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.