Then Peter approaching asked Him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” – Mathew 18:21-22
Forgiveness can be difficult. I don’t struggle with whether or not forgiveness is necessary. There’s no question about it — When there has been hurt by another’s actions, forgiveness is always necessary.
When you have been hurt by someone, the act of forgiveness is not so much for the “someone” but for you. Harboring anger and unforgiveness is detrimental to your physical, emotional and spiritual health. For me, it zaps my energy and stifles my creative spirit; and therefore, I am not able to function at my best to share my gifts as I like to do. There’s an old saying that goes something like this: When you are sitting at home being angry, the person who wronged you is out dancing! Your inability to forgive is mostly just hurting you.
Forgiveness must be done regardless as to whether or not the issue has been resolved. Very often, a resolution never comes. Many years ago during a Sunday homily, the priest said, “Forgiveness is essential, but ‘forgive and forget’ was not said by God. It was said by Shakespeare (King Lear, Act IV, Scene VII). It is impossible to forget. I say, ‘forgive and remember.'”
The gist of that priest’s homily was to say, Jesus wants us to forgive, but He also wants us
to learn from the experience. Most importantly, He wants us to protect ourselves. For example, if a woman was in an abusive relationship, for her sake she needs to forgive, but at the same time, she must stay away from the abuser. Forgiveness does not include going back to carry on as if nothing had happened. Forgiveness is to say, “I forgive you,” and then move forward in a healthy way. Very often that entails never going back to risk being hurt again.
My struggle with forgiveness is not about “if” but rather “when,” as in when have I
forgiven enough? A misspoken word, a forgotten meeting, or a minor accident, are all easy to forgive. Those minor occurrences are usually over before the sentence, “please forgive me” is fully expressed. However, what about the big things? What about the deep pain that takes years to put behind you? What about those issues you were sure you had let go, and then suddenly, unexpectedly, they reemerge like a choking weed? When is the forgiveness done?
Even before I began to write this, I knew the answer — it’s never done. Not even 700 times seven is enough for some things. I suppose my true struggle is in not wanting to believe it.
In recent months, I have been busy with the task of moving my elderly Godmother, Aunt Dottie, to a senior home. Thankfully, this was her decision and she was, and is, quite happy about it. However, her joy about the move did not lessen the amount of work involved. I spent many days (and nights!), acquiring information, filling out applications, cancelling services, and, finally, cleaning out her apartment.
My aunt is a saver. As a result, I luckily uncovered a few family treasures such as things which had belonged to my grandparents, old photos which more clearly explained my genetic make up, and many little trinkets special only to me due to the fact that my aunt and I shared many of the same interests. For a few other things, though, I was not so grateful for my aunt’s propensity for “collecting.”
As I sorted through years of my aunt’s paraphernalia, I inevitably came upon items which triggered unpleasant memories and, in some cases, opened old wounds. Much of the time I was alone, overtired, hungry and frustrated, which meant I was not in good form to put those memories in a healthy perspective. The human brain has a remarkable ability to play all the long ago, personal “movie trailers” which, in turn, activate physical responses as if painful events were not just a memory, but a maddening present-day occurrence. Anger and resentment welled up. Later, when I was rested, fed and thinking more clearly, I found myself, once again, praying to forgive those who inflicted past hurts, and praying for forgiveness for how I’ve hurt others. One more time, I put those events behind me and chose to move forward in a healthy way.
Deep in the midst of cleaning and clearing out, I found some envelopes containing my
uncle’s poetry. I knew he wrote poetry as he would often read his latest work to me when I visited. He died eleven years ago, and until I came across his poems, I hadn’t thought about them in a very long time. With the looming “must vacate” deadline before me and time running short, I tossed my uncle’s masterpieces to the top of the ever-mounting “save” pile with thoughts of one day organizing them neatly in a notebook for my aunt.
When I returned to my home and was sorting through my newly acquired treasures, I opened the packet of poems. For quite a while, I sat on the floor, legs folded, immersed in my uncle’s talent and his unique writing style. I laughed out loud at his quirky sense of humor, and I shed tears as he so eloquently expressed sensitivity toward human perils. I thought to myself, I must do more than just stick these in a binder.
Just when I felt I must get up lest my legs not unfold, I decided to read one more poem. In those first few days home from emptying Aunt Dottie’s apartment, with raw emotions and forgiveness prayers still being formulated, I sat next to the “save” pile and read this:“A Mother’s Love” They both looked at each other. They seemed to be worlds apart. They both were heavy laden. They both had a broken heart. One of the ladies broke into tears, With sobs that shook her so. And then she clasped her heart, As she rocked back to and fro. “I gave birth to a traitor,” She cried out in pain. “He should have died at birth, Then I wouldn’t face this shame.” The other woman took her hand, Gently she dried her tears. “Don’t blame yourself” she said, “Let’s talk, Let’s try to solve your problems, your fears. God is ever merciful, Forgiveness is His name. I am sure He will never Let you be put to shame. You must trust His wisdom, His love for humanity. You must trust His judgment. You must trust his charity.” “Do you think he will forgive My son for what he’s done?” “God forgives the repentant, That’s how Heaven is won.” She then stopped her crying, Thanked the lady by her side, Clasped her very tightly, As they continued on their ride. They came to their destination, talking softly to each other, Mary the mother of Jesus, holding the hand of Judas’ mother. By Frank Almeida June 1, 1983
I pray you always find your way to forgiveness.
I found this presentation on forgiveness very helpful: