With the season of Lent starting in two days, I’ve been narrowing down what I plan to give up for the 40 days leading up to Easter. With the help of my boyfriend, I’ve decided on two bad habits: Facebook and fingernail biting. These are both things that I do without thinking, and they both result in loss. Facebook costs me time and fingernail biting costs me… well my nails. Research tells us that it takes approximately 21 days for a pattern to transform into a habit. So by the time we reach April 16, I should no longer feel the need to anxiously pick at or chew my nails or surf through my Facebook newsfeed. I will have successfully conquered two negative habits through the art of discipline and sacrifice.
If you were to ask a non-Catholic to associate a word or phrase with Lent, most would comment “A time to give something up like sweets or TV.” They wouldn’t be 100% wrong, Lent is a time of sacrifice, which accompanies the idea giving something up that you enjoy or have a habit of doing. In addition to sacrifice, Lent is a time of forgiveness. I find that the concept of forgiveness is becoming exceedingly more elusive these days. When someone screws up and says they’re sorry, half the time they don’t truly mean it. The two words float out of their mouth out of habit, and while the person on the receiving end may nod and say it’s ok. Have they really practiced the art of forgiveness? Not quite.
An article from Christianity Today highlights three basic steps in practicing forgiveness: surrendering the desire to get even, rediscovering the wrongdoer’s humanity and finally wishing them well. It’s difficult for someone who utters the immediate words – it’s ok – to have completed these steps. There’s nothing wrong with taking time to go through the motions on your way to forgiving someone – the response does not need to be immediate. It’s also not required to forget what the person who caused you pain did, but you shouldn’t allow that memory to control your life. When I’m hurt by someone, I try hard to force what they did out of my mind. The trouble is when we try to repress or forget, it only prompts the memory to become more engrained in our mind.
I have never been a skilled forgiver. I’m guilty of uttering the words – it’s ok – after being hurt or wronged by someone. By speaking that faulty, immediate response, I’m depriving myself and the sinner the time to reflect on the committed transgression. A fake line of forgiveness does not do either of us any favors. I think the most important element to understand is time. Even though God can forgive us in a single breath, we do not have that divine ability. We require time to pray, reflect and listen to the Holy Spirit.
“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” – Micah 7:18-19