EDITORIAL: Clean slates

By NEMS Daily Journal

Basic human flaws seem to grow into the worst problems in relationships. For example, what starts in childhood as back-seat feuds between siblings about space, touch, candy and parental attention usually subsides or disappears as young siblings mature, but adulthood is no guarantee that those childhood issues won’t become life-complicating divisions.
Henri Nouwen, the late priest and writer, plumbed the depths of broken relationships and the possibility of healing in his extensive comments and meditations on Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). Nouwen, citing the prodigal parable and the story of laborers in the vineyard, discusses damaging jealousy as causes of divisions between people – and between people and their faith relationship with God.
Nouwen writes, “In the parable of the prodigal son, the elder son is jealous that his younger brother gets such a royal welcome even though he and his loose women swallowed up his father’s property (Luke 15:30). And in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, the workers who worked the whole day are jealous that those who came at the eleventh hour receive the same pay as they did (see Matthew 20:1-16). But the Father says to the older son: ‘You are with me always and all I have is yours’ (Luke 15:31). And the landowner says: ‘Why should you be envious because I am generous?’ (Matthew 20:15).
“When we truly enjoy God’s unlimited generosity, we will be grateful for what our brothers and sisters receive. Jealousy will simply have no place in our hearts.”
The ultimate point Nouwen makes is that jealousy and other insecurities rise in part from forgetting that the father in the parable of the prodigal and the owner in the story about the laborers are both metaphors for a generous and welcoming God.
“How do we welcome home our lost brothers and sisters?” Nouwen asks. “By running out to them, embracing them, and kissing them. By clothing them with the best clothes we have and making them our honored guests. By offering them the best food and inviting friends and family for a party. And, most important of all, by not asking for excuses or explanations, only showing our immense joy that they are with us again. (See Luke 15:20-24).
“That is being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. It is forgiving from the heart without a trace of self-righteousness, recrimination, or even curiosity. The past is wiped out.”
Frederic Luskin, a Stanford researcher who studies the effects of forgiveness, defines it as “…the moment to moment experience of peace and understanding that occurs when an injured party’s suffering is reduced by the process of transforming a grievance they have held against an offending party.”
Who has not felt the virtually physical lifting of emotional weight when forgiveness is extended?
Luskin also says that forgiveness is not forgetting because acknowledging negative emotions and events must happen before forgiveness.
Forgiveness, he says, is not treating an offense as acceptable behavior in the future.
Forgiveness is, first and foremost, an internal process, he said.
All those who have forgiven or have been forgiven can identify with these characteristics:
- Forgiveness shapes a path to freedom.
- Forgiveness frees people from the compulsion to control.
- Forgiveness breaks patterns that would otherwise interfere with future relationships.
- Forgiveness usually requires time and effort.
And always, forgiveness offers an opportunity for starting over with a clean slate.