Editor’s note: Missioner Janice Smullen shares her reflections on forgiveness and redemption.
When I write “I will talk about my experience,” I only say that because my experience is all that I know. As you read, take what you like and leave the rest, but know that I share this with you because I am sure that you have had these moments also and we grow closer by sharing.
I have worn glasses since I was six years old and each time I received a new pair the world became more clear. But none of those experiences compare with “Getting the plank out of my own eye” (Matthew 7:3-5 and Luke 6:41). While trying to deal with the departure from my life of someone very important to me, I struggled when I heard the reading about the rich man who ignored the sick and poor man Lazarus in life, and viewed him, across a deep chasm, in death (Luke 16:19-31).This person who had left my life had, in many people’s eyes, done wrong. I heard the reading and imagined what hell it would be for me to sit with God and see this other person on the other side of the chasm. I cried for the next few weeks, trying to figure out this version of hell, when one day I realized “Who says I am going to be sitting on God’s side of the chasm??!!”
I suppose that Lazarus was doing all that he was physically able to do in his little spot in the world. He hadn’t done anything to merit his position with Abraham. God’s unconditional love brought him there. When I look at Christ on the cross, I know that God understands suffering. I suppose that God and Lazarus were able to connect and be happy to be with each other because of their ability to share the relief from suffering.The rich man, on the other hand, was not doing all that he could in his part of the world. He saw the suffering, probably smelled the suffering, stepped over it every day but did not do anything to help. I am pretty sure that God can’t relate or understand that behavior; it is not part of His plan.
In my situation, I realized that my behaviors were not the best ones that God wanted to see. Perhaps MY habits and words and behaviors had contributed to this person’s despair. My anger and jealousy and fear were holding me back from any change. These were the planks in my eye and I needed to address them.
Matthew 13:24-30, the wheat and the tares, is where my work really began. Sometimes an offhand remark from someone about my behaviors would get my attention and I would have to ponder it. Counselors gave me some techniques. Friends and family asked questions and offered guidance. I found that deeper study of the 12 Steps and the use of the Enneagram to look at myself brought Scripture, and especially the Gospels, more deeply into my life. Steps 1-3 of the 12 Steps tells me it is OK to feel powerless because there is a Higher Power and I can turn my will and my life to that Higher Power. My life had become unmanageable, but God’s unconditional love would guide me through.
The Enneagram helped me to discover my dark places and face them and to better understand the behaviors and dark places of the person who had left my life. I became more compassionate as I realized that we all share some kind of suffering. The dark (tares) is part of me and it won’t magically disappear, but once illuminated, it won’t be so frightening. They can exist along with my better behaviors (wheat), but the healthier wheat was able to predominate. Each little discovery enabled me to transform some of my hurt, rather than continue to transmit it.
My “problems” are minuscule compared to other people’s struggles. I have had family and friends and church to guide me. I won’t say that I listened to them all of the time… but the experience of the journey enables me to build a stronger bridge for me to reach out to others and take hands together to cross. I imagine this was the same for Jesus in the Resurrected appearances. He was transformed by His cross and I believe the disciples sensed this and felt empowered to grow in their faith.
My progress (not perfection) is now helping my family relationships and is mission service at its core. I don’t feel the need to speak of my journey first but I am able to sit and listen to someone else’s and our hearts connect. This process manifested spectacularly in my doula experiences while assisting in childbirth. Birthing is the ultimate experience of letting go, riding the waves of contractions and emotions and discomfort and experiencing a miraculous result.
Transforming my hurts works like birthing, only on a much slower and smaller scale! It is hard and ugly work but I have actually felt burdens be lifted and the small miracle of realization take hold. As the negative becomes smaller, the grace grows and I become closer to being that beautiful, just born creation that God envisions for me. I become a new pot, it the hands of the master potter.
Forgiveness to others is a large focus of the 12 Steps. Forgiveness of self is possible with the aid of the Enneagram. Matthew 18:22, forgiving not seven times, but seventy seven times, makes more sense when I read verses 15-20 first. This is the perfect outline of conflict resolution and showcases the very small amount of power I hold in changing another person and how important it is to have the help and guidance of others. It was these thoughts on power and forgiveness that surfaced and prompted these writings while I watched the recent news accounts from Charlottesville, VA. The hurt and fury and anger that I had felt seemed to be multiplied many times over in these confrontations.
Someone being pictured on the 5 o’clock news shouting the loudest, or pulling the hardest to topple a statue, or beating another person doesn’t change anything. That is only transmitting hurt. As a Franciscan Christian, the worst picture of hurt to me is the crucifixion. That picture of violence and desperation and hatred hasn’t changed the world. But the appearance of a resurrected and transformed Jesus and the love and guidance and inspiration and grace that He was able to pass on to his followers and that we are enabled to pass on to others in joys and sufferings changed my world. One step at a time as I walk with God.
Reflection question: How can you cultivate the sensation of being a new pot in the hands of God, the master potter?