I’ve been preparing for a talk on forgiveness for a womens' retreat, so it's interesting that this week this scenario happened where I teach English:
My colleague walked into my class before the students arrived and shut the door. She began to sob as she revealed, “I can’t forgive him, I just can’t.” As my colleague poured out her heart, she admitted to me that not only was she miserable because of this anger; it was making her physically sick. I talked to her about what it means to forgive and explained that the source of our ability to forgive is God.
Then, just a few days later a close friend called me up sobbing. She told me she found messages on her husband’s cell phone to another woman. She was devastated. I went over to her house and she asked me, “Why should I forgive him?”
Me “Well, because God forgave you,”
Her “I forgave him once before, but I won’t do it again.”
Me “Yeah, I know it’s hard to forgive repeat offenders, especially when they hurt you deeply. I’m so sorry that you’re going through this. Can you imagine that God forgives us over and over when we mess up and when we commit the same sin again! God’s plan is that we forgive not just once, or twice or even seven times, but seven times seventy.”
Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Matt. 18:21-22
Why seven times seventy? Seven, is a symbolic number representing perfection. We have to keep on forgiving until God’s work in the individual is complete...complete in us and complete in them. That means, living in a continual attitude of forgiveness. Gulp. It’s not as hard to forgive someone once, but when you have to forgive people you love more than once, that’s when the rubber meets the road in your walk with God.
Yet, without forgiveness we can’t grow in our relationship with God. Forgiveness is possible only with God’s strength. You are a prisoner to the person who has wounded you when you hold on to anger, hatred and remorse. Forgiveness is the only way to heal the sting and pain of life’s deepest hurts. Put the person who has wronged you into God’s hands. Pray for those who persecute you and wait for them to be confronted with a living, loving God. You are the one who will suffer by an attitude of unforgiveness. In fact, God’s Word says that when we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive us.
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
If we wait until we’re “ready” to forgive, it may never happen. Even when it seems too much to forgive, God tells us that unforgiveness is not an option. We are disobeying God when we don’t forgive others. The thing is that forgiveness is not an emotion, it’s a decision. Even if the healing process is not immediate, God will help you let go of the anger. Forgiveness is the giving of a promise. You give a definite promise that you will count the offender’s sin against him no more. You count it as over and done with. You don’t even bring it up anymore. It doesn’t mean that you forget what happened; it means that you choose to leave it behind.
So, what is it that you need to leave behind?