“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” —Matthew 18:21-22
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have the experience of thinking I’ve forgiven someone only to find myself irritated, hurt, or offended all over when I remember the incident or see the person again. Sometimes it’s because I didn’t really do the work of forgiving them in the first place—I just wanted to get past the unpleasantness of the situation, so I tried to put it out of my mind. That’s not forgiveness.
Other times, I have genuinely prayed about the situation and thought I gave it over to God, so I’m discouraged or disappointed when I realize I’m not “over it” yet. I believe this is exactly what Jesus was getting at when he told Peter he had to forgive someone more times than Peter was hoping to have to do. I remember the wise words of a now-departed priest friend of mine at times like these. He always said that forgiveness is a decision, not a feeling. He said it doesn’t mean that something is wrong with us if we still feel hurt or anger long after we’ve first forgiven someone. It’s a sign that we’re human and have normal human feelings and emotions. The key, he said, is that we don’t wait until we are free of those feelings to forgive someone. We can decide to forgive them again and again and again. It’s a slog, and it’s definitely work, but Jesus never said forgiveness would be easy.
For Prayer: Ask God for the fortitude to continue forgiving someone who has hurt you. Pray the Our Father slowly and thoughtfully, especially focusing on the lines about forgiveness.
To Pray: What person(s) have you struggled to forgive? Ask God to give you freedom from the anger or pain you feel. If you can’t bring yourself to want to forgive someone, tell God that in honesty and ask for the desire to have the desire to forgive.