I wrestle my way out of my coat, hat, neck gater, mittens, and snow pants. They fall wet and forgotten to the floor near the back door. I eagerly push my way into the kitchen, past the laundry and my siblings’ other forgotten coats and boots to announce my big news: Yes, I have chicken pox! The doctor said so. Now I have to lay in bed and miss school and be with Mama all day long while itching everywhere. Before I could get any of it out of my pursed lips, my little brother tumbles down the back stairs and erupts: “Your imaginary friend Ben is now MY friend.” He must have been five, maybe four years old. He already knew how to make my heart flop over.
My first lesson in forgiveness, in forgiving an actual transgression, came that day. My imaginary friend Ben was my best friend. And that day, after my little brother proclaimed it to be thus, he took him over, and I never saw him again, or rather, never talked with him or imagined with him. On top of itching like h-e-double-hockey-sticks, my brother thieved away my bestie.
I ran past him up the red shag carpeted steep stairs, down the hall past the closet Ben used to live in, to the bedroom I shared with my transgressing brother. Slamming the door had never felt so good. Later when my mom slipped in to apply Calamine lotion like sunscreen in July, she gently asked if I was ready to forgive my brother. Noper.
That afternoon, that early evening, my mother’s words opened my eyes. It was the first time I realized that the prayer we said in our family Rosary, the Our Father, actually meant I was supposed to forgive. It wasn’t just a prayer about calling God my Father, or asking to “Give us this day our daily bread” like that ceramic bread serving dish my Grandma used on fancy occasions. God had given us this direct instruction: forgive as I forgive you. And He meant it. (My brother did apologize and I forgave him, but Ben was lost forever.)
I still live out the struggle to forgive my four siblings, all of us grown up now. We’re a tight-knit bunch, but lingering annoyances can fester into full-blown feuds if we don’t apply that dose of forgiveness. Chewing over comments or what-that-text-meant can undermine the love I know we believe in living out for each other. Every single day, we’re supposed to forgive and let that stuff GO.
Jesus couldn’t be more clear in today’s Gospel. This is no hidden message in a parable about agrarian lords or sniveling servants. It’s straight-up instructions, a challenge, a call. Can you heed it today? Can I?
What’s hurting on your heart that you need to address and forgive? Even just to yourself or to God our Father in prayer? Maybe even to the person who’s transgressing? Take a breath. Make the decision to forgive.
Nell O’Leary is an attorney turned stay-at-home mom to four lovelies. She and her husband live in the great city of Saint Paul. You can find out more about her here.