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A few mornings ago the happy sound of singing birds suddenly turned into an angry ruckus. A confused sparrow had made a mistake and wandered too far out of its territory; the other birds made it feel the consequences of its error. The wayward sparrow retreated to a distant branch and all returned to their morning chirping. Now clearly informed of the boundary, the little bird kept its distance.
We all make mistakes. Some are minor; others carry graver consequences. They can be expansive and involve many people or personal and encased in shame. Many mistakes, when reflected upon, burn us afresh with humiliation.
The bird’s plight reminded me of a mistake I made some years back.
When I look back at that terrible morning — the morning when I was like the sparrow, and broke a boundary — I ache because of the suffering I caused to friends whom I had known for nearly a decade. I expressed regret, and apologized as best I could, but those I had hurt had well-founded anger, and it ran too deep to accept my apology.
Those friends and I have a mutual friend — I’ll call her Bea — and Bea and I meet about every six weeks for lunch.
Until recently, each time Bea and I would get together, I would ask whether these friends I’d injured were in need of prayers. She would graciously share information, and I would gratefully pray.
This year, on Holy Thursday, I read the heading to an article written by Leah Libresco, “Dwelling in Wounds to Hide from Grace,” and felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit. Had I, for all these years, not given the opportunity to those whom I had hurt to offer their grace of forgiveness? Was it easier to hide in the wounds? To presume that they were dwelling there as well?
We all hope for forgiveness and mercy from those whom we have, unwittingly or intentionally, harmed. But do we open ourselves, to allow those whom we have injured the opportunity to forgive us?
I asked Bea to invite our friends to lunch. As I drove to the restaurant, I was both eager and anxious. My prayer to our Lord was oddly about doors: to open wide the door to the renewal of the friendship, or, to close it on that chapter of our lives. Either way I prayed that healing would prevail; all in all it is his door.
I told the host at the restaurant entrance that I was meeting friends. He said she was already seated in the corner. At that moment I knew the others hadn’t come.
We all desire to be forgiven, but we are not entitled to it. In a sentence or two during our lunch I learned that the door was closed. I was relieved in knowing I had tried to give an opportunity for reconciliation and reunion, that I hadn’t made my own guilt and shame an obstacle to the working of grace.
I had a delightful afternoon with Bea as we talked about family, holidays, books and paintings and wandered through the gift store across the street. We hugged good-bye; there was love and assurance that we would continue to pray for each other.
Driving home I felt healing had taken place. The mistake was made and now all of us had moved on. I would remember to keep my distance, honoring the new-set boundaries. I will always relish the love once shared with those friends and continue to pray that the Lord will look upon us all with his gaze of mercy.
Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB, is a Benedictine oblate, lay hermit and author. Her works include The Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac. She blogs atMorning Rose Prayer Gardens.