This is the first Sunday in Lent. I think many people no longer know the purpose of Lent. Lent came into being as the Christian time of atonement. During this time, we are called to reflect upon the previous year, our relationships with one another, and how Christ died forgiving those in his life and forgiving us sight unseen. So this Lenten season, we will be reflecting upon conflict and forgiveness. Conflict in our lives when held onto can eat us up inside. Conflict can destroy our self image, our relationships with loved ones, and how we deal with the world. Conflict and the resulting emotions when harbored cause so much more pain than is necessary. This is why in general we don’t like to talk about conflict. We don’t want to talk about the messy emotions. But it is so important that we do and Lent is the perfect time to set our relationships right so on Easter morning we can truly embrace the totality of healing and wholeness being offer in the Resurrection.
When I was a child, I had a bit of a temper. I was known in my mother’s family as “Meany Mandy”. Needless to say I was a little bit of a cranky baby and as a toddler I had a few temper tantrums. As I got older, I still had a temper and I was gullible in addition. I remember one morning sitting down with the Fruity Pebbles cereal box. My brother seemed to always get the toy in the cereal each and every time. So I thought that I will get a head of him and I would place dibs on the toy this time. I wanted the little stamp in the bottom which was of a dinosaur.
With dibs placed, it was mine. I just needed to wait for the cereal to get low enough. Well my brother came around and took the toy for himself ignoring my dibs. I remember getting so mad. I told my mother. I cried. I begged my brother to let me have that stupid rubber stamp of a dinosaur. Finally, he relented and said I could have it in exchange for switching rooms with him. I wanted that stamp so much. I wanted to get what was rightfully mine so badly that I didn’t care how I got it. I ended up in a much smaller room with just enough room to fit a bed and a bureau comfortably and he got me to help him clean his closet while he was at it. I spent a good portion of my childhood in that smaller room thanks to a poor decision that was made in haste because I was angry at my brother.
When we make decisions when we are in the throes of anger, resentment, or feelings of betrayal, we often make poor decisions that have lasting ramifications. I was just a child in that story but as we grow into adults the decisions are often bigger ones, the pain is often much more real, and the consequences can be devastating. Decisions made so quickly after or during a time of conflict can tear families apart and isolate you from what really matters, the love and support of friends and family in times of need.
Nothing that is said or that happens should hold us back from experiencing life or having a relationship with those that matter. With forgiveness, we can begin to leave the conflict and the pain in the past and move forward into the future as God always intended. In our Scriptures, we hear a story about a father with two sons one of which is a little reckless and insensitive to the feelings of those around him and the other who was always the responsible son.
We all can relate to the responsible son coming home to realize that his younger brother is being seemingly rewarded for poor behavior while you have done all the work in his absence. I can understand his resentment and not wanting to participate in the celebration. His resentment, his anger, which he has obviously held tightly too in his heart was preventing him from seeing the pain of his father at the loss of his son and seeing the suffering of his brother due to his poor decisions. His anger was becoming a wedge between him and his family. His anger was making him miss out on a party, on enjoying himself, on experiencing the fullness of the joy in the situation.
God wants us to experience all of the benefits of this life: the joy, the laughter, the times of good, the importance of deep lasting relationships, the healing of love in our lives. But we cannot do that when there is anger that we cling to. When the experiences that we cling to in life are ones of disagreements, slights, misgivings, and betrayal, when we make those the focus of our lives then we are not truly living life. Hannah More once wrote, “Forgiveness is the economy of the heart. Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of the spirit”.
We are being called to think about those slights, pains, and disagreements in our lives and to assess what the cost of holding on to them are. What have you lost because of them? What do you risk losing by continuing to act out your hatred or anger? Is it worth it. I would venture to say it is not. So, this Lenten season, let’s work towards setting right our relationships with others, our selves, and with God so we can once more experience the restorative power of God in our lives. So God’s light can reflect more powerfully in our actions in the world both as individuals and as a community. When we live into the act of forgiveness then our focus can be on more meaningful things than who said or did what to us and whether or not they deserve our love and kindness. Remember the words of Proverbs this week in your time of self reflection, “Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for through fear of the Lord evil is avoided”. So go forth committing to living for forgiveness and slowly begin to join in the joy of fully restored relationships and in so doing experience the fullness of God’s love in your hearts.
 Hannah More, English writer and Philanthropist of the 19th century.
 Proverbs 16: 6, NIV.
(Based on Proverbs 16: 1-8 and Luke 15: 11-32)