“how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?”
“I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
We all struggle to forgive those who have hurt us. Sometimes the hurt is recent, but we can also carry resentment and hate for years and even for decades.
My lack of forgiveness rarely affects the one who has caused my pain, but it has a huge negative effect on me emotionally, physically, psychologically and therefore spiritually. Often is is my awareness of how I am persecuting and punishing myself when I fail to forgive that shakes me awake to my need and desire to forgive.
Often the reason we struggle to forgive is that we misunderstand what Jesus means by forgiveness. We make the mistake of thinking that forgiveness is a feeling. It is not. Forgiveness is a decision of the will. This decision begins the process of forgiveness and healing. The feeling of forgiveness will follow.
To emphasise this again: Forgiveness is a decision, the feeling will unfold over time.
Sometimes the one we struggle to forgive has been dead for many years and we can feel as if we have missed our chance to forgive. It is important to know that because forgiveness is our decision, and we have the power to make that decision, a conversation with the person who hurt us, while sometimes helpful, is not always necessary.
All we need to do is to realise that we no longer want to carry the burden of resentment or hate, and then make the decision to forgive.
Many years ago I learnt from Ignatius of Loyola to pray with my deepest desire.
To paraphrase Ignatius’ teaching and relate it to forgiveness: if you are struggling to forgive, then pray for the desire to forgive.
If you can’t yet pray for the desire to forgive, then pray for the desire for the desire to forgive.
If you can’t do this, then pray for the desire for the desire for the desire to forgive.
You are probably smiling now as I am. This humour when facing our need to forgive is very helpful. The humour shifts our focus from our own inability to forgive to the willingness of God to give us the gift of forgiveness. It is God who enables us to find freedom through forgiveness of those who have hurt us.
The wonderful reality is that when we pray this prayer for the desire for the desire,… at some point in the prayer we can pray whole-heartedly.
We may not want to pray for the desire to forgive because perhaps we think the other does not deserve our forgiveness. But we might be able to pray for the desire for the desire.
We forget that forgiveness is not a human achievement. The ability to forgive others is the gift of God who had already forgiven us. When we find the words that we can wholeheartedly pray (even with conditions) the Holy Spirit will not miss the opportunity to begin the healing.
What have you got to lose?
- Take a moment now to call to mind someone you find it difficult to forgive. Don’t worry about who was right or who was wrong, simply begin to pray for the desire (for the desire for the desire…) to forgive.
- Make a decision to forgive, and repeat in prayer over the next day: “_____ (name the person you need to forgive), I have already forgiven you. ____ I have already forgiven you. ____ I have already forgiven you.”