Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sing, Dance and Forgive


“Dance like no one is watching.  Sing like no one is listening.  Love like you have never been hurt.  And live as if this were heaven on earth.”

The above quote has been my motto these past few years.  It fits my personality well because I am that crazy girl in the crowd who will happily do just about anything if it will bring a smile to someone’s face.  I am content to oblige to most requests - from singing karaoke in a crowded bar to eating spam out of the can because I lost a bet with a room full of teenagers.  Yes, the first two in the motto are easy.  I am happy to dance (on a stage) like no one is watching and to sing (into a microphone) like no one is listening.  But the last two in the list are a challenge.  I imagine those last two would be a challenge for most of us.

One of my facebook friends recently asked this question: Is it really wise to love like you have never been hurt?  I have been thinking a lot about her question.  She has a valid point. When you have trusted another with all of yourself and was betrayed, then the hurt is profound.  That hurt makes a lasting mark on your heart.  Is it even possible to trust and even perhaps “love like you have never been hurt”? 

Although I am very blessed to have never been significantly hurt by those who are closest to me, I have been hurt by people whom I trusted.  But relatively speaking, I think that we would be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t been hurt or betrayed by another.  My experience happened many years ago when I was on my way out of the Baptist church.  The ministers I was close with made no effort to speak with me concerning my decision to leave the Baptist church.  And considering my relationship with them in the end had been rocky at best, I had to conclude they were happy to see me go.  This was a hard pill for me to swallow because I knew they fought hard for all their members.  If someone stopped attending church, he or she could expect a visit or a phone call.   I was not called.  No one tried to visit me.  Not even one of my friends in the youth group.  Nope.  I could almost hear them yelling “don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out!”  At the time, I just moved on.  I concluded that the lesson learned was to not get close to a Christian community again.  From that point on, it was just going to be me and God.  I didn’t need brothers and sisters in Christ.

I think my reaction to this hurt is quite typical of most people.  When we are hurt, our “fight or flight” instincts kick in.  We protect ourselves.  We analyze the experience, learn our lesson, and take the necessary steps to avoid that pain in the future.  Although that can be healthy - it’s only healthy to a point. If we choose to hold onto the hurt and not forgive the person(s)/act(s), then we cannot be truly healed.  We will carry that garbage around and let it burden our souls and affect everything about us.  Why is that?  Why do we have to forgive in order to be free of the burden?

When we harbor past hurt and pain, we justify the resentment and hatred we hold towards the people who have inflicted that pain.  And that resentment gives birth to the fear of loving or of being loved.  The only way to let go of that fear, is to forgive the person and act from which the hurt was inflicted.  Through forgiveness, we regain the freedom love requires. 

But more important than our freedom to love is the fact that the act of forgiving is what Christ commands us to do:
Then Peter approaching asked him, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?"  Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.  That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants.  When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.  Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.'  Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.  When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount.  He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, 'Pay back what you owe.'  Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'  But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt.  Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair.  His master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.  Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?'  Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart."   (Matthew 18:21-35)
In this parable, Jesus teaches that if we don’t forgive one another, then the heavenly Father will not forgive us.  I don’t know about you, but I find it terrifying that at the end of my days, I may stand before the Lord and He will say, “You did many good things and you loved me deeply, but you did not forgive.  Therefore, I cannot forgive you”.  And boom: there, I am separated from God for eternity.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s set the fear factor aside.  In another teaching on forgiveness found in Matthew 5:23-26, Jesus tells us not to come to the altar if we harbor anger in our hearts towards another.  I was always confused by this teaching.  Just because I am mad at Cindy or Johnny doesn’t mean I am mad at God.  How are trusting God with my heart, and trusting Johnny with my heart related?  But as I have grown older and somewhat more mature and a little more experienced in the art of love, this teaching has become a little clearer.  I think the reason he says this is because we cannot be open to the love he offers us if we fear the vulnerability love requires. When we hold onto the hurt and pain and thus the resentment and perhaps hatred, then we cannot even begin to trust our hearts with anyone else- even God.  At the altar, Jesus gives us his heart but we cannot experience His love unless we are willing to give up our hearts in return.  That is the definition of love- giving one’s self wholly and completely to another.  Therefore, we cannot truly receive the love Jesus offers us at the altar if we hold onto our hearts for fear of letting go.  When we choose not to forgive, then we separate ourselves from God here and now.  And if we continue to hold onto it throughout our lives, that separation can reach into eternity.

I think that once the dust settles and we see the merits in forgiveness, then most of us desire to forgive.  But actually forgiving is a challenge.  In most cases, we have to let go of our pride.  In my situation, I had to let go of the glory of being right.  I had to let go of the idea that the work I did in that church deserved some sort of recognition by the leadership and its members.  I had to conclude that the reason I was Catholic was not because I stepped away from the Baptist community, but rather because Jesus brought me exactly to where he wanted me to be.  While I wallowed in all the hurt and anger, He found me, comforted me and showed me the beauty of the church He established 2000 years ago.  And then He waited for me to realize that I could not fully experience His love unless I was willing to let go of my hurt, my justification, and my pride.  Once I forgave, I was able to hand Him all of my heart and be embraced by the community through which He loves.  I was able to be reunited with Him.

So, is it wise to love like you have never been hurt?  I think so.  It’s not easy.  It’s not natural.  But it is quite necessary if we want to really live.  How sad would life be if we always guarded our hearts and never allowed ourselves to be loved?  How sad would life be if we never experienced the love and freedom brought forth in forgiveness?  How sad would it be to go to Christ’s table and never partake in the love for which he died?  How sad would it be if we choose to be separated from God here and now and then into eternity?  Yes, it is wise.  Partaking in God’s love is where we find life’s meaning, purpose and most of all, pure joy- it is heaven on earth.  And how glorious will it be when we stand before the Father and He says “I forgive you, my good and faithful servant.”

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