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How I learned to forgive

From the April 11, 2016 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

As the child of an alcoholic father, I went through a time in my life when I longed for a sense of peace about what I perceived was a lost childhood. I felt plagued by instability, memories of humiliating incidents, and laments about opportunities that seemed to have been stolen away. Worst of all was the belief that I hated my father.

There was a bumper sticker that came out about this time that stated, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” I longed to embrace that sentiment but felt trapped between deep resentment for what I perceived this parent had done to ruin our family, and the desire to feel released from such nonproductive thinking.

Eventually I came to realize that the missing element needed for resolution was forgiveness. However, Dad had died a few months after I graduated from high school, and I was left wondering what good it would do to forgive him. Clearly, there was more to learn.

Complicating matters was the fact that, within a few years following my dad’s passing, my mother went through a long illness and died. It was all too easy to blame Dad for this, too, and I found myself fighting a sense of despair and bitterness. 

Thank goodness these negative qualities are not natural to man. After finding Christian Science, I began to see that, as the image and likeness of God, man could never be burdened with such false feelings as hatred, resentment, self-pity, and disillusionment. The real and permanent status of man’s being is good. The messages I was finding in the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy, truly became “a light unto my path” (Psalms 119:105).

For example, one of the terms Mrs. Eddy uses for God—Father-Mother—intrigued me. Through the study of this concept, I began to see God as the source of all creation who imparts to His, Her, ideas everything they need at every moment. I began to acknowledge how I had been taken care of even when I felt no help was coming from my dad.

Looking back, I could see that my Father-Mother God had provided strength, comfort, provision, and protection in many forms. Sometimes an idea came that translated into supply. Sometimes a caring person was evident right when there was a need. Genuine parenting had always been there. Ignorance of it had kept me from feeling it.

After I progressed in my understanding of this Science of Christianity, it was my heart’s desire to become a Christian Science practitioner—someone who spends his or her full time praying for others who request Christian Science treatment. This question often came to thought: “How can someone be an effective healer without being able to forgive and be free of hatred?”

It was such a release to allow feelings of affection to surface and replace the hate and frustration.

At this time I was going through a training program for Christian Science chaplain work in local correctional institutions. As I was driving back from a work camp for prisoners one Saturday with the chaplain who was mentoring me that day, this woman began talking about her disruptive childhood as the result of an alcoholic father. Her dad had abandoned his family and left them in a desperate situation. Yet she spoke with such equanimity about the challenges she had experienced that I finally asked her if she hadn’t been hurt by all that this man had done to her—the person who was supposed to love and provide for her and her family. 

She responded: “Oh, of course. I was devastated! He didn’t care anything about us, but I adored him, and so of course I was terribly disappointed that he could desert us. If I hadn’t cared about him, it wouldn’t have mattered so much, but he meant the world to me.”

That conversation was an answer to my prayers as to how to forgive. It helped me realize that I, too, had adored my dad, but this love had been completely hidden from me by the hardness of heart that hatred creates. While I had stayed focused on all the things I felt my dad had done wrong, it had never occurred to me that my love for him was the reason I was so crushed by his actions. Now I began to admit that he’d had many good qualities and had loved his family. It was such a release to allow feelings of affection to surface and replace the hate and frustration that had dominated my thought for so long.

In the following months, divine Mind continued to reveal other needed elements of this healing. I was learning that what someone else does or doesn’t do has no real power over my life. It was actually possible for me to feel compassion toward my dad and what he must have gone through. Had I been a student of Christian Science back then and understood man’s true identity as the child of God, I would have been better able to see through this lie about him. I had that understanding now, and I wasn’t going to waste more years seeing him or myself incorrectly. I give Christian Science full credit for the complete healing of all animosity and bitterness toward my dad, and the inclination to think of my childhood as disappointing. 

In an article in Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896 titled “Deification of Personality,” Mrs. Eddy has several things to say that helped me break the tendency to take others’ actions personally and react with hurt and resentment whenever someone disappointed me. She points us instead to God with this instructive statement: “Every human thought must turn instinctively to the divine Mind as its sole centre and intelligence. Until this be done, man will never be found harmonious and immortal” (pp. 307–308). And further into the article she writes, “I earnestly advise all Christian Scientists to remove from their observation or study the personal sense of any one, and not to dwell in thought upon their own or others’ corporeality, either as good or evil” (pp. 308–309).

The benefit of these lessons was far more than a personal sense of peace, as welcome as that was. An issue that often comes up in the work of a Christian Science chaplain is the guilt inmates feel for past wrongdoing. The men and women who come to talk to the chaplains do so by choice, and in most cases there is a deep desire to do better, to be better. All too often, though, they find it very difficult to forgive themselves and accept that they deserve a better life.

I was learning that what someone else does or doesn’t do has no real power over my life.

There is a marginal heading in Science and Health on page 130 that states, “All evil unnatural.” I once read these words to an inmate and then told him: “You know, the reason you are so uncomfortable so much of the time isn’t because you are a terrible person who has done terrible things. You are uncomfortable because God didn’t make you terrible. Every time you have ever done anything wrong, it was a lie about you. You will never be comfortable doing those things, because they are not who you really are.” Then I explained that he was, in reality, the image and likeness of God, and that his nature was good, spiritual, and loving. 

This rather stoic and uncommunicative man responded by breathing heavily and sweating profusely as he struggled to keep from sobbing out loud. I sensed that these words awakened in him a feeling of self-worth that he had never considered before or had lost sight of.

For this, and for the many enlightening experiences that began with my desire to correct what seemed to be a life sentence of hate and resentment toward another individual, I am truly grateful. I now see forgiveness as a valuable link to the new view of life spoken of in the 21st chapter of Revelation: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away” (verse 1).

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