The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter

My mind sometimes wanders back to losses. Some people make their love a contest that I am destined to lose. Some drink enough alcohol that they cause pain they don’t even remember. People wander off or stomp off. One of the most devastating losses happened to me in the summer of 1989. A person I had loved and respected deeply stomped off. When it happened, I felt worthless, unlovable, and ashamed to be me. I had become a mother for the first time a month earlier. Part of the reason it blindsided me was that I was overjoyed and believed that this person would share my joy.

During the same month Don Henley, formerly of the band The Eagles, released a new album called The End of Innocence. The final song, “The Heart of the Matter,” made me weep from nearly the first line, but this section assisted me in getting through the loss of someone I had spent my entire 23 years loving and looking up to:

I’m learning to live without you now
But I miss you sometimes
The more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I knew, I’m learning again
I’ve been trying to get down to the Heart of the Matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore

Art has power. It leads us toward God or away from God. Nothing is neutral. I don’t know if Mr. Henley is a Christian or not. I know that this song has a deeply Christian message that, for me, helped me through this trauma. I didn’t really understand forgiveness at the time. I had been to a range of Protestant churches, had read Christian writings extensively, but forgiveness still seemed like a mystical, misty cloud I couldn’t quite penetrate. I thought something would wash over me and I’d feel at peace.

Then Catholicism washed over me when I was 30. Many things made sense for the first time, but what I focus on here is that forgiveness is both a miracle and an act of the will. I will not likely feel warm and fuzzy when I forgive someone. I am likely to experience a kind of peace that I find difficult to describe. This peace also comes when someone who I have wronged forgives me. It is the feeling that the father has when his prodigal son returns home. It’s the way Joseph and his brothers reunite in Genesis; the way Jacob and Esau heal. I know it when I see it and experience it. We also read it in Psalms:

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (103)

Something I noticed, though, as I continued to work on the initiative of forgiving those as I hope to be forgiven is what my husband describes as “letting the anger in.” Tom says that it is better not to get angry to begin with because then that anger is inside you and isn’t likely to leave. It had never occurred to me as one of the possibilities that I could choose not to be angry. But he and the Church were right, as always. I can choose my emotional state, and I can choose how I react to stimuli. I get angry very rarely anymore, even though I think there are as many small irritants in life as there ever have been. The problems arise when I remember something that has already put me into a problematic emotional state. 

Several years ago, I was granted an insight during Adoration. I could see myself as I am now, holding the hand of my younger self as she experienced a particular betrayal, abuse, or abandonment. My emotional state as I am now was not affected. I could see her sadness, anger, or despair, but I didn’t feel it. I could forgive the betrayers for their actions and myself for my brokenness in my reactions. I could better comfort the girl Tom calls Little Jennifer while at the same time being at peace knowing that I had forgiven anyone who had wronged me. When I wander over negative interactions, I rarely become angry or sad again anymore. If I do make that mistake initially, it is an opportunity to remember to step back, hold Little Jennifer’s hand, and love that person who hurt her as a fellow child of God. Most of them were doing the best they could. We are all broken by our sinfulness, and that has consequences for the people around us. I try to pray for each of them. I hope they also pray for me.

The heart of the matter truly is forgiveness. In the Gospels of Saints Matthew and Luke Our Lord himself admonishes us to forgive others so that we might be forgiven. I had been praying this prayer since I was small when I realized that I was actually asking God not to forgive me if I failed to forgive others. I am extraordinarily grateful for our Catholic faith, and the myriad ways Our Lord has given us to live up to this admonition.

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Written by
Jennifer Borek