“Lord, How often should I forgive?”

By Jocelyne Hamoline, Diocese of Saskatoon Catholic Foundation

I am still a novice at forgiveness, learning the how, when, why. But, I also have had practice in forgiving people that seriously hurt me. The who and the offence against me is not as important as how I learned to forgive and the freedom of forgiving.

As a young woman, I was living in a world of deep hurt, victimization, self-destructing behaviour, and self-loathing. How is one to overcome all that? I was angry (and did not even realize it), resented other people’s success and repeated in my mind and heart a self-absorbed refrain of “why me, Lord.”

My life changed when I attended the ‘Alpha’ program through my parish. It was the third or fourth session when I experienced the total and complete love from Jesus. From that day on, Jesus changed my life for the better. Jesus was very patient, but he eventually began to impress upon my heart that I needed to forgive people. But how, how can one forgive grave abuse that has practically put my life in ruins?

God placed the right opportunities, people, books, and retreats in my life. I learned what forgiveness is and how to forgive.

Why does God ask us to forgive? 

Unforgiveness in our hearts (and bodies) is like taking poison, then hoping the other person dies.

Poison of unforgiveness in our hearts (and bodies) destroys our own lives, our relationships with the Trinity and with other people. Unforgiveness will skew how we behave, how we see the world and others, and how we make decisions.

Unforgiveness might start small, but it grows into anger, resentment and bitterness. These negative feelings begin to resonate with who we are and what we say and do. We become the destroyer of our own lives and scar those around us. Unforgiveness rarely hurts the person(s) that are responsible for the suffering they caused. They may be aware of it, but they generally go about their lives unscathed.

God asks us to forgive to protect our own lives, heart, spirit and soul so that we can be filled with joy and peace versus bitterness and resentment.

Forgiving another person does not mean the other person is not responsible; it does mean it is in God’s hands. It is up to God to deal with that person. The person who hurt you can never give back what you have lost. God will give recompense to you: “a double portion, everlasting joy” (read Isaiah 61: The Good News of Deliverance).

(As a note: forgiveness does not always lead to restored relationships, even if that is the ideal. Some relationships may be too damaging and injurious to you. If restoring a relationship puts you at risk, please seek professional help.)

How do I forgive?

Forgiving can be difficult, but it can be accomplished.

Forgiveness begins with a decision; it’s not about your feelings.

When should you decide to forgive? NOW – immediately when the offence occurs. The longer you hold and nurse unforgiveness, the harder your own life will be. You may need to decide to forgive “seventy-seven times” in a day (Matthew 18: 22).  Yes, 77 times in a day.  When my marriage fell apart and ended in separation then divorce, I needed to make the ‘decision’ to forgive 77 times (or more) in a day. Every time I would think about my ex-husband, I would say to myself, “I forgive him, I hold no animosity towards him, I pray he has joy and peace in his life.”

I asked the Holy Spirit to remind me to forgive when I had negative thoughts towards my ex-husband. Now, here is God’s brilliant grace at work; the Holy Spirit helped my feelings catch up to my decision to forgive. Around six months after the separation, I noticed I held no negative thoughts, feelings or unforgiveness towards my ex; I didn’t even think of him.  I had moved on.  I could see him as a child of God, loved and worthy of love. I could see him and be around him without thinking about the past and the hurts. I knew I had forgiven. I had joy and peace in my heart and life. On my part, with the Holy Spirit, I persisted in my “choice” to forgive. I worked on the choice to forgive every day – 77 times a day until I was released.

As life is for us all, there are plenty of opportunities to forgive. From the petty little things at work or what a spouse might say or do, poor-drivers, rude salespersons – to the big things like the end of a marriage, the many forms of abuse, humiliation, bullying, having your reputation tarnished, and so many more. We are presented with opportunities to hold on to the hurt and pain or to let it go with forgiveness. We have a choice to make: forgive or be bitter.

Trust God, choose to forgive each day, over and over again, until God fills your heart with the peace he wants for you.