"If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family."
-St. Teresa of Calcutta
It was the day before Christmas Eve, and Derek wasn't sure who he was going to spend Christmas with. Derek was a middle aged man in his late 40's. He had one teenage son who lived with his mother. Derek had been divorced for many years and grew apart from his son, Seth. Both of Derek's parents lived 35 minutes away. He hasn't had much contact with his dad in over a decade. His mom would call him regularly but their relationship was very superficial. Whenever she would call, he would always say that he was busy with work and didn't have time to talk. He would respond to his mom by saying "yea, everything is good. Gotta go mom, I have a deadline to meet for work. Call you later." But later never happened. His older brother invited him for Christmas dinner, but their dad would be there, so Derek declined the offer. Derek thought to himself "Who really needs family anyway. I am fine by myself. I can just watch some movies and order out."
Derek spent last Christmas with a friend from work. He didn't want to impose on the same friend this year. They also haven't been as friendly as they once were. Derek continues to justify that he is fine and he doesn't need family around the holidays. But something inside of Derek was making him feel uneasy. He felt as if something was missing. The reason why Derek and his dad were not on speaking terms was due to an arguement that happened twelve years ago. It had to do with Derek's job/career. His dad mentioned how Derek was not spending time with his own son, and that he needed to make more time for family life. His dad called him names and told Derek that "he was no good" and a "horrible father."
The next morning was Christmas Eve and Derek needed to get some last minute gifts for his son. He was going to drop them off at his ex-wife's house that evening. As he was walking towards Macy's, Derek bumped into his brother's wife. She invited him again to Christmas dinner and said "Derek, it's been way too long for you and your dad to be apart. Don't you think it's time to forgive him and move on?" Derek stood there looking at his sister-in-law and said " I don't know, I just can't be near him." "Well, just think about it, Derek. I would hate to see you alone on Christmas" replied his sister-in-law. Derek left the mall, went home and wrapped the gifts he bought. Before he finished wrapping, he got a drink out of the refrigerator. As he closed the door, he noticed a picture of his son, Seth and his grandpa (Derek's dad) at Seth's 8th grade graduation. He stared at it for awhile, then he picked up the phone.
Who do you think Derek called? His son, his dad, or maybe his brother telling him that he would be there for Christmas dinner? It's up to the reader to fill in the last part of the story. Derek was emotionally wounded. Not only with the arguement with his dad, but he has been carrying around a lot of baggage from the past. He had loss of his marriage, of his relationship with Seth, and also his friend at work. Losses accumilate over time and if we don't face feelings, or grieve losses properly, it builds up inside of us. It actually can cause physical symptoms of various sicknessness and long term medical conditions. In Derek's situation, he held onto a grudge for years and was unable to forgive. Unforgiveness keeps us stuck and it's hard to move on. Unforgiveness of one person, can affect and trickle down to other relationships (like a domino effect) that become strained and difficult.
Forgiveness is big part of the healing process. It is not a one time thing, and can take years to get through. It's not a feeling, but rather an "act of the will." Meaning, that we have free will to either choose good or bad actions. It is our will that determines our way toward virtue or toward vice. If we say to ourselves "I am never going to forgive her." then that is an act of not wanting to forgive. When we don't want to forgivie or just won't, then we are setting ourselves up for failure. If we say, I want to forgive him/her, but I can't right now. Then, that is a step towrds healing because the will is "wanting to forgive." This takes time and this is where faith comes in.
As humans, it is difficult and hard to move past hurts and dissapointments. Especially if there is a deep hurt that shakes our core. It is also very hard to do this on our own. We are made to be in communion with one another and to receive help from one another. One may seek therapy to get a better understanding of a situation. Another person may turn to a friend or another family member to seek help with forgiveness. And another person may turn to their faith in God to help with forgiveness. Many times people have thought that they have forgiven someone, but then something happens that brings up a memory and they start talking badly about that person. This means that there is still unforgiveness. The wound is still open and hasn't fully healed.
So, how does one truly heal from a grudge, a past hurt? How does one truly forgive? As I mentioned earlier, it is an act of the will. But in order to truly be free from the bondage of hatred, anger and grudges is with the help of Jesus. The Apostle Peter asked in Matthew 18:21-22 "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven." Jesus did not mean the literal number, but that we need to forgive over and over again, many times in our lives. Jesus gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation and left this authority to the Apostles which has been carried down from generation to generation to current Catholic priests. In this awesome Sacrament, tremendous healing takes place. We can bring our hurts, disappointments, grudges and unforgiveness to the confessional. We can say to the priest "I am having trouble forgiving so and so, but I want to forgive." The priest will discuss the situation with the person. The priest acts in "Persona of Christ". It is actually Jesus working through the priest that forgives sins and helps us forgive. This supernatural grace we get from this Sacrament is healing and it gives us the strength to forgive when ordinarly we couldn't do on our own.
In Conclusion: Forgiveness is a key to healing both physcally and spiritually. It is the key to more meaningful, loving and, better relationships. When we forgive, we are at peace with God and with other people. If we don't forgive, it hardens the heart. We will get better physically if we forgive. Spiritually, we will be able to feel God's love more fully if we forgive. So, if you need to forgive someone this Holiday season, now is the time.