to forgive

“how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered,
“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?

An invitation:

  • 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.”
11 Responses to "to forgive"
  1. Just beautiful as always…. “We forget that forgiveness is not a human achievement. The ability to forgive others is the gift of God who had already forgiven us. ” The decision is ours, the graces of healing is God’s action for both sides.. I call a halt to the hurt; so God can start the healing.

  2. I was hurt by someone 18 years ago in a way I still struggle to understand. Only when reading this has it occured to me how deeply my buried hurt and anger is still effecting my. I’ve struggled up until now to process this as the person who hurt me died and I resent the fact I will never be able to look him in the eye, confront him and I suppose judge for myself if he is truly sorry and comprehends what he did to me and how it’s effected me. Thank-you for this today, it’s like a light has gone on for me. I don’t need to “feel” like I’ve forgiven him yet but today I’m going to decide I’ve forgiven him and see where it takes me.

  3. Thank you so much Father, for this wisdom today. So very much needed and so plain an uncomplicated as you have explained it. It opens up a whole new path and outlook on situations I thought could be beyond a way forward.
    God bless you abundantly.

  4. I find it easier to forgive Father thanI do to forget. God gives us the strength to recognise those who hurt us also hurt themselves. What I find hardest to reconcile in my own heart is the deep hurt of the betrayal I feel when I recall how it felt and how it still feels when those I loved and trusted just threw me away.

  5. These reflections are extraordinary, thank you. Recently I saw someone who seriously harmed my daughter for years. I had not seen him during the 18 months I have been in Christchurch helping my daughter recover. After speaking with the monks, priests and nuns at my church I took to Our Lady of Sorrows on the advice of one young nun.
    When someone harms your child, as with Mary, you sometimes feel it impossible to forgive. Our Lady of Sorrows, who’s chaplet I prayed at the Deans Rd Mosque last Tuesday, has given me great strength and softening of heart. The desire to desire to forgive – what a wonderful concept.
    Thank you for these daily reflections

  6. I am encouraged by the method of ‘forgiving’ you have given me to work on.
    Thankyou Father for these daily reflections.

  7. Hi Peggy, don’t work on the ‘Forget’ work on the ‘Forgiveness’, one normally grows from a crisis
    Thank you Father John, the subject was serious with a light hearted theme. I will put this into practise. Great way to start the day.

  8. Thankyou Father for your inspiration to forgive, many of us have found this difficult, but to me I have found it best to be “Better than Bitter” may I be a better person for this

  9. We could learn a lot from the Muslim faith, how forgiving they are. I am Catholic but didn’t know anything about their faith until the recent horrific events. I approached two beautiful young Muslim men inside a petrol station opposite the Linwood Mosque and said I was sorry for their loss and said all my love to you. They were most gracious, thanked me smiling and both put their hands to their hearts. They were dressed head to toe in their formal attire. I have learnt how loving, forgiving and generous they are as a strong people of faith.

  10. I find for me, I think I have forgiven yet I find myself recalling (and even sharing) what needed forgiving. So today I will get into this needed prayer and… yes I pray for the desire to do just that!
    Thanks Father.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.