But how can I ever forgive myself?

A Christian Science perspective on daily life

The movie "Swept from the Sea" is beautiful and brilliant, and at the same time soul-wrenching.

It's based on the short story "Amy Foster" by Joseph Conrad. In one powerful and poignant moment, Amy is being forgiven for a death, which, to the viewer, was clearly not her doing. Yet she feels responsible. I heard her respond, "But how can I forgive myself?" This moment, and the thread throughout the story of a love that is like the bathing of feet, moved me deeply.

A few weeks later, I read an article about parenting and apologizing, about asking your child's forgiveness for your little, or very big, mistakes. It, too, moved me.

I wondered, What if, after a child has grown and died, a memory, long buried, surfaces to haunt you? A memory of abuse done him as an infant, an abuse that perhaps your silence, after that initial shocked outrage, had sanctioned and perpetuated. How then can you say you're sorry? How can forgiveness ever take place or a permanent peace be realized?

I struggled with such a secret. A long-blocked memory of my infant son being abused suddenly faced me. My child had seemed troubled despite prayers and love and my delight in all he did. Was early abuse the reason? Had it continued?

I tried addressing the ache, speaking aloud even to that man-child who could no longer hear me, shouting within to my torn heart. And yes, asking as the character in the movie asked, "How can I ever forgive myself?"

I'd experienced the Bible's assurances about God's powerful love and care when all seems lost - psalms that usually settle and heal whatever ails, such as: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want" and "Whither shall I go from thy spirit?"

Yet this time none of those verses went deep enough to reach the ache.

So I asked further, Was I glad to have some thing or someone, or myself to blame, to justify the grief during his life, and our grief after such an early death? Perhaps.

But God, the God who is Love, kept telling me to wake up, that I knew better than to wallow in self-condemnation and grief. That the peace and comfort I'd known after my son's passing - which emphatically declared the eternality of his life, of his joy and opportunity - indeed were what truly mattered.

The Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote that God's messages are spiritual ideas that give each of us what we need: "God gives you His spiritual ideas, and in turn, they give you daily supplies" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," p. 307). This truth had been proved to me more times than I could count.

So I knew I could trust yet again that spiritual purity alone had touched him and me, all of us. I could wake up to God's uninterrupted infinite mothering and fathering of everyone.

The ache began to dissolve as I yearned for all children, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, not to have to endure abuse or guilt or fear. Not to have to see or feel a diminishing of God's kingdom within.

I crawled deeper into my heart and soul and mind to feel the divine Presence, God supreme, loving every child, big and small - filling each with conviction of his or her true identity as competent. As precious. And, yes, happy. A spiritual individuality untouched by despair or pain, humiliation or impurity, an individuality defined by God alone.

With this prayer, my gentle thoughts returned, bearing the knowing that prayers are answered, hearts are healed, and, yes, forgiven. And with it came the conviction that this prayer is effective, not just in deepening my own understanding of God's care but in contributing to the breakdown of fear and grief in the world. And this conviction took my heart to a place of peace I hadn't been before.

Was that it? Well, I thought so, until I recently watched the movie again. What a surprise to find that Amy had not said, "How will I ever forgive myself?" No, she'd asked, "Who will forgive me?" Stunned and with tears of true relief streaming down my face, I heard God say, "I already have" and felt washed with what I now think forgiveness really means.

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