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The grace to forgive

There’s a young woman who has had to deal with a very difficult father. The father is an alcoholic who never admitted that he had a problem, and so never did anything about it. There’s been a lot of collateral damage over the years because of this. And this young woman’s time living in the house where she grew up was difficult to say the least.  

All this woman ever wanted was for her father to show some interest in her. As soon as she is able, this young woman gets out of that house and finds her own apartment. 

She never hears from her father. 

Several years go by, and one day there’s a phone call. It’s her father. He says, “So good to hear your voice.”

Could this be a conversation moment? Was he calling to apologize, perhaps? Or at least to say that he was finally getting some help to address his addiction? So many times she and her mother had tried to convince him that he needed help. 

Here’s what he says: “Beth, I’m in jail, can you bail me out? Another driving accident, and this time the police took me in….” Beth tells her father that he is self-centered. She says that she will not bail him out. She hangs up the phone, and collapses in tears.

Beth tries to pray to calm herself down, she’s so upset. And here’s what she prays for: The grace to forgive so that her anger will not overshadow her life and make her a bitter person. Notice, she doesn’t pray that everything will work out, she prays, “Lord, rescue me from my feelings of anger and resentment.” She learned to pray this way through the storms of life with the help of a very wise spiritual director that she’s been seeing over these past few years. And it has made a great difference in her life. Beth’s prayer is a good one. “Lord, give me the grace to forgive. Rescue me from my anger and resentment.”         There’s not really another part to this story. Beth doesn’t call and forgive her father and bail him out of jail. She wasn’t there yet. And her father didn’t call and tell her that he had admitted himself into a rehab program. But you can still say that there’s something positive in that Beth has put herself on the right path. She is learning to seek the help she needs through spiritual direction to change the way she thinks. 

Her spiritual director has told her: “You can’t control this, you didn’t ask for this. Better to keep your eyes fixed on Christ.”

Resentment is one disease that can destroy a person’s spirit. It can lead to self-pity and a desire for retaliation that usually goes nowhere. It’s like bees who kill themselves stinging others. Instead, we must really do our best to concentrate on Christ and his cross and not look at the storm around us. 

And that’s how you make it through the storms of life—by trying to look at Christ and not yourself. Also, know that Jesus is with you—present in the storm. 

Notice, when Peter keeps his gaze on Christ, he is able to walk on the water and move toward him, but when he turns away and sees how rough the water is, he starts to sink. And we do the same thing!

The image of the storm refers to life’s challenges. The winds and rough waves are our fears and other emotions which make us have doubts. The sinking happens when we start to give in to our feelings of anger and resentment. The worst thing, is not to ask for help when you start to sink. 

So, in the storms of life, ask for the grace to stay on course. And when we fail, we reach out and allow Christ to pull us out of the rough waters. 

Let me share a reflection that St Augustine wrote when he was praying over this passage from Matthew’s Gospel: 

“If I try by myself to swim across the ocean of this world, the waves will certainly engulf me. In order to survive I must climb aboard a ship made of wood; this wood is the cross of Christ. Of course, even on board ship there will be dangerous tempests and perils from the sea of this world. But God will help me remain on board the ship and arrive safely at the harbor of eternal life.”

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