The Work of Forgiveness

So there’s this passage in the Bible…

Okay, wait, before I go there, let me first say… I am no Biblical scholar nor even an aggressive reader of Scripture, but having grown up in the church, spending time both loving and hating it, I have a few cliff notes that have stuck with me along the way. (There’s a pun in there somewhere because my grandad’s name was Cliff and he certainly served us earfuls of Bible verses, but until I can figure it out, onward!)

Without googling the verse so I can give you exacts and impress someone without much scripture I can recall by google, I’m just gonna go with go with what I can recall by memory and see how well that goes (or even how well some of it has stuck over the years). I don’t know chapters and numbers, but I know there are a lot stories in which Jesus and his disciples are hanging out and going over the basics of being a good human. The disciples are his closest friends and they commit their lives to doing whatever it takes for Jesus and His message of Love to be known by all (they don’t always do the best job of standing by His side, but, you know, He’s Jesus, so he gets it and He still loves them).

In this one particular story, the boys are talking about some of Jesus’ teachings, which, really, if you look at them, are radical, not just for back then, but for now… LOVE YOUR ENEMY? FORGIVE PEOPLE WHO’VE WRONGED YOU!? Naturally, one of the disciples wants Jesus to expound on some stuff, “soooo… about this forgiveness thing” (I’m paraphrasing, incase that needed to be stated), “like how many times are we supposed to forgive someone, maybe seven times?”

Jesus answered his question with a math equation “not just seven times, seventy times seven,” and seeing as math was never my strong suit, I always dismissed His answer. Some large number is what I chalked it up to. When I got a little older and would again hear this passage, I decided to figure it out. I pulled out my TI-83 calculator… 490. Okay, maybe He meant for us to forgive so many times that it’s too hard to keep track. Throw in different translations of scripture, some of which Jesus says to forgive 77 times, and I never got a clear understanding, only that I was suppose to forgive a lot!

You can find plenty of blogs (as can I, so please don’t feel the need to send them to me) with Bible scholars breaking down this scripture and helping us understand the symbolic meaning of these numbers (somehow they represent God’s eternal forgiveness extended to us). As someone who has had scripture thrown at her as pad answers and bandaids with no real meaning for how they were helpful to her personally, I’m not here to break down scripture to be used as a blanket formula for all.

These days, I tread lightly when it comes to referencing the Bible, mostly because I’ve seen the ways people use it to back up they own views (most of which are political), and while I claim the same God as the Christian Faith, the God I know is very different from the one seen on Fox News and CNN. God is in both and neither camp at the same time, and way less political than everyone thinks (also less religious but that’s for another day).

So this is a “personal understanding” story more so than a dissecting of what the Bible means. It’s my coming of age to understanding just one of the many passages I’ve read or heard since childhood, and 38 years later finally saying “ohhhhh, I think I get it.”

While I don’t know much, I know that holding onto anger hurts me way more than the person I’m angry at. I’ve let anger eat me alive before, stuffing it deep down and reaching for anything else to distract me from the pain caused by someone else. In more recent years I’ve felt the healthiest I’ve ever been, having let go of past hurts and choosing to forgive both myself and others for things done wrong.

There’s this one situation that often revisits my mind, I feel anger start to bubble up as soon as I think about it. I feel how it felt all over again to be hurt by this one person, almost annoyed that I forgave them because it feels so good (in the moment) to be angry at them. I can see why we hang onto anger, it’s so much easier, it feels a lot better to feel justified in our anger than to “let go,” “move on,” or “forgive.” Laaaaame. Where’s my pitchfork!?

I’ve forgiven this person so many times, in my head, in my heart, in my journal. I’ve “let go and let God,” I’ve “chosen Joy,” I’ve forgiven at least 76 times, perhaps having only one time left in me. I was talking to my mom about it who has become quite a place of refuge for me in our later years of life… this was not always the case when I was growing up. I relayed that I felt something must be wrong with me if I can’t seem to forgive them, “it still comes up,” I told her, “and when it does, I still feel angry! Do I not mean it when I say I’ve forgiven them? Why won’t the feeling go away?”

As my mother started to reference this 70×7 passage, I could feel my eyes rolling in the back of my head, here we go, I thought, and I interrupted her… “but I’ve done that! As much as I understand forgiveness, I’ve forgiven them! And yet I randomly still think about it, and I still get mad, and I feel like I have to start all over and forgive them again!”

“That’s the beautiful and hard thing about it,” my mom said, “70×7 means you keep making the choice to forgive, no matter how many times it comes back up. It’s not that you didn’t forgive them before, it’s that you have to remind yourself, again and again, that you already chose to forgive them.” My eye roll settled a little and I noticed my heart react as she kept talking, “life is too hard for us to go undisturbed by things that have hurt us. Feeling the hurt doesn’t make you weak in emotion or in faith, it makes you human.”

Perhaps you’ve been well aware of this for a long time, which is awesome if you have, I’m sure it does wonders for mental health, but it was the first time I realized that forgiveness isn’t a one-time job. The harm may have been done once, but the damage it can cause can last a long time, if not a lifetime. The work is not to get to a place of no longer feeling it, the work is the constant choosing to forgive no matter how many times it comes up and I feel it.

I’ll admit, this both freed me and depressed me. I want the easy one-and-done “I no longer feel it” kind of experience. The trouble is, you’ll wait your whole life for it to feel done, for the pain to no longer be an issue. While I do think you can absolutely be less affected by the pain, and live a beautiful healthy life, I think life will always catch us off guard. You never know what might trigger the memory of a past hurt, no matter how long it’s been.

So it’s depressing to me, or maybe exhausting, to think I may have to keep forgiving for a long time. But it’s freeing to realize something isn’t wrong with me just because a past hurt rears its head and still affects me.

When that trigger happens, I don’t have to add to it by assuming I must not being doing as well as I thought, or I didn’t really let it go or forgive… I can acknowledge it for what it is- a trigger, a reminder, a reaction, and I can do what I need to remind myself I am currently okay; and I can once again chose to forgive, to not let it dictate how I live my life or treat other people.

I realized I’ve been doing the work this whole time, forgiving time and time again, or at least reminding myself that that’s what I’ve chosen… forgiveness. Sometimes I need to remind myself I’ve chosen to forgive myself, and sometimes it’s someone else. Maybe one day I won’t need to, maybe one day I won’t even think about it… maybe, maybe not. All I know is, evidence of a healthy life is not one that is undisturbed by past or present hurts. Evidence of a healthy life is feeling all that life has to offer, even when it disturbs us, finding the balance between neither avoiding the pain nor being consumed by it.

I’ll admit, sometimes I still need to hide under the covers and not be so “on,” and sometimes I need to just suck it up and get a move on. There’s no blanket formulas, every day is different, and I’m learning more and more to choose to show up in that day… just as I am… forgiven and able to forgive.

Author: jenniejoybarrows

Artist. Author. Kinda Funny.

One thought on “The Work of Forgiveness”

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