A few years ago I was accused by someone of serious malpractice and discriminatory behaviour. I believed the accusations were cynical and baseless and contested the claims, but it led to a legal action which involved a whole week in court.
In the end, I was completely exonerated but the whole process involved a considerable time, effort and emotional turbulence.
It is hard to go through such experiences without accumulating baggage. It is easy to hold onto resentments towards people who have wounded us.
We also accumulate baggage from our regrets about things we have done which have caused pain to others. Through both my work and personal life, there are people who feel let down by me, upset by my decisions or wounded by the conflicts I have engaged with.
Of course, not all negative reactions are justified, as in the example above. But we all get things wrong and make mistakes. And there are people I have hurt through things I have said, written and done which I greatly regret.
If we don’t have a way of processing guilt or pain, then over time it can create a crust of shame, bitterness and denial. Resentments and regrets can spiral, expand and infect other parts of our lives. They can make us brittle, defensive and undermine our relationships with others.
Two practices have particularly helped me address my baggage.
Firstly, I have met up or written to various people to express my apologies. Even when the incidents are in the distant past, I have found this to be worth doing. Secondly, I have a list of those people that I hold resentments to and I pray regularly for them.
I don’t want to sound overly pious but I wanted to be honest how liberating these practices have been. Finding forgiveness, both from others and for ourselves, is not easy. But perhaps its the most important of all tasks.
Today is Good Friday. I believe there is a chance for everyone to engage with what makes this day ‘good’.
In life, entrenched problems often need external intervention to be resolved. When it comes to addressing our guilt and shame, I think we need help from a source beyond us.
Good Friday marks the day when the God who created all things intervened to offer us these resources. The highest power in the universe took the pain, the injustice and the misery of the world onto himself.
Ultimate power soaked up pain through sacrificial love: this is the rescuing and redeeming grace of God.
Soaking up pain
It is easy for this to sound like religious mumbo-jumbo. But the analogy I have reflected on is that Jesus’ death on the cross is like a circuit breaker. It interrupts the spread of pain and resentment and offers resources to stop the downward spiral.
Instead of clinging to regrets and resentments, we have somewhere to set these down. Instead of recycling conflict, we have someone to bring our pain to. Instead of relying on self-justifications, we can embrace grace.
Here is where we can find forgiveness, and the freedom to forgive others. We can be reconciled and seek reconciliation.
Success in life is often presented as being financially secure, independent and the ability to enjoy endless choice. But these are not the things which make us truly human.
Authentic love is the opposite of detachment. When we love someone deeply, like our partners, children or parents, we feel compelled to walk towards them in their pain and suffering. Love compels compassion, which literally means ‘to suffer with’.
This is how God shows his love to us too. He comes to join us in our pain and suffering, and to offer rescue and redemption.
This Good Friday
So this Good Friday, why not take some time to sit quietly and bring your pain to the Creator of everything. Bring your guilt, your sadness, your broken dreams, your culpability in wrong-doing. The things you regret, the people you have hurt.
It may feel weak or foolish, but choose to descend the steps down to the cross of Christ. Cut the straps of the baggage you carry and know you have somewhere to leave them.
Know that someone has gone ahead of you on this journey. Someone who can bear the weight of all you carry. Someone whose grace and truth can heal you, and make you whole.
Know that it is finished. That the circuit has been broken. And that in this descent to the cross, true life is found.