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 | By Sister Ann Shields

The hard work of forgiveness: The greatest gift you can give and receive

The call to forgiveness, to reconciliation, to peace. This is the message of Advent in preparation for the great feast of Christmas. There is a great need for forgiveness, and we need to learn what the Scriptures teach us and the need for each of us, if we are truly Christian, to respond to God’s admonitions and direction. If we are unable to do this, we face a life filled with the fruits of such a mindset: bitterness, hatred, desire for revenge, coldness and hardness of heart. No one should live in that kind of darkness, yet many do!

Scripture is crystal clear regarding forgiveness:

Matthew 5:23-24: So, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled with your brother and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 18:15: If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

These passages go on to explain what to do if such initiatives don’t work. But let's focus on the willingness to take the initiative whether you sinned or were sinned against.

This month is a grace-filled time to give and receive forgiveness; it is a time to heal and to be healed. You could give no better gift to your family and friends than the willingness to reconcile or to help another do that.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we commit ourselves to forgiveness: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We are asking God to forgive us the way we forgive others. This should cause us to pause and to remember that God never asks anything of us for which he does not impart the grace, the assistance, to enable us to accomplish what Christ asks.

These are not just academic lessons to be pondered and then, perhaps, disagreed with and discarded. They are the words of a Savior who wants us to know life and peace and happiness – even here in this life.

Will you try God’s way?

By hard work, a single mother enables her only child to attend college. While in college, through a series of drug-related circumstances, her only son was shot and killed by another young man. Only a parent who has gone through a similar tragedy can grasp the power of all-consuming grief. Yet, through prayer, good friends and ministry, that grieving single mother was able to walk into the courtroom months later, go directly to the grandmother of the boy who had shot her son, a grandmother who had raised him and was herself stricken, put her arms around her and say, "We have both lost children.”

In the midst of pain, when a person is able to identify with the pain of another and embrace that person, the destructive work of the enemy (the devil) is halted and healing can begin. That single mother went further and spearheaded a fundraising campaign to improve the neighborhood where a grandmother had tried to raise a grandson. Mercy is not cheap grace. It cost Jesus his suffering and his very life. It cost these women incalculable pain – yet their willingness to forgive and be forgiven ultimately made possible the planting of new seeds of life for others who would bear the fruit.

May this Advent – this time of waiting for the coming of the Lord – be a time where healing in our relationships begins and new hope arises in our hearts – and in the hearts of those we love.

Sister Ann Shields is a renowned author and a member of the Servants of God’s Love.

This article was originally published December 2014.