In today’s gospel, “Peter approached Jesus and asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy times seven times.’” (Mt 18:21-22)
I’ve thought a lot about this scripture, and have concluded that Jesus was really on to something.
Many years ago, I had the privilege of working with a wonderful priest, Fr. Howie McGraw, doing the music for his healing ministry. He taught me a lot about forgiveness and healing. They are two distinct, yet related, acts. Forgiveness is an act of the will. Healing is an act of God.
We’ve all been there. Someone has hurt us. We are angry. We distance ourselves from that person or we seek revenge, or maybe we talk about them. Whatever the response, we’re stuck in the hurt. The way to get unstuck is through forgiveness. It is a decision.
When we decide to forgive, it is a conscious act of the will to say, even out loud perhaps, “Lord, I forgive this person for what they did,” and the next part is equally important, “please heal the hurt I feel.” This is often not a one-shot deal. We really do need to forgive 70 x 7 times – sometimes even more.
I can remember talking with Fr. Howie about something and exclaiming, “Man, I thought I already dealt with that!” He counseled me that forgiveness and healing sometimes come in layers and I was just dealing with another layer. That was great wisdom. I’ve seen it again and again in my life.
I would make that decision to forgive and pray for healing – sometimes over and over. Out of nowhere it would rear its ugly head again, and I would need to do it all over. I found that the more I surrendered the hurt to God, the more I was likely to come to peace with it. Really that’s what I wanted – freedom from the hurt. But before I could experience that freedom, I had to let go and release the anger and unforgiveness so that I could make room for God.
I once heard it said that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick. In reality the only one who suffers is us. We relive the hurt. We feel the effects of anger. Fill in the blanks for your own life. How has unforgiveness affected you and your relationships?
God wants us to be whole. It is love that fills up all the broken and empty parts in us. Forgiveness chases away resentment and hurt and replaces it with love. He wants us to “have life abundantly” (Jn 10:10). He wants us to live in the freedom of a child of God.
Jesus came to show us the way to the Father. In one of his final expressions of love, Jesus said from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Lk 34:34) We are called to do the same, even when they do know what they do.
So today, take some time to be quiet and ask the Lord who you need to forgive. You might already know, but He will show you in a deeper way. Forgive that person, again and again if necessary. Then pray for healing. Peel off the layers in the days ahead. Seek that peace that surpasses all understanding. It is the gift your Father wants to give you.
God bless, Anne