Forgiveness: The need to forgive ourselves

Buddhist Principle on Forgiveness:

Have forgiveness in your heart for anything you think you’ve done wrong . Forgive yourself for all the past omissions and commissions. They are long gone. Understand that you were a different person and this one is forgiving that one that you were. Feel that forgiveness filling you and enveloping you with a sense of warmth and ease”..  

Think of your parents. Forgive them for anything you have ever blamed them for. Understand that they too are different now. Let this forgiveness fill them, surround them, knowing in your heart that this is your most wonderful way of togetherness.”

My brother James couldn’t forgive himself or others.  He hadn’t spoke to my mom in over 4 years and claimed that it was because she didn’t come to his son’s graduation.   He hadn’t seen or talked to his oldest three sons, his sisters, his nieces or nephews etc in 3 or more years either.  It wasn’t because he had something against any of us.  The opposite was true.  He loved his sons (and the rest of us) desperately. It was because he had something against himself… a self loathing that he wouldn’t allow to pass, I believe is why he stayed away.  He felt unworthy of our love, unworthy of forgiveness.  I don’t believe he had an understanding of Grace, which in retrospect I feel, if he had, it might  have saved his life.

What if I’d shared with him about God’s Grace and it’s meaning.  If he knew he was loved unconditionally, that he didn’t have to earn it…that there was nothing he could do to earn it, but that God wanted a relationship with him, just as he was…broken, tired, unworthy.   That we all wanted a relationship with him, just as he was.

Matthew 11: 28

28Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Forgiveness isn’t only a Christian principle.  Every religion embraces the need of it in some way. Psychology teaches it as a fundamental part of healing and of human nature.  I find Buddhist teachings like the one above to be some of the most simple, straight-forward, yet deeply meaningful life practices out there.  What if James had heard any of this, taken time to contemplate it, meditate on it, breath it in and let his soul absorb it;

Have forgiveness in your heart for anything you think you’ve done wrong . Forgive yourself for all the past omissions and commissions. They are long gone. Understand that you were a different person and this one is forgiving that one that you were. Feel that forgiveness filling you and enveloping you with a sense of warmth and ease”..  

What if’s are hard. Yet whenever things go awry we’re filled with them.  Loss of a marriage; what if I’d just been more present, more aware of the needs of my partner instead of so aware of how my own needs weren’t being met.  Arguments:  How much pain could I have spared myself and others if I had just walked away and cooled down first.  Poor Health:  Why didn’t I practice all the things I knew I should be doing before I got to this point. Every disappointment has its “what if’s”.  I try not to go there with James.  I knew the possibility that my brother’s deep depression and self loathing could one day lead to suicide  I felt powerless to stop it, and the truth is I didn’t even try.  What if I had tried and failed. What if?  The outcome would have been the same. He’d be gone now.  But what if I’d tried and through time, attention, prayer and intentionality God was able to find a crack, an opening and acceptance and love began to seep in again.  What if I’d shared the gospel, the story of God’s grace that he had rejected before, but maybe now would have been open to.  Or meditated with him and talked to him about the simplicity of Buddha’s teachings.  My brother disappeared often. He’d left all of us years ago…how much worse could it have gotten?  When I  learned of his whereabout recently, why didn’t I share them sooner… I planned to/I should have.  I didn’t know that time would run out.

So do I have “What if’s?”  Absolutely.   I don’t blame myself for my brother’s suicide.  Mental health issues are hard to fight and I didn’t feel equipped to handle them.  He wasn’t addressing them fully…but that’s the thing with depression. Hopelessness and powerlessness consume.  The strength to fight is depleted…maybe my brother needed a warrior who had the strength to fight for him. I wasn’t the only one out there and I’m not a savior by any means, but I know a Savior…and not everyone my brother knows did.

It’s too late for James.  He’s gone, but somewhere out there… for someone out there,  it’s not too late.  Everyday, I forgive myself for not having done more. For not sharing with my whole family where to find him on the rare occasion that I knew.   I’ve learned that time runs out. So I also, like the buddhist principle above, allow this me to forgive that me, who just didn’t know what to do…retrospect always has answers.

Forgiveness is a reset that frees us.  It can free us from the “what if’s” that can be haunting.  

Matthew 18:21

21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.g

I think I’m learning that living my faith, living by example is not always enough…I don’t always know how to share the good news of Christ directly, how to answer those tough questions. How to move past fear of pushing someone further away from God when I share with them…but I also have learned that sometimes they are so far away already and they don’t know how to draw near.  People need this good news.  They need to know that God loves them right where they are and maybe by sharing it, and opening them up to the knowledge of what God intends for them would be enough for their heart to soften toward him, enough for Christ to move within.

I bear this burden because James reached out to me…maybe he did so because he knew I knew God.  Maybe he did so because the good news was inside me.  Maybe it was none of those. But I let him keep his distance.  I gave him his space; for fear of losing him again…I didn’t push.  He made an opening for me more than once, and I didn’t give enough, seek more, tell all … and I live with that today.

Tonight I’m in my hotel room in Denver after a wonderful long day in the mountains with my nephews (my brother’s sons), a long hot bath, a lot of thought and contemplation, on forgiveness battling against a heart full of joy, I forgive myself.  The me of now, must reach back to the me of then and offer Grace and understanding.  I intended no harm, my heart was full of love for my brother, and I only wanted more of him…so I reach back and remind myself it’s not my fault and I did nothing but offer unconditional love.  It wasn’t enough to save him, but it was perhaps enough to heal a piece of his broken heart.