When my father died I was devastated. I was relatively young, as was he, and we were close — even though my parents were divorced and I lived with my mother in another community. The loss was enough to cause me to register shock. One of my coping devices is to compartmentalize, which I did in this case. As a result, I did not have to deal with my emotions until much later.
The first memories that literally flooded into my mind were things I would have chosen to forget, to reflect on these was painful — they pierced my heart. They included such things as not showing up to visit Dad when I said I would or making him wait, intemperate youthful remarks, my failures in living into the relationship with him as best I could, or being the “son” that I felt I should have been.
Worst of all was that I had not made the most of the time we had together — of just cherishing him while he was alive — too few hugs and kisses. The more I tried to forget or erase these memories and thoughts, the more persistent and prevalent they became. Guilt and shame racked me. I had guilt over the things I should have done, could have done, should have said, or left unsaid. My shame came from my selfishness in not thinking beyond myself enough to consider my father’s feelings, or any hurt or pain I may have caused him. I know I loved my father, but I worried I had not made it clear to him.
I struggled with these memories for some time, until I eventually decided to own them. During this same period, the more I acknowledged and released painful memories, new memories and insights began to come into view. I could remember the wonderful times we had together, my father’s delightful stories and his life-lessons, his unique expressions, and quirky sense of humor. Most dearly, his telling me to remember that he loved me no matter what doubts or regrets came my way in the future. That his love for me was in God, and that it would be eternal. I now rejoice in each memory and insight of my father, and our relationship with each other, a relationship that continues to grow as I reflect on our memories, and of the love we have in Christ.
In this season of Lent, as I pause to consider my relationship with God, I often have thoughts I do not like, memories of sins that weigh me down, and painful and hurtful memories of the things I have done or left undone, that I have said or left unsaid, and like those memories of my earthly father, I fear I have grieved God, and shamed myself… These memories, likewise, pierce my heart. Yet I know that is not what God wants. God wants me to make room for love, and to not allow sin to take up room in my heart and mind, weighing down my spirit. So I own my sin, acknowledge the sin, accept it for what it is, and release it to God as an offering. In releasing my sin I make room for the love God has for me, I begin to live more and more into the transformed and resurrected spirit that His love is bringing forth. I am no longer living in sin, but in God.
“He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:10-12)
The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.
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