Forgiveness is one of those fundamental lessons we try to teach our kids from an early age: when siblings bicker or hurt each other, or if friends break a toy. And at the same time, we should ever be aware that we have not exactly mastered the art of forgiveness. The ability to forgive is a learning experience that often takes a lifetime. It’s not easy, but perhaps it’s not meant to be easy. Showing compassion and understanding in a world through which we cautiously pass takes an open heart instead of the guarded one we often carry.
If we are anything, we are a work in progress – but it helps to check your own progress. In today’s reading we are reminded:
“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-seven times.”
While thoughts of such a never ending cycle can be exasperating at best – or so it seems to me – forgiveness does take practice. And it is more than just responding, “I forgive you.” That’s a start. But there is some advice from St. Paul: “And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. [And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” (Eph 4:30-32)
If that brother or sister has repented and come to you and asks forgiveness – and you agree and speak the words of forgiveness, you have lifted a burden from them. They are free! So don’t be the only one carrying a burden from the incident: “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling.” Sometimes the “back half” of forgiveness is praying for what it takes to free yourself. Perhaps pray for spiritual wisdom to know what it takes to lay down that burden and know the same freedom of forgiveness.
It the practice of a lifetime.