You probably remember the story: Jesus is teaching his disciples, and good ol’ Peter, Peter the Impetuous, pipes up, “So, Lord, You’re saying we have to forgive seven times?” Seven represents completion, perfection — Peter is saying he’s got this; Jesus is putting a definition on forgiveness, and it’s perfect.
But Jesus shakes His head, “No, Peter. Seventy times seven.” Oh, Peter, it’s so much more complicated than a mere “perfect” forgiveness — it requires so much more of ourselves.
First, let’s get this straightened out: Forgiveness is NOT saying, “You did wrong, but I’ve decided it doesn’t matter.” Forgiveness is NOT about eliminating consequences. We are not being asked to be deliberate victims to wrong-doing, here. We aren’t expected to be stupid in the name of forgiveness.
We are allowed to protect ourselves. We are allowed to establish limits and boundaries and to hold them inviolable.
So — what is forgiveness? I’ve heard several takes. One is that forgiveness is that you choose not to let the other person live rent-free in your head, controlling your life. But I find it most useful, for myself, to think of forgiveness is letting go of my right to get even, my right to be vindicated, even.
Sometimes we even have to let go of the very same incident, conversation, violation over and over and over again. “I forgive” brings a moment’s quiet to the mind and spirit, but the memories resurface and boil to the top and our peace is once more disturbed, we are once again consumed with “What I would like to say/do to that revolving s.o.b.!” —- and we have to forgive, to let go of our right to be avenged or vindicated, to relinquish our right for “justice,” forgive the very same wrong again and again and again —
You have a right to draw your line in the sand, whether it’s sexual abuse, battery, emotional abuse. “You may not cross this line!” and to take steps to safeguard that line. I think being angry gives us power to decide what those lines are going to be, and the courage to defend them. But to maintain our own peace of mind, which is the point of having the boundaries in the first place, we have to let go of bitterness, hostility, the desire to get even, to retaliate, to put the other in his place —
Again and again and again, all for a single offense. Seventy times seven times. A lifetime of learning to forgive.
3 thoughts on “Forgiveness: 70 x 7”
Laura, I deal with a different issue, an abusive, alcoholic father who made our lives a living hell. I carried a pure and powerful hatred for years. Then, by the grace of God, I was able to let go of the hatred. Later, I was able to forgive, and still later able to understand, for me, what forgiveness is. I was in prayer dealing with the memories when this occurred to me. I was in front of Jesus with my father. Jesus asked me, Do you want him in heaven, I and my Father love him. With difficulty I.was able to say yes. I now pray for his soul and hope one day to maybe have the relationship we should have had on Earth. This is my view of forgiveness.
My battle with forgiveness (and it can be a battle, can’t it?) has to do with an alcoholic ex-husband. I was fortunate in that I have always been strong-willed and never allowed myself to be completely separated from friends and family. There are times when I still must deal with him, although now that our children are grown, they come less often. Those times bring difficulty, but God never said life would be easy. 🙂
A man I went to high school with left his family in the last few years to “become the woman he has always been.” He is hurt that his family (wife and children) have “abandoned him.” He doesn’t see that he has called the life he built with them a lie by his actions.He doesn’t see that he has put himself over everyone else by making this choice.
He really needs some psychiatric help. Instead, he is being allowed to mutilate his body in the hopes that he will no longer feel as he does.
The whole situation saddens me, and I am only on the outside looking in. I cannot begin to imagine the hurt his wife and children feel.
You are right — forgiveness means letting go of the hurt altogether. When we do this, it loses all power over us — we are free! On more than one occasion, I’ve had people come to me, after years of bad blood, and ask forgiveness, but I was surprised because I had already forgiven them and literally couldn’t remember what had caused the rift (didn’t even remember that there had been a rift). On the other hand, sometimes it’s hardest to forgive those who are closest to us. For many, many years I blamed my mother for a lot of stuff, and stayed away from her to avoid further damage. Then God allowed my life to take a turn that put us under the same roof for the first time in more than 30 years and I realized it was so we could forgive each other and learn to love each other better. After eight years of constant contact, we’ve learned to forgive each other a lot. I can see that a lot of her destructive habits are not willful and and to see in myself the things that I’ve hated in her. I may not be able to change her, but with God’s grace I am changing myself.
BTW, a little English etymology: the “for” in “forgive” is an intensifier. To forgive means to give it up *completely*, let it go, quit clinging to the hurt. Think what a world it would be if we all could do that!