Rosary recitations, and daily Mass, or personal prayer and daily devotions.  Another means of service is to contribute to the Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl project, a simple yet meaningful way to fulfill St. James’ directive in his New Testament letter:

If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?  So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:15-17).

This is my personal perspective, and one that I feel honored to share. It is not intended to represent the views of the Pastoral Counseling program at Loyola University, Maryland, which is home to many faiths and Christian denominations.

As the journey towards Easter continues, I encourage everyone to be mindful of each other, and the blessings that we have individually and collectively received. I pray for our Pope Emeritus, that his decision was one of acceptance of God’s will. I especially pray that we acknowledge God’s favor in our lives with generous and prayerful acts of thanksgiving.

Appreciating Death’s Role in Life

The universal reality of life is death.  Everyone must die; it is a natural phenomenon and a necessary part of the normal life cycle. Yet, even with this understanding, rarely is the western world prepared to accept death, especially the death of a loved one.  The focus of this writing is not on sudden or tragic deaths, but on those which allow time for preparedness, and occur as a consequence of illness and/or aging.

As universal as death is, the way it is viewed differs among cultures and religions.  Death is treated with dignity by some, or it may be feared by others.  Certain cultures respond to death with elaborate rituals, while others see it as simply transitioning from one life to the next.  However, what is usually present, regardless of specific traditions, is grief.  Grief, like death, is a universal experience,and it is also personal.  It is what Stephen Levine describes in his book, Healing into Life and Death, as “the rope burns left behind when what we have held to most dearly is pulled out of reach, beyond our grasp.”

The analogy of “holding on” is most present when caring for someone with a terminal illness.  It is difficult caring for a loved one who is not expected to survive.  It is sometimes hard for the dying to let go, which increases our grief, and invites guilt.  However, when faced with such circumstances, we can look to scripture for comfort.  What did Jesus do as he awaited his own death? At first he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me.” (Luke 22:42).  So often we pray for a miracle.  We try to reason with God, making promises, seeking answers, none of which provides peace.  But Jesus continued, “still, not my will but yours be done.”  He handed over his anguish to his father in heaven and found peace and strength to continue his life’s journey to the cross.  We can, too.  In the presence of death, we can turn to our God in prayer, for peace and strength.

Finding peace does not negate grieving.  The rope burns eventually go away, but until then, we grieve.  Where do grieving people go?  Some turn to their religious institutions for solace.  Others are comforted by family.  Some find consolation in silence, and some seek support from professionals to help them normalize their lives.  Pastoral counselors are among members of the helping professions who are prepared to meet clients in their grief, and help them to gain respite from the pain and guilt that they feel.  Graduates of Loyola’s pastoral counseling program are trained to apply traditional therapies with a spiritual approach.  It is our spiritual approach that better prepares us to assist clients who have met death on life’s journey.

Death provides a deadline for what we can accomplish in life.  It is an important deadline since it propels us to live a more vibrant and richer life while we have the opportunity.  Irvin D. Yalom, M.D., stated that if we tune in to our clients’ narratives, we will recognize that they are subtly sharing death concerns.  As therapists, we must be prepared to hear them. As pastoral counselors we are uniquely prepared to address them.  Although we grieve when our loved ones die, we can be mindful of Dr. Yalom’s acknowledgement of death as “the condition that makes it possible to live life in an authentic fashion.”

WWJP: What Would Jesus Practice?

Vernon WareWho is someone that you look up to as a counselor? Adler, Frankl, Freud, Perls (yes, Fritz and Laura), Ellis, Beck, May? The list of names goes on and on, but I wanted to suggest one name that you might not have considered. Jesus. One of the many titles that is conferred upon Jesus is “Wonderful Counselor” (Isaiah 9:6) and I would hope that at least being “good” counselors is something that all of us have as a goal. So with that in mind, I wondered this simple question, WWJP? What Would Jesus Practice? Can we look at the life of Jesus and detect a partiality to a specific theory of counseling?

Would Jesus be considered a proponent of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) when he counseled a rich young ruler to consider giving up all of his riches to the poor, so that he could truly be fulfilled?

Would Jesus’s time with his disciples be considered a very intensive Reality therapy session since Jesus asked them to make the choice to be in relationship with him and the other disciples to change their lives?

Would Jesus be considered a proponent of Person-centered therapy because of his brief group therapy session with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11) and the men who accused her, where he asked very few questions but changed the behaviors of both the men and the woman?

Would Jesus be considered an Adlerian because of his transformative meeting with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9)? Jesus met with someone who was hated, even by himself, and in one conversation changed his thinking about himself and fostered Zacchaeus’ social interest so much that Zacchaeus said that he would repay those he had cheated four times over.

Jesus broke many of the conventions of that time: working on the Sabbath, having conversations with women and having connection with Gentiles, just to name a few.  So could we conclude that he was a proponent of the Existential approach since he championed the freedom of persons to choose their own direction in life?  

And while it is uncomfortable for me to put Jesus and Sigmund Freud in the same sentence, I do have to admit that Jesus did have a skill at getting through other’s Ego-defense Mechanisms.

There is obviously much more that can be said on this topic and I hope that you will respond and do just that! I would love to hear your feedback and get your answer to WWJP – What Would Jesus Practice?

Christmas: The Season for Meaning Making

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ
the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

This season is all about meaning making. Whatever one might believe, this month calls forth our need to have meaning and celebration in our lives.

As stores report record sales, and malls extend their shopping hours to accommodate the crowds, my pastor, for the second year, provided lawn signs that read “findtheperfectgift.org.” That perfect gift, as the website explains, is the sense of peace that we get from Jesus Christ, who came into this world to shine his light on our lives. It does not negate our earthly custom of exchanging gifts, for even the magi presented baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but it goes beyond the material acts. For me, the reason for the season is Jesus. As I celebrate the birth of our savior, what makes meaning in my life at Christmas, is experiencing the God-given gifts of peace and joy, and the love of family and friends.

Christmas occurs at the height of summer in South Africa. Children return home from school, it’s 100 degrees outside, and the day is often celebrated with a BBQ (braai) after church. There may be a few gifts exchanged, but the festivities center on families gathering together to share a meal with friends and neighbors. In the aftermath of Apartheid and many lives lost and shattered, coming together to celebrate God-with-us seems just right, even without an evergreen tree or snow on the ground. God’s loss is our gain and God celebrates that gift with us. Sharing this love together in the face of the world’s brokenness is the best—and most meaning-filled way—to experience God’s arrival on Earth. Blessings of Peace, Joy and Love to all!

During Advent we make our hearts ready to receive Him. Forgiveness, healing, conversion, and charity are even more important now. We pray for those most in need reaching out to them. I am touched by the outpouring of love and care I have seen in support of those encountering atrocities that no one need ever confront. We light an Advent wreath, keep a Jesse Tree, and read Scripture/pray. We view Christmas lights, bake/cook, and appreciate our blessings. Creating homemade goodies gives me joy – a part of God’s creative process. The magic of Christmas to me is the miracle of LOVE. Have a blessed Christmas. I wish love and peace to you and yours this day and always.

Not all of us feel like celebrating. It is difficult to find meaning in the aftermath of Sandy Hook Elementary. How can I be happy when those families have an immediate black hole in their lives that will never ever be filled? All over the world are people suffering, grieving, hurting, crying, and . . . hoping. Hope is where I make my meaning in Christmas. Christians celebrate the promise born on this symbolic day. My hope is the promise that my life and the lives of the 28 who died in Newtown, Connecticut, are eternal, that our lives here continue to make meaning in the lives of others, and we find the capacity to forgive and never forget.

Peace and blessings to all our readers from your Meaning Making bloggers.

Glenda Janie JoAnn Barbara

Shining a light in the darkness of despair: Holding hope for the client until (s)he is ready to receive it

The holiday season is live and the malls are crowded with shoppers. Beautifully decorated stores lure customers through their doors with a promise of exclusive sales. Names placed on lists are checked off as patrons load gifts into their shopping carts. Churches welcome their flock and extend an invitation to those who have strayed, to “come home for Christmas.” Brightly lit homes greet holiday guests, and scrumptious dinners are planned for families who travel by plane, train, bus, and car to spend Christmas with their loved ones. Everywhere the atmosphere is electrified with joy and excitement, as Christians and non-Christians alike prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Christmas is considered by many to be the most wonderful time of the year. It commemorates the birth of our Savior. But for those who are submerged in the darkness of despair, it is a difficult time. Consider the wife who is celebrating Christmas without her husband for the first time; the daughter whose mother died before they could reconcile after an argument; the mother with no money to buy gifts for her children; the children whose mother can’t find her way home after a night of drugs and alcohol; the old man who is all alone simply because he has no one left. For them, Christmas is a time of want; a depressing reminder of what they have lost, or never had. As pastoral counselors we are tasked to make a difference for those who are in despair and to offer them a sense of hope.

Hope is what Jesus’ incarnation is about, and why He is the light of the world. In John 12:46, Jesus said “I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me will not remain in darkness.” During the Christmas season there are many people in darkness. Pastoral counselors are uniquely qualified to help shine a light into their world.  As psychospiritual healers, integrating psychology with spirituality, we are often called upon to compassionately hold hope for our clients until they are ready to receive it themselves. What a beautiful gift that one can receive at Christmas – the gift of hope.

As I serve my clients during this blessed Christmas season, I know that I cannot undo their past, but I can try to soften the impact as I prepare them to face life as it unfolds.  Christmas is much more than the commercial trappings that are propagated by businesses. Jesus came on earth to shine a light so that no one will remain in darkness as long as they believe in him.  He came to give us hope. Pastoral counselors have an opportunity to help our clients claim that hope and escape from the darkness of despair.  This is such a significant and honorable role for us, and one that I accept with gratitude and humility.