But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.—1 Timothy 1:16
For sure, patience is my most lacking virtue, and I suspect part of the reason is that I am always multitasking. I think it may be rooted in being a single parent — mother, father, breadwinner and at one point, a student. Now, in our technological age, the gadgetry keeps all of us multitasking, but I try to use it all as little as possible, because when I do, it adds to my sense of not being present in the here and now. It keeps me distractedly wondering where others may take me.
Because this is so, I have spent this Lent working on two Spiritual Works of Mercy I have struggled with, in the context of patience:
• To forgive offenses willingly
• To bear wrongs patiently
As one who has had an abortion and who works with post-abortive women, I know that for us there are so many people, and so much to forgive: boyfriends, wives, husbands, parents, friends and, of course, ourselves. Once God has forgiven us, we must do that.
I confess, forgiveness from an offense that touched my very core has been a very difficult road for me. I have truly needed to learn to “bear wrongs patiently.” I am still learning, particularly when it comes to my dad, who coerced me into that abortion. The abandonment and betrayal I felt has taken years to work through.
I will never forget the day my spiritual director told me he did not want me to confront my dad about the abortion but instead allow my dad to teach me patience and forgiveness.
I thought he was nuts.
And yet as time passed, I saw my dad truly was teaching me to be patient and to forgive. Each time something happened that brought my hurt to the surface, I needed to forgive again, and to be patient with him and myself. This is a lesson I have had to learn over and over again, through the years, and a choice I have had to make again and again.
When we are deeply hurt, it is difficult not to succumb to anger, bitterness and resentment. It is difficult not to speak of those who hurt us in uncharitable ways. I realized through these experiences that God has shown that patience with me.
I also discovered I had to be patient with myself, because I was learning to forgive deep hurts. God understood my pain and knew it was not easy for me. As long as I was sorry, though, and received our beautiful sacrament of reconciliation, he allowed me to begin again, one time, 100 times, 1000 times.
Christ loved me through my failures to forgive my anger, my bitterness and my impatience, and it is through that love, in the midst of my deep pain, that forgiveness could finally dawn.
At times like these, when we truly know what it means to be brokenhearted, we discover that Jesus is close to us, if we only seek him out. When people we have loved and trusted have betrayed us, whether intentionally or due to their own failings, who knows the betrayal of friends better than Jesus?
It is so hard to forgive offenses willingly and to bear wrongs patiently. It takes an act of the will (the choice to forgive), and it takes a movement on our part (an act of faith). This act of forgiving in the midst of deep-rooted pain is a true sharing in the suffering of Christ. A chance for us to carry the cross and to understand more fully the mercy and sacrifice of Jesus. It is a gift — a chance for us to grow in intimacy with Christ through our love for him. And because, in the end, that’s what is really important: giving to others the mercy and forgiveness we have received.
What has recently struck me in my “learning” was something I have heard all my life, and knew intellectually, but has finally hit my heart and taken on new meaning:
Christ forgave from the cross.
He did not forgive when he was feeling better, or when he resurrected. He forgave from the place of excruciating pain, in the midst of betrayal. He chose to conquer sin with his love, forgiveness and mercy.
I am sure that, even with this insight, sooner or later I will need to learn the lessons of patience in forgiveness, again. In Divine Mercy in My Soul, the diary of St. Faustina, Jesus says: “I permit adversities in order to increase your merit. I do not reward for good results but for the patience and hardship undergone for my sake.”
Will I ever get it right in this life? It seems to me what matters is that I desire to forgive offenses willingly and to bear wrongs patiently, and that I begin anew each time I fall, knowing it is only through his grace that I can succeed.