Why I Stay: To Be Forgiven

As the cool sky flushed with dawn, I stood on the porch and stretched, trying to shake the sleep from my legs before my run. An early wind drove the purple clouds over the fading moon and I wondered vaguely if it was supposed to rain, then sat to breathe, drinking in the smell of spring and centering my mind before taking off.

As usual, I failed.1 I had been up for a full 15 minutes and my mind was already full of the day ahead: of a difficult conversation I was slated to have later that morning; of frustration at various processes in our lives that were taking too long to complete; of the fatigue I already knew I would feel once the last client was dropped off.

I stayed for two minutes, then stood up, set my watch, and quickly found the rhythm for that day’s run–slower than I would have hoped, but hopefully enough to keep from stopping. As I ran, barely noticing the squares of pavement passing under my feet, the thoughts continued tumbling through the spin cycle of my mind, each looking for enough purchase on my consciousness to spiral into a narrative.

I continued thinking about the upcoming phone call, trying various rhetorical paths, backpedaling when I found a weakness then reminding myself that my stance for the talk was, don’t debate, don’t get sucked in! Then, getting sucked in again with my imaginary interlocutor as I thought of new ways to communicate my frustrations.

For a time, thoughts of the call fell out of my head and rolled down to my feet and onto the pavement like the threatened rain that never materialized. Another thought found a foothold–an old favorite. I thought of the Board member from my previous ministry who had presented himself as a friend and supporter, only to fail (at best) or betray me (at worst) when push came to shove. I gnawed the ragged ends of that old grief, thinking on the ways to most clearly convey the misery caused by his abandonment.

I thought once again of the letters and emails I have written and not sent, and my dark hope of someday sending the book I hope to publish with an accompanying note detailing exactly which page his immortalized caricature of weakness might be found.

Chaucer’s the name, writing’s the game.

But then I was suddenly taken by the thought of how useless it all was. How he would never know, never be able to fully grasp, the pain my family experienced due to his actions. How even if I was able to cause him guilt, it wouldn’t be enough.

Indeed, I imagine if any one of us were ever made fully aware of the pain we have caused even one person in one act, the weight on our chests would surely be too much for us to even rise out of bed. It is surely a mercy that our forgetful and ignorant hearts are never forced to deal with this, that even when someone levels their charges against us, pouring out the poison we have caused to ferment in their soul, our own brains preserve us: emergency protocols are engaged, blast shields sliding into place, and guards posted at all entrances so that only a fraction of the brokenness is able to penetrate.

The pavement pounded below and I wondered why, if I cannot bear the thought of knowing the full effects of my failings toward others, of knowing just how deeply I have broken the shalom of their reality and helped populate the interior hell we all visit at times to enjoy the sweet pain of past offenses, why, I wondered, would I ever dare to wish that crippling knowledge on someone else?

All of which brings me to the homestretch of my run and a mad dash back to the house to get these thoughts down before they evaporate with the fast-warming air.

Maybe, as I have been exploring in the previous posts of this series, that’s why I stay–why I still go to church, that is.

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.2

Maybe one of the reasons I keep showing up week after week and participate in the liturgy is to confess and to be forgiven: to recognize not only what I have done and said against my brothers and sisters and this world which I so often take for granted, but also those atrocities committed against community which I have mercifully been kept from knowing.

I come to church, I confess and am forgiven. So that, as the Our Father petitions, I might have my sins forgiven as I have forgiven those who sin against me–freedom offered and received in the same way and to the same degree of wholeness.

I come to church, I confess and am forgiven. Not because I am some baseborn wretch who must beg Almighty God’s forgiveness or else He will fail to extend it, but to be reminded that all has already been forgiven. To hear my priest relate (not extend, for that is not his right) the forgiveness offered from the Ground of Being and Source of Grace out of which everything springs and to which everything speeds in a joyous procession of restoration.

I come to church, I confess and am forgiven. Because at some point I hope that the poison stored in my own soul will dissipate, will be released from the system and stop the cycle of pain before it is passed on to another. Because wholeness comes when we stop gnawing and bury those old bones of pain and lay them at last to rest–and run on.


1. Though to say I “failed” at meditation is probably to show I haven’t the faintest clue what it is.

2. The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church: Together with The Psalter or Psalms of David ; According to the Use of the Episcopal Church. Church Publ., 2007.

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