A Spiritual Exercise to Attain Freedom
To be bound by regret and resentment is to be shackled in chains of our own making. If we live long enough, we will inevitably collect a string of repressed or fully conscious memories of moments and actions we wish had never happened: “I wish I had never said that,” “I’m so sorry that I had the abortions; hit my child; allowed myself to get addicted; had promiscuous sex; rushed into marriage; never got married; put off having kids, and so on.” Oftentimes, the consequences of action or inaction can follow us throughout our lives without relief from emotional pain because we cannot undo what is already done. We cannot erase even one second from our past. We own every action we freely performed or freely chose not to do. We have no more control over the past than we do the position of the stars.
Sometimes things are done to us that have hurt us so deeply that we cannot imaging emerging from them with a forgiving heart. Harboring regrets and unforgiveness can lead us into a state of deep sadness or hopelessness. In our self-absorption, we cannot see God and what He might be doing through past events that we regret and make us angry. This sadness and anger toward life, ourselves, and/or others holds us back from looking into the merciful eyes of God.
The following is a powerful exercise to help free us from resentments and unforgiveness, adapted from the words of Jim Benefield, Licensed Marriage Family Therapist, a beloved Catholic husband and father, who passed away on May 7, 2013.
In the course of my practice, I have discovered a spiritual exercise that can help to bring about a liberation from past regrets and resentments. In this article, I will describe this exercise as a testimony to the infinite mercy of Jesus Christ, whose redeeming love embraces the past, the present, and the future.
If you wish to perform this exercise, you will need to set several hours aside to do so slowly and prayerfully. If you prefer simply to read the exercise, you may. However, all of us, if we search deeply, will find multiple regrets: a wish that we had done this or not done that, a sorrow over something we should have done or did do. Many of us harbor resentments for years and see no need to let go of them. Others think that they have forgiven, when in fact their heart has not. Freedom from regret and resentments can be achieved by submitting our entire past to the Precious Blood of Jesus. This exercise is not the only way to do so, but it is an effective way.
Facing Your Regrets and Unforgiveness
The first step to freedom from past regrets and resentments is to describe them in detail. Explain what you regret having lost in terms of past, present, and future opportunities. For example, “My life would have been so much better, if I had never been romantically involved with so-and-so,” “If I had never gotten drunk at that party,” or “If I had worked harder at my grades, I would have been able to go to the school of my choice.” Then express your past and ongoing resentments. What has made you furious? What has another or others done to hurt? Express your anger at others and at yourself. When you have finished expressing your anger, imagine yourself wrapping your regrets and resentments into “a package.” Then visualize yourself going into the Garden of Gethsemane and presenting your package to Jesus in his agony.
As you present this package of regrets to Jesus, He invites you to kneel down with Him, and you hear Him say, “I will make something good of this.” And then you see Jesus do a very strange thing; He takes your package of regrets, and as He places them together with the multitude of regrets already before Him in the garden, He pulls you close to Himself and begins to sob uncontrollably. As He sobs, you hear Him pray to His Heavenly Father. He sees that these regrets have seriously impeded a healthy trustful relationship between you and your Heavenly Father. His prayer to His Father is filled with compassion on your behalf.
You lean close to hear Him pray: “My dear Father, I know that you will refuse Me nothing. I bring you this child whose heartaches and disappointments have interfered with her/his ability to love and trust You. Father, s/he is your child, and I ask that You not hold this against her/him. S/he has been blinded by so much sorrow that all s/he sees is her/himself and her/his regrets. S/he doesn’t see Us and Our love for her/him. Heal the anger in her/his soul, and by your grace, do not let her/him be dominated by self-loathing, resentments, hostility, and unforgiveness toward her/himself and others.
“Oh, merciful and forgiving Father, touch her/him with the fire of Your forgiveness and plunge this fire into the deepest recesses of her/his being so that s/he is moved also to seek Our forgiveness for those who have harmed her/him. Remove this bondage of hate and let her/him no longer be ruled by it. Remove the dismal outlook that s/he has for her/his future and fill her/him with hope and knowledge of Our love for her/him. Give her/him all that s/he needs so that s/he can receive forgiveness for her/himself and hold on to Our forgiveness as her/his most precious gift.
By the power that I have in You, I hereby declare this soul free from the destructive effects of the regrets of her/his past that s/he has not been able to let go. I declare her/him free from the harm that a/he has done to her/himself and others, and from the harm that others have done to her/him. Let healing flow into those who have been wounded by her/his actions and omissions, and when the time is right, let there be reconciliation between them.
“Place your hands over her/his heart, and seal it with a confident faith in your providential care for her/him. Let her/him see the regrets that s/he has clung to so tenaciously as ‘your branding mark’ that will forever bind him to your love for all to see. As surely as the cattleman brands his steer for all to know its ownership, so let it be with him. Even as You have used my wounds of the crucifixion to draw mankind back to You, so let his wounds be joined with Mine, co-mingled with my suffering for the expiation of sin and the conversion of souls. Even as none of my suffering was wasted, do not let one morsel of her/his suffering go unused for Your divine purpose.”
As Jesus prays, you notice that your package of anger and regrets is saturated with his tears and by droplets of the blood from the ‘sweat’ of His brow. Jesus holds on to you even more tightly and concludes, ‘I thank you for receiving and honoring this prayer on ‘John’s’ behalf, even as you receive and honor Me.”
The Challenge of the Cross
And now Jesus looks at you, His eyes burning with love. Those compassionate eyes plead with you to accept forgiveness from the Heavenly Father. And as the fire of his love penetrates your very soul, you become aware of an eternal request that only you can answer.
“Will you accept your regrets and the pain others have caused you as a cross that only you can carry for the expiation of sin and the conversion of souls so that by your intention, you can join with Me to help make reparation to the Father and love Him on behalf of all?”
At this moment, you have a choice. Will you choose to resent these hurtful experiences, which means fighting against grace and mercy and staying in guilt, grief, and despair? Or will you choose to live with these regrets, which may represent sadness and permanent losses, as your gift to the Trinitarian lover, with the intention of standing in prayer for many?
Through the example of heroic men and women in the Scriptures and throughout history, you know that many have been blessed and saved because of the actions of the few. You instinctively know that your choice at this moment is critical. You hear yourself saying, “I will let this be my cross, and I am resolved to pick up my cross daily and follow You as Your disciple.” (Let yourself feel the relief that comes with making that choice in faith, and let the power of the Trinitarian Godhead rush through you!)
Now Jesus wants to invite you to join with Him in prayer as He prays for so many who are being held in bondage by their inability to let go of their painful past. You hear yourself say, “I thank you for all this forgiveness that You are pouring out upon me and upon all souls as freely as torrential waters that fall from the sky and soak the earth. I humbly receive all that You have for me.” And then the strangest sentence comes out of your mouth: “This is too much of a gift for me to keep to myself. I implore you, Lord, to let me go with You into every heart that is in need of Your forgiveness so that I can speak to them of your abundant love. Let me plead to the Father with You on behalf of all those who need to forgive others and who need to let go of their painful regrets and resentments. Let us go quickly so that souls can be reconciled with You and avoid falling deeper into the depths of despair.”
To your surprise, you find yourself filled with compassion for souls who have been in your situation, and in that compassion, you feel an urgency to pray for them. You turn to Jesus who is suffering so much over these regrets and resentments because they represent a multitude of souls in the whole human family. It seems as if time has stood still as you see Jesus take each bundle of regrets and resentments and clutch them to Himself while interceding on each one’s behalf. You see that there are many souls who cannot accept his love and mercy, who will choose to stay in their unforgiveness, regret, and despair. And you see that this causes Jesus infinitely more pain and makes Him sweat even more blood.
Throughout your Christian life, you have asked Jesus to show concern for what you have gone through. Now, you find yourself feeling compassion toward Jesus over what He has suffered on our behalf. Only love could do this. In your concern for Jesus, you express your sincere sorrow for ever having doubted Him. You want to apologize to Jesus on behalf of the whole human family, from the first man to the last, for all the times we have not trusted in Him to help us in our moments of crisis. (It was in those times that we trusted more in ourselves and in others. Oh Jesus, forgive our foolishness!) As you continue to have compassion for Jesus in all that He suffers, you notice that He is looking somewhat more refreshed. His glance tells you that He is most pleased to have found someone who is willing to spend time consoling Him as He suffers—as He makes reparation to the Father for all the wrongs that have been committed against Him.
He sees that you are someone who will also make reparation to the Father for all the wrongs that have been committed against Him. Your words to Jesus as you prepare yourself to leave are filled with gratitude for having freed you from the bondage of regret and unforgiveness.
The Principle of Forgiveness
The principle of forgiveness is cyclical: God wants to forgive, and His infinite mercy flows to us through His Son, Jesus. Indeed, He wants us to desire His forgiveness. But to desire is not enough. He wants us to accept His love and forgiveness and to forgive all those who have harmed us. But even this is not enough. He also wants us to have compassion for Jesus in the sufferings He endured on our behalf so that we will be set free from self-centeredness. Then He wants us to go and spread the message of forgiveness wherever we can. And finally, to complete the cyclical process, He wants us to come before Jesus and to thank Him for his merciful love and forgiveness, for ourselves and for the whole human family.
In my experience, it is gratitude to the Trinity that insures permanent healing. Without continuous gratitude, chances are that the doors of depression and despair will reopen. On the other hand, when one shoulders his burden of past sins and traumas—in union with the sufferings of Christ for the salvation of souls—the Holy Trinity turns the natural consequences of those regrettable acts into a supernatural source of grace. Through our union with the divine-human life of Jesus, this grace benefits not only the one making the sacrifice, but all souls, past, present, and future.
Adapted by Christine Watkins (2018) from the words of Jim Benefield
This article was originally posted on QueenofPeaceMedia.com. Download a printable copy.