THE FORGIVENESS JOURNEY: On the 15th of every month I publish a post about forgiveness. This is the 10th post in my yearlong attempt to learn about and institute practices of forgiveness in my own life. I’m not a forgiveness expert. I’m a novice learning as I go. The objective of these posts is to share my learned lessons with you.
In January 2020, I made a resolution to learn about and practice you because–if you haven’t heard–living is hard.
I mean, you’ve been around long enough to know this. You’ve seen it all. Wars, genocides, slavery, murders, the unwavering popularity of the 7 deadly sins. And it hasn’t been good. It seems like we’re in a “glass half empty” kind of world.
You and I have a long history. I first heard of you when I was in 3rd grade and a good little disciple at St. Ephrem Elementary School. In those days, you were identified by your more formal Christian name: Reconciliation.
That year I was studying to receive Holy Communion (that’s when the church deems you mature and worthy enough to eat the host or blessed bread or symbolic body of Jesus Christ). And according to Sister Denise, the short, old nun who’s eyes were fists of stone, who made us sit in silence with our feet pinned flat on the floor, hands folded on our desk, and our little chins forever pointing toward the wooden crucifix mounted on the wall, just below the ceiling in front of the classroom, if we ever wanted to receive communion and avoid eternal damnation. Slouching was forbidden. Because apparently, posture was an important part of absolving the sins of a troubled soul.
It was terrifying.
With a stern voice and a straight face, Sister Denise proclaimed if we wanted to eat Jesus’ body, we had to confess our sins to God (Jesus’ dad), be reconciled by dad, complete a penance which consisted of saying a few prayers while kneeling in the church in order to cleanse our souls, before we were deemed clean enough to eat his son’s body.
Anyway, long story short– in 3rd grade, I studied you, practiced you, kept my hands folded, my feet on the floor, knelt, said my penance, and became a fine, young cannibal.
But, to be honest, after third grade I didn’t think much about you. In fact, the older I got the more I avoided you.
For a young man, you were seen as a weakness. Other boys in the locker room didn’t forgive when they whipped me with a wet towel or when they stuffed my shoes in the toilet. Yes, juvenile stuff. But the stuff of teenage torture chambers.
So teenage life conditioned me to forget you. If I wanted to survive this “glass half empty” world, I had to forget you. And, I don’t want you to get upset, but I think a lot of other people tried to forget you too.
To our demise, we’ve found it easier, and sometimes more prosperous, to ignore you and pretend to move on.
Also, even though most of us graduated, we still live in an eye-for-an-eye high school culture. I know Jesus was trying to eliminate that way of life but the Italian Mob and prom kings did a good job bringing it back. Vigilantism, revenge, and meanness are often admirable and heroic. You, sadly, are not.
I don’t know how much you recently read about America (I know you’re a world wide brand) but we’re in crisis. Suicide, anxiety, substances abuse are pandemics. (Oh, we’re also dealing with one of those right now). Bottom line: we’re not in good shape.
In 2020, partly age, partly curiosity, partly my Catholic topography I decided to find you again. By studying and practicing you this year, I have learned some important things:
You’re a choice. Not an obligation.
You take courage to practice. And practice must be held 3-4 times a week for you to be effective.
You require us to take responsibility for our own lives.
You are the gateway to the freedom we all want.
You are the foundation for self-improvement.
You make the world a hopeful, “glass half full” kind of place.
You make decision making easier. Because if I make a poor decision, I can always visit you. And though you can’t reverse the decision, you fill me with confidence and perspective to know that I will be okay.
Look, I did not write this letter to inflate you ego. You’ve been here long enough to know you’re good. You’re like the Tom Brady of transcendence. But I do want to say thank you. Seriously. You helped me bravely navigate a 2020, which nationally and personally has been hard. Your wisdom instilled in me both patience and perspective. You have encouraged me to let go, move on, and change.
The world can be a cruel place. But with your help we can create a world that, despite Sister Denise’s stern glare from heaven, allows us to unfold our hands, put our feet up, and absolve the sins of our slouched and troubled souls.
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Jay Armstrong is a writer, blogger, speaker, and an award-winning high school English teacher. Diagnosed with a rare neurological disease that resulted in a hole in his brain– Jay presses on. He hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:
4. Hearing his children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents and a beer with his friends)