Dear Fr. Joe: Our son stole a lot of money from us. He has apologized, and we forgave him, but I don’t really feel I can trust him. What does forgiveness look like? Should I just move on and forget this happened?
I’m so sorry that this happened with your son. It is such a painful thing when people whom we love hurt us or let us down. I thank God for your response to this situation: forgiveness is a command from God to us and, like all of God’s commands, it is good for us. Let’s get right to it.
First of all, I invite you to remember that forgiveness is a process. When you forgave your son, that was a blessed a beautiful moment, one that began you on a process that will culminate in your freedom from this past event. Sometimes, this process will be easy, other times it will be hard. For me, I draw great comfort from God’s word to us in Philippians 1:6 “He who started a good work in you will see it to completion.” That is a sentence that offers us so much hope. God will finish what he started in you!
Along the way, you can be sure there will be moments like the one you are experiencing, in which you need to consider how forgiveness plays out, and ask yourself, “What are the consequences of my forgiveness?” These are the moments when I’d suggest you remember a couple of things. First, the fact that you are wrestling with these kinds of questions means that you want to do the right thing in the right way at the right time: the very definition of a moral act. It can, in a sense, serve as your proof to yourself of what God already knows and sees: you desire to love and obey him well. The second thing I invite you to remember is the power of prayer. You can, when trying to figure out how forgiveness should play out in a specific circumstance, pause a second and pray a simple prayer asking the Holy Spirit to guide your decisions, words and actions. Trust in God’s desire to lead you through this and in your ability to follow that guidance.
In terms of moving on and forgetting that this happened, I don’t know if that is a good idea for anyone involved. Forgetting that it happened robs your son of an opportunity to know how deep your love for him goes. If we act like nothing happened, then what did we forgive? Not only that, but we must be conscious of the fact that one of our obligations is to protect our God-given human dignity and, at times, it is only by remembering that we can prevent ourselves from being unnecessarily wounded again.
Think of it this way: it was/is our sin and guilt that caused Jesus to go to the cross and suffer so badly. We know that, in the midst of the horrible suffering he endured, he proclaimed his forgiveness for us. There is no question that Jesus not only forgives us, but advocates for us to the Father. Yet, when we read about his appearances to the disciples, the scars to his hands and side are visible – they are eternally a part of him. When we see those scars now, we remember how much he loves us and how his love conquered our sin.
You and I live in a fallen world and, sometimes, we participate in that fallenness by wounding people and other times by being wounded. This process leaves scars on us and, if we allow the Spirit to work, our sense of them can be our reminder to be conscious of what we’ve been forgiven for and of how deep the love of God and others can run. We need to remember what we’ve forgiven and what we’ve been forgiven for and rejoice in the love of God that makes both of those things possible.
And this leads us to trust – when do you trust your son again? In this case, while we celebrate the free gift of forgiveness that God offers, we remember that trust is something that is earned. A part of Wisdom is the Holy Spirit entering into our experience and showing us how to learn from it. I would encourage you to be appropriately wary until trust is earned again. So, in the end, I hope we see that forgiveness looks like the hard edged gift that it is. It’s a commitment we make to surrender our wounds to the Lord and ask Him to heal us and show us how to live in the present. We don’t pretend we were never injured or that we never injure: we learn those lessons we have to learn and allow these things to be one of the vessels through which God heals us.
Enjoy another day in God’s presence.
Send your questions to: “In the Know with Fr. Joe” FAITH Magazine, 1500 E. Saginaw St., Lansing, MI 48906 Or: JoeInBlack@priest.com