Forgiveness is so important in good relationships, whether with God or with each other. So why is it often uncomfortable to talk about? I think this is partly because forgiving requires open, honest, and intimate communication about our emotions and so many of us find that very difficult. Of course, in church forgiveness is connected with talk about sin and therefore is also connected with the spiritual baggage we gain when the concept of sin is misused, as it often is. But forgiveness is critical for restoring damaged relationships. Forgiveness at its best is transformative so that the past need not dictate the future. In other words, forgiving can open up new possibilities in our lives.
Forgiveness is an act of courage. It can be surprisingly difficult to let go of pain and bitterness, anger and resentment, shame and guilt – even when these things threaten to consume us and deaden our spirits. But practicing forgiveness is important for our spiritual health and it takes practice. We often have to do it more than once. It takes time and persistence. Perhaps this is why Jesus tells Peter to forgive 70 times 7 times (that’s 490 times!). That’s an abundance of forgiveness!
When we can’t forgive, we are asked to keep forgiving anyway until it wears down our walls of pain, hate and bitterness. Each time we make an effort to forgive is like taking a hammer to those walls. Even if they don’t come down at first, Jesus tells us to keep forgiving, keep hammering, until the walls are gone, until the way to restoration is clear. To forgive seventy times seven times is to practice forgiving until it becomes ingrained in our very souls. To forgive from our hearts is to make God’s love the ruler of our hearts, not our pain and bitterness. To forgive from our hearts is to free ourselves from the grip of the past, to make possible the restoration of relationship that might otherwise be lost, and to open the future to new possibilities. Whom are we being called to forgive today? For what do we need to be forgiven?
(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, September 17, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)