I have always considered myself a forgiving person. I grew up in a Lutheran household with a Lutheran Pastor as my father. We regularly discussed grace, the Trinity, and all sorts of theological ideas. Even with this foundation, the personal experience of grace and forgiveness remains indescribably life changing. I experienced one such definitive moment during the first summer that I worked at Advent.
Twenty-six youth, an adult leader, and I were enjoying a week on Lake Shasta. We slept on the roof of our houseboat, water skied, wake boarded, and had all kinds of good summer fun while also studying the book of Revelation under the theme, “Hope, Promise, and Revelation”. We paired the reading of this complicated book with C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. As a leader, I strive to shape experiences that will be foundational and life changing for our youth. Though my focus is on what will happen with the youth, I am also aware that these experiences will most likely also affect and change me. Even with this knowledge I am never fully prepared for how that will actually come about.
One of the most powerful moments of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is when Eustace meets Aslan for the first time. Aslan is the great lion who created Narnia. He shows up in amazing and surprising ways throughout the Narnia series. Eustace is an annoying, snotty kid who winds up in Narnia on the coattails of his cousins. His pride and entitlement lead him into a situation where he turns into a horrible dragon. It is not until he meets Aslan that he is able to return to his normal body. I connected this story with the promise of Revelation, found specifically in Revelation 2:17, “…I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who gives it,” and Revelation 21:5, “See, I am making all things new.” In this Revelation promise, we are also reminded of the gift of our baptismal identity. God knows us, God chooses us, and God makes us new.
It was this connection that worked within me, cultivated by the Holy Spirit, as I led the youth through our week on Lake Shasta. On our last night there, we built a bonfire, sang songs, and prayed together. It was in this time where we sat quietly enjoying each other’s company that the words finally sunk in. Suddenly, I recognized the scales on my heart. I recognized how my bitterness, sadness, anger, and inability to forgive had become armor over my wounds. Though this armor protected my wounds, it also kept me from ever fully healing. I pictured the great lion, Aslan, biting and shredding the scales off of the Eustace-dragon over and over again until the scales were gone. I felt that same piercing shred on my own heart. The armor fell away. Through the tears that came to my eyes, I felt dunked in the water along with Eustace, not only reborn, but returned to myself, returned to the person that God created me to be.
The next day we made our journey home. I returned home refreshed in more ways than one. This return to self as a baptized, beloved child of God has remained with me ever since. I will never forget the pain of those scales on my heart being pierced; nor will I forget the freedom that poured over and within me after. As those scales came away I experienced forgiveness, both the giving and receiving, in such a simultaneous action that I can say with perfect clarity that any act of forgiveness is a miracle made only by God. We are the vessels that carry it out into the world.
The season of Lent is an opportunity for us to intentionally experience and wrestle with the miracle of forgiveness. During this season we can face ourselves and each other in a new way, recognizing those places we have covered over with armor rather than opened up to heal. We can practice the humility of confession, but also the grace of forgiveness. To live in this miracle is to live in the grace of God – to be simultaneously forgiven and forgiver, sinner and saint. We carry this truth out into the world, loving our God, loving our neighbor, and loving ourselves.