“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 it is my awareness of how I am persecuting and punishing myself when I fail to forgive that shakes me awake to my need to forgive and my desire to forgive.
Perhaps a 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.
A 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 might think 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 has already forgiven us.
When we find the words that we can wholeheartedly pray (even with conditions to begin with) the Holy Spirit will not miss the opportunity to begin the healing.
A prayer from AA – 4th Step (with the instruction “Do it every day for two weeks and you will find you have come to mean it and to want it for them, and you will realise that where you used to feel bitterness and resentment and hatred, you now feel compassionate understanding and love.”)
Please help me to be free of anger
and to see that the world and its people have dominated me.
Show me that the wrong-doing of others, fancied or real,
has the power to actually kill me.
Help me to master my resentments by understanding
that the people who wrong me were perhaps spiritually sick.
Please help me show those I resent the same tolerance,
pity and patience that I would cheerfully grant a sick friend.
Help me to see that this is a sick person.
Dear Jesus, please show me
how I can be helpful to them
and save me from being angry.
Lord, help me to avoid retaliation or argument.
I know I can’t be helpful to all people,
but at least show me
how to take a kindly and tolerant view
of each and every one.
Thy will be done.”
I have a resentment
towards a person that I want to be free of.
So, I am asking you
to give this person everything I want for myself.
Help me to feel compassionate understanding
and love for this person.
I pray that they will receive everything they need.
Thank you God for your help and strength with this resentment.
(AA Big Book, Freedom from Bondage: 552)