That is how many times Jesus said to forgive my brother when he sins against me.
It think it was meant to be metaphorical for the fact that I am to continue offering forgiveness. As often as it is needed. So I don’t need to count, I just need to forgive.
And it is I who needs to forgive. Because the “offender” doesn’t need my forgiveness. they have prefect forgiveness from Jesus, but failing to forgive is chosing to stay in sin. To accept the drying out of my heart, the withering away to resentment and bitterness that keep me from experiencing the full love and joy that comes from the sacrifice of my Saviour on the cross.
Often I can forgive, almost without really thinking about it. I’m hurt by what happened, but as I process it I recognize the human nature of others (and hopefully myself), and it is just one of those things that goes with the territory of loving and caring and living with other sinful beings.
Not that I feel proud by the ability to forgive like this – it is not me. It is the Holy Spirit at work in my heart, almost without my noticing. The offense drops away, and the relationship continues. And I praise Jesus for making this possible.
I like it when it works that way.
But sometimes I need those 77 times. Not because there are 77 offenses, but because there is one offense that keeps coming back to haunt my heart 77 or more times. And my soul begins to dry out.
Why is that?
Why do some things seem to return to my mind and eat away at my heart?
Often I think I’ve put them behind me. Sometimes I’ve put a lot of spiritual effort into bringing my heart to submission such that I truly believe I have forgiven.
I sought counsel from wiser Christians to aid me in the process. I searched the scriptures for applicable affirmations that forgiveness is the right thing to do. I prayed for a forgiving heart. And I humbly rejoiced when I thought I’d brought myself to a point where I can leave bitterness behind and be restored to someone.
And then, months or years later something brings the memory back in a dark and hurtful way.
I am struggling to forgive all over again. My soul is parched all over again. I thirst for a fulfillment that I cannot achieve on my own. My mind is full of resentment and frustration and blaming of that other person.
What makes the difference between the offenses that just fade away into the background and are not ever part of my consciousness again and those that haunt me over and over again? Those that my mind chews on even when the offender is long gone? Those that I have to struggle with time and again in my heart because I cannot seem to find a forgiveness that lasts through all time and circumstances? Why is there a difference?
My observation is that if you mess with my relationship with my husband, I will have a difficult time offering long-term forgiveness. Yep, a woman who flirts with my husband (it has happened), or a busy-body who steps in between us and attempts to brew divisiveness (it has also happened) are just the kind of things that come back and haunt my heart over and over and over again. Or someone who works against the best interest of my child (I have perceived this before).
These are my weaknesses. I struggle to let go of the hurt associated with these acts and provide a forever kind of forgiveness.
Why is there a difference between these offenses and say the person who insults my intelligence? Or tries to take some material thing that is rightfully mine? Or lies? Or is careless with my feelings?
I’m not sure I’ll ever know why I struggle in these areas beyond the fact that the forgiveness I have to offer is imperfect. It just is. Because I am imperfect.
Corrie TenBoom, and expert on forgiveness had something to say about this. In The Hiding Place she wrote:
It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.
He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fräulein.” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”
His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.
I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.
Unlike the grace-filled merciful forgiveness of Jesus on the cross, what I can offer my friends, family and even my enemies is just insufficient – incomplete without Jesus.
I must have Jesus right there with me to forgive properly. I need to call on him again and again and again – for the same offenses because left to my own devises I will bring it all up again in my mind and there will be no forgiveness.
As I attempt to offer forgiveness to others, I have to acknowledge that it is only possible because of the forgiveness that Jesus freely gave to me on the cross.
This post is offered in response to Ann Voskamp’s Walking With Him prompt to write about forgiveness. I hope you found it edifying – I know putting down the words and working through the thoughts is helpful to me.