Forgiving Ourselves

Sunday sermons are funny things. Confession; sometimes I step up to the plate totally convinced that the message is a home run, only to find out it’s a soft single or a short fly ball at best. Then there are the days I have walked gingerly to the pulpit praying my words might at least be serviceable, maybe even help somebody and, dear Lord, do no harm. As one preacher put it, sometimes you’ve got something to say; and sometimes you have to say something. One of the most important sermons I remember preaching pitched its tent in that second camp.

It was about our need to forgive others, if for no other reason than resentment just doesn’t work. There were some other reasons, but the offer of laying down some long-lugged load was suddenly inviting to folks. They leaned in and listened, and afterwards a dusty altar was swept clean by praying knees and long held back tears. And I really didn’t see it coming.

So, for the better part of two decades I have preached some version of that appeal a time or two each year, hardly ever without response. I guess carrying the weight of someone else’s sin is so common it doesn’t occur to us that we could give up a grudge or lay down right to get even. Who among us hasn’t hoped that a little old-fashioned karma would come down on a select sinner or two? I know I have.

But what happens when the sinner in question is you? You were wrong. You messed up. You gave in to too great a temptation and somebody got hurt. And it’s all your fault. Ever been there? “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned” is a good place to start, and receiving pardon from others surely helps. But all that still won’t get us to the place where we can forgive ourselves and sail on past that harbor of hurt.

Come Sunday, I’ll pull out the best map I have and see if we can’t chart that course together. I’ve reason to believe there will be at least a few folks there who have grown really tired of toting the stones of their stumbling. I’m positive there will be at least one of those, some fellow struggler who stands front and center. And I’m pretty sure that he won’t be alone.