There are some questions that I came across that helped me explore this time.
Where was the love in my life this year? I often found love in the actions of my wife. She has been patient with me, when I have been less that easy to live with.
Has the year 2005 left me with any unresolved angers or resentments?
Oh yeah, and this is where the hard part comes in. This is where the need for me to forgive comes in. The need for me to forgive. One quote I read about forgiveness talks about how it frees the one who gives it.
It means that we can move out of our previous position and move on with our lives. Best of all, it enables us to be reconciled with our neighbors and with God so that once again we feel part of the greater community of the spiritual life.
And of course there is Shakespeare's quote for The Merchant of Venice:
The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:'
Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.
How can I go into 2006 with a peaceful and clean heart?
The only way to go into the new year in peace is to forgive those who have offended me. But here is where the argument gets complicated. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. Forgiveness cancels the debt but reconciliation means coming back into fellowship. With some people that is not possible.
Surely none of us would tell an abused spouse that to forgive means to move back in with her abuser! No, we would not tell the child who has been sexually abused that he or she has to stay in that situation. And there are times when we have to set a limit on what kind of relationship we will have with someone.
But the freedom gained from forgiveness is my own, not theirs. The persons who offended me probably don't know it or if they do I doubt they spend their lives feeling bad about it. We pray in the Lord's Prayer to be forgiven as we forgive those who trespass against us. That's what it is, a trespass. A violation of a boundary. But that doesn't mean that we have to take the boundary down. But we do need to let go of the anger.
A man was boarding an airplane to travel to a distant country on business. As he started to get on board, the gate attendant stopped him because his bag was too large to go in the overhead bin.
"Sir," she said. "You cannot take that with you. You will have to give that to the baggage handlers."
"But you don't understand!" the man said. "This is a very important bag. It contains all the memories I have accumulated over the last 20 years. It has everything in it, all the bad things that happened, the too few good things, and the feelings that went with them. They have been there for years. I can't trust just anyone with them."
"I understand that you hold these things dear, sir," she said. "But the fact remains that the bag is too large and too heavy to take on the airplane. You will have to give it to the handlers."
With the plane beginning to rev its engines, and the other passengers in line becoming agitated that the man was blocking the gate, the traveler reluctantly gave the bag to the attendant.
"Thank you, sir," she said and took the heavy piece of luggage from him. She punched his boarding pass, and directed him down the jetway toward his seat. As he sat down, he looked out the window to see the luggage handlers taking his bag away from the plane!
"Wait!" he shouted. "Wait that bag has to go with me! I have to have it with me!" But the plane doors were shut, and the engines whirring at full speed. There was no turning back now.
"What am I going to do!?" the traveler thought. "Everything I cherished for years was in that bag." But the wheels lifted off the ground, and he resigned himself to getting his bag back when he arrived at his destination. He then drifted off the sleep.
The skidding of the plane's wheels awoke him with a jolt. We must be there, he thought. And started to get ready to get off the plane. As he moved through the aisle, he spied his bag in the front closet of the aircraft. The flight attendant had stowed it there before takeoff, and now it was returned to him.
Joy filled his heart as he opened the bag, but his joy soon turned to disappointment. All that was in there were a few small letters, each one stamped with a red wax seal that had a small heart-shaped impression in it. He looked at the first one, and tore it open to find a card inside.
"I love you," it said. And it was signed Jesus. He tore open another. "I love you, dearly, and think of you often." Again it bore the same signature. Each of the letters contained the same message. But the books and ledgers he had in there originally were gone. Finally he came to a small package wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string.
He tore open the wrapping, and there on a small book were embossed the words "your debts." He hesitated to open the book, but swallowed hard and opened it. It was blank. He thumbed through the pages, each one the same, blank. Finally, he got to the last page and there written on the inside cover after the last page were the words "I told you I love you. Do you believe me now?"
The man was dumbfounded. He had his bag back, but the contents were very different. But he did notice that his shoulders did not hurt as much from carrying the weight. And he had a sense of resolution about things. He was not sure that he wanted the old contents back. As he left the airplane, he swung the bag over his shoulder but kept a tight grip with in his right hand. It was much lighter -- and somehow more precious -- to him now.
Happy New Year.