I recently found out that my mom has cancer. It’s quite advanced and has spread to multiple parts of her body. When she called me (the first time I’ve talked to her in over three years) I was in shock both because of the fact that she was calling but also because of the subject matter. Apparently, she didn’t want to tell me – she wanted another family member to do it. She had told other members of our family about two weeks before I found out and, from what I understand, she only told me herself because my grandmas pressured her to. I suppose how I found out is beside the point now.
The reality is, she’s dying. I don’t know how much time she has left exactly. She was supposed to go to the doctor to get a better idea of her treatment options last week and then call me. She didn’t call, but I guess she spoke with another family member because she is now supposed to be coming back to California to stay with her mom. From what I understand, she didn’t get any information from the doctor.
Lowell is a little confused by the strength of my emotion since learning the news. He says that my life won’t change at all if my mom dies because in all reality, I’ve never had a mom. I don’t really have a relationship with her to lose. That is very true. My life in the day to day moments won’t change if I lose my mother, but a very large part of my fantasy life will die. The problem is that I’ve never given up hope that I would someday have a relationship with my mom; that someday she would come into my life and begin to fill all those places that were left void and hurting. I’ve dreamed about the forgiveness and reconciliation, the long heart-to-heart talks that don’t really explain all the wasted years, but at least answer some of my lingering questions. I’ve dreamed about understanding, about being able to explain to myself why I wasn’t wanted; why she made the choices she did; why I was never enough to make her stay.
Pastor Greg did a sermon last week on forgiveness and debt. He, of course, talked about the parable of the debtor (Matthew 18); a man who owed the king a ridiculous sum of money – like billions of dollars – and in mercy, the king forgave his debt. Then the same man went to his slave and demanded that the slave repay the much smaller debt he owed to the man, even imprisoning the slave when he couldn’t pay. Needless to say, when the king found out what the man had done, he was furious and sent him to jail to be tortured until he could repay his entire debt. The point of Jesus’ parable is to show the huge debt that we’ve been forgiven by God and to demonstrate how we are to forgive others.
One of the points of Pastor’s message was that the only person who can forgive a debt is the one to whom the debt is owed – the homeowner can’t call the bank and say, “You know, I’ve decided to forgive myself this mortgage. Thanks for your time.” Only the bank can forgive a debt. This was important because often we try to “forgive ourselves” for something we’ve done. The truth is that we need to accept forgiveness from God or from the other person – this acceptance is how we achieve peace because, by definition, forgiving ourselves is not possible.
How does this relate to my mom? Well, part of the sermon was that forgiveness can’t be offered without acknowledging what debt is actually owed. When there is a hurt or an injury against someone, it creates a debt. In order to forgive someone, I need to figure out what they owe me. For example, did they ruin my reputation? Create an emotional injury with harsh words or by lying? Is there a physical debt – such as when someone steals a prized possession or causes harm to a person’s body? So the question for me is, what does my mother owe me?
Time. Lots of time.
Missed events – the birth of my babies, my wedding, birthdays, recitals…
Emotional damage caused by her leaving, lying and not following through on her promises.
Once I know what the debt is, I can forgive. Another part of the sermon answered a very common question – what if I can’t forget? The answer is: I continue to forgive and release the debt each time it pops up in my mind… One of the most famous parts of the parable of the debtor is that Jesus commands us to forgive 7x70 times. This isn’t supposed to be taken literally as “forgive only 490 times – not 491 or 492 times”. What it means is that we forgive generously because we have been forgiven completely. I always thought about this passage as referring to 490 different sins, but it could also be understood to mean that we forgive the same sin 490 times. I forgive my mom. And then, a couple hours later, I feel angry and hurt again so, I forgive again. Then I remember again, and I forgive again. 7x70 times. Because that’s what has been done for me.