“Which Beatitude do you find the hardest to practice in your life?”
It was a question we offered for ‘sharing’ at the end of each of our last two “Living the Beatitudes” retreats, one of which finished last weekend. The answers varied – poor, meek, persecuted, pure – but one kept coming to the fore repeatedly, often accompanied by tears:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.” (Mt 5:7)
I was moved by the number of people going through life and carrying the heavy weight of not forgiving another person. The other person may be a parent that has already died, a relative living far away, a former spouse, or a person still living in the home. The other person may even be oneself or God. The retreat awakened many to see that withholding forgiveness was, as one put it, “keeping me tethered” and “keeping me from being blessed.”
An image of unforgiveness came to mind from a recent trip to the historic and beautiful Fort Macon State Park. Fort Macon was originally built to defend the North Carolina coast during times of war, playing an active part in the Civil War and Spanish-American War. Later, Fort Macon was repurposed as a federal penitentiary. Now it’s a park where people can hike, fish, and beach in a pristine coastal setting.
A person who withholds forgiveness is very much like this fort. The unforgiveness begins as a defensive fortress to protect the person from getting hurt again. Later, however, it becomes a prison in which the person remains a captive.
The picture accompanying this post is one wall of the fort. It looks like a face – not just any face but the face of unforgiveness. On the surface, it’s stoic and impenetrable. On the inside, there is no light, life, or freedom.
Unfortunately, there is no secret formula for forgiveness. If there were, it wouldn’t have surfaced so often. If you recognize your face in the picture, that might be the first and most important step. The next would be to recognize that the key to escape from this prison into the sunshine is on your side. Lastly, pray to Jesus and ask him to show you how to turn the key and enter the world of ‘blessed’.