Editor’s note: The COVID-19 pandemic has made us reflect on what is most important in life. During Lent, The Compass offers an eight-part Lenten series of reflections on how readers can take their experiences from 2020 and apply them to Lent and Easter 2021.
Sometimes a biographical drama film can teach us a lot about life; even about Lent if you have the imagination for it. Recently, I watched the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” with my family. Based on a true story, Fred Rogers, better known as Mr. Rogers, is interviewed by an Esquire journalist named Lloyd Vogel. Having been hurt and abandoned by his father as a child, Lloyd is featured in the movie as a cynical journalist and just an overall difficult person. To make a long story short, Fred Rogers just happened to be intuitive enough to know that the bad fruit of Lloyd’s difficulties in life came from being wounded by his father and a refusal to forgive his father. This taught me a valuable lesson about Lent.
The season of Lent, in fact, is not just a time for giving up pleasures like eating candy or watching television. It can also be an opportunity to replace the bad fruit in our life with good fruit. Like Lloyd, we might have unresolved anger issues. We also may be experiencing sadness, low self-worth, excessive fears or walls of distrust. For whatever reason, bad fruits in our life can cause difficulties in relationships with others and even with God. No doubt, the stress of the pandemic tested relationships, causing some of these bad fruits to surface.
If we look long and hard enough, we might discover that a bitter reaction to being hurt by someone we love lies at the root of these problems. Perhaps, this is why Jesus said to “go first” and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift to God. This is to suggest that how we react internally (i.e., with our heart) to transgressions from a loved one will inevitably impact relationships, not just with others, but with God.
If truth be told, when a family member, peer or trusted authority figure in our life has mistreated us, they not only commit an injustice they need to repent from, but they tempt us to do things we will need to repent from. To be sure, this can be difficult to sort out. As such, we can struggle to find healing and interior peace because of it. Like the Esquire journalist, our human response to hurt often involves a reaction of bitterness or unforgiveness. The results almost always result in relational difficulties, such as expecting loved ones to let us down, believing lies about ourselves or judging categories of people.
Unfortunately, these reactions of the heart are the bad fruits of seeds that are sown in our lives. With every bitter judgment or hateful comment towards those who hurt us, certain attitudes and behaviors get set in motion that must be reaped either immediately or eventually.
However, there is good news! The season of Lent is a time to take an inventory of the bad fruits and bitter roots in our lives. Jesus wants us to experience interior joy and peace so that we can benefit from life-giving relationships. He also wants us to know that we are not alone. Replacing bad fruits with good fruits in our lives can be accomplished with his help. By inviting him into these difficult situations, we can begin to experience his healing.
The first step towards healing, therefore, is to be honest with ourselves and recognize the bad fruit in our lives. What was the painful experience in the past that continues to give you difficulties in relationships? Who was it that hurt you? Second, with Jesus’ help, we can forgive the person who hurt us, especially if that person is our father or mother.
Forgiveness doesn’t deny the hurt or the injustice, but it does say: “Even though you hurt me and owe me a debt, I am letting go of that debt. You owe me nothing. It is not my place to make you pay that debt. In fact, I now release you to the merciful judgment of Jesus.” With this, we can wish them well, love them and be free from the bad fruit that unforgiveness produced.
Finally, what is often overlooked for those seeking healing from past hurts is our need to ask God to forgive how our hearts reacted to the pain. Perhaps, like Mr. Vogel, we dishonored or resented a parent with our hearts. Sadly, this is a wound we often inflict on ourselves. It, too, needs to be brought to the foot of the cross so that Jesus can help us replace the bad fruit in our lives with good fruit. This may take time, but, truthfully, there is no better time than the season of Lent to begin this process.
It bears mentioning that there is a happy ending to the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Fred Rogers helped the embittered Esquire journalist to take that next step towards healing by forgiving his father. With this, a new chapter in his life was opened.
Tremblay is parish evangelization director for the Diocese of Green Bay.