to forgive

Mar 5, 2024

.

“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 and those we love.

Sometimes the hurt is recent, but we can also carry resentment and hate for years and even for decades.

While my lack of forgiveness may have no effect on the person I’m not forgiving, it has a huge negative effect on me emotionally, physically, psychologically and therefore spiritually.

When I offered a reflection on forgiveness a few months ago one reader added: “My forgiveness of others, by the grace of God, has the power to lighten a situation, to bring about harmony, peace, to alter “emotionally, physically, psychologically and therefore spiritually” others, including the causer of the pain.”

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.

In the “comment” section below you might like to share a thought on your own experience of forgiveness.

A prayer from AA4th 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.”)

“Dear Jesus,
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.”

Dear God,
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 resentme
nt.
(AA Big Book, Freedom from Bondage:  552)

+++

FFF IN THE CAFE… Send your name and the name of a cafe or bar to john@fff.org.nz Scribble FFF on a table napkin, take a seat and wait.

Join these gatherings:

Tuesday 5 March 2024 10.00am 316 Waiwhetu Road (California Garden Centre) Lower Hutt. Catherine

Wednesday 6 March 2024 10.30am. Zenders Cafe 44 Hopkins Rd, Hamilton  Christina

Thursday 7 March 2024 7.00am (& every Thursday) St Mary’s Church Whanganui – a scripture reflection.  Kate

Monday 11 March 2024  10.00am (& every Monday). Moku Cafe. Bush Inn Centre, Waimairi Road,  Christchurch. Trish

Email me to add another: john@fff.org.nz

5 Comments

  1. Thank you Fr. John,
    and i would like to add to Lita’s comments that I pray for the brothers and sisters I love to forgive me for my shortcomings as I know from myself that not forgiving, as Jesus said, you will not be forgiven if you not forgive other’s trespasses.
    Thank you Father John for FFF.
    Peter.

    Reply
  2. So helpful! Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Thankyou for these very thought provoking words. Wonderfully liberating.

    Reply
  4. As an 11 year old I had a profound experience with extreme forgiveness.

    Our neighbour & his wife were shot in their legs, his teenage daughter held at knife point and his teenage son shot in the back including through his kidneys. He was in ICU on life support for 3 months. Noone knew if he would survive. But after a week in hospital himself, the father, when discharged from hospital went to the jail where the assailant was being held awaiting trial and forgave him.
    Years later I returned to UK where the events happened & caught up with other villagers from the time. They told me that while the assailant was in prison on multiple life sentences he was visited by Salvation Army people and became a Christian. When he got out of jail he had tried to find as many of the people he had affected that night (there were other offenses including arson of where we lived), ask for forgiveness and offer whatever restitution he could make. I’m surr the father’s act of forgiveness while his son’s life hung in the balance contributed to the conversion journey.

    I find if I’m irked with someone I pray for God to bless them. I leave the mode of blessing up to God. I find I can’t hold on to bitterness, anger, resentment or unforgiveness if I am praying for God to bless someone. Try it!

    Reply
  5. The person I had to pray for was my mother. I was s-0-0-0 angry with her for the way she had behaved to me and my siblings. There was no way I was going to pray for her. That was a gift I was not going to give her.
    I remember the turmoil I felt and then realised perhaps I could try to pray for her – to practise as if…..
    I prayed for her wishing every thing for her that I wished for myself for the standard two weeks.
    The main resentment went away. Periodically resentments come up and her name goes on my resentment list to pray for. When I feel compassion tolerance and true love for her and recognise her real love she has had for me and my siblings I just pray for her normally.
    My siblings and I often talk about her but it is so much more with love acceptance and understanding. It is quite beautiful.

    Reply

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