And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)
In order to forgive someone else, we need to let go of the hurts, disappointments, grievances, or betrayals that this person has caused us.
In order to accept God’s forgiveness, we need to let go of the fantasy that we are perfect, or at least better or more righteous than other people.
In order to forgive ourselves, we need to let go of our denial that we aren’t fallen, fallible, and sometimes foolish human beings just like everyone else.
Out of the hundreds of notes I received following my daughter’s death this summer, there was only one that was unkind. When Lucy and I returned from Maine, the mailman said he had run out of room in our mailbox. I gathered up all the cards and glanced at the return addresses, and there was one that stood out because the last time I had seen him, we were not at our best. I could have handled the situation—the conflict—better than I did, and I believe he could have done the same.
Anyway, I opened the letter, quickly read it, and was so pleased that he had reached out. I went upstairs to our apartment and said, “Lucy, you will never believe who sent a note.” She said, “Who?” When I told her, she said, “Let me see it.” She read the note and said, “You didn’t really read this note. You have missed the point.” As I read the note more carefully, it became clear that under the guise of expressing his condolences, he was actually trying to hurt me or take a shot at me or even some score in his mind against me.
In the past and before Anna died, I may have been tempted to defend myself, get mad, or get even. I had none of those responses as I held the note. Instead, I felt grief for this man. I wanted to say to him, “George [not his name], let it go. You are 75 years old, and it’s time to let go of your grievances before you face the grave. For the sake of your soul, let go of your bitterness and resentments before you say goodbye to this life. You don’t want to face the savior we both believe in carrying these burdens. As I thought over what I would like to say to him, I had a brief moment of feeling rather noble. But then, this phrase from the Al-Anon meetings I had once attended stripped me of any self-righteousness: “Don’t take anyone else’s inventory.”
In other words, it became clear that I was no better than this man. I may never have sent a disguised—nasty note to anyone in distress, but I had to admit that I had my own work to do, my own inventory to work, before approaching my own grave. Facing my daughter’s death forced me to realize that I wasn’t prepared for my own. Before I came face-to-face with Jesus, I knew I had some forgiving to do, some making amends to do, and some letting go to do.
I have been privileged to have been with many people who were letting go of this life. I have seen people die well—that is with hope, gratitude, and peace; and I have seen people die in agony—not just the agony of their infirmity or of facing death, but the agony of leaving behind a life that was filled with mayhem and brokenness, with numbering and nurturing their resentments and grudges. The people who died well said the things they needed to say, forgave those they needed to forgive and made amends with those they had been separated from. They cleaned their emotional closets, they plumbed their depths, they admitted their wrongs, they thanked those they needed to thank, they shared love with those they loved, and they accepted the love they needed for the final journey. Those that didn’t do this work often died expressing their complaints and grievances to their last breath.
As I have been praying about how I hope to leave this life, these words from Mary Oliver have been close to my heart:
“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life, I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”
“When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something and real. I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened or full of argument.
“I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
If I going to be a “bride married to amazement” or a “bridegroom taking the world into my arms,” I had to face the reality and responsibility that I had some serious lettings go to do. I had to let go of my anger that Anna didn’t take better care of herself. I had to let go of all the dreams and hopes I had for her life. I had to let go of my guilt and shame that I failed to keep my daughter alive. I had to let go and forgive myself for all the ways I may have let her down, failed her, or fell short of the kind of father that she sometimes needed.
- Are there any grievances or resentments, or grudges you need to let go of?
- Sometimes letting go of the grievances, we have against ourselves can be the hardest work of all. Do you need to let go of some things that you have against yourself?
- I imagine you have seen this message from Alcoholics Anonymous— “Let go, let God”—on a bumper sticker or poster. If you more often did let go and let God, what would your life look like?