Forgiving People Who've Hurt You (And Why it Really Does Take 77 Times)
BIBLICAL POINT OF REFERENCE #1:
“Then Peter approaching 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-seven times.’”
Lately, I’ve been feeling a lot of contempt for people from my past who have hurt me. I hardly see these people anymore—some of them I haven’t seen since graduating high school—and what they did seems to be long forgotten by them and the rest of the world. But I haven’t forgotten. Some of the things these people have done I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life, and so far the sting doesn’t seem to be subsiding at all.
So I’ve been holding a few grudges, been angry and hard to put up with for those around me as a result, and was just feeling overwhelmed and exhausted because of it, so I decided to go to confession. My goal in doing so was to ask God for forgiveness for feeling this contempt and anger, as well as for letting it affect the way I live my life and treat others. But after sharing this, the priest pointed out that maybe I’m not only being called to ask for forgiveness, but to forgive.
I have to say I was a little annoyed at hearing this. My first thought was that I’ve been through this before. I’ve told myself and God that I’ve forgiven these people, not just once but numerous times, and yet I still feel such anger at the things that have happened. In fact, I’ve been about ready to give up on forgiveness at this point, because forgiving these people doesn’t let them know how much they hurt me. It doesn’t erase the sting. And I don’t feel anything when I tell God and myself that they are forgiven. So what’s the point?
As I was thinking this, it no longer seemed to be the priest who spoke to me, but God, and He said, “Maybe you’ve already forgiven these people before, but Jesus tells us not to forgive 7 times, but 77 times.”
Okay God … so I have to keep trying? I guess I can do that, but how exactly? How do I keep forgiving again and again without getting anything in return? And if I continue to forgive, does that make what these people did to me any less hurtful?
BIBLICAL POINT OF REFERENCE #2:
“And the servant's master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt.”
All this reminds me of a little video by Fr. Mike Schmitz called “Forgiveness” (if you’ve never heard of him or have never seen his YouTube videos I would highly recommend them!). In this video, Fr. Mike explains exactly what it means to forgive someone, and it’s a surprising definition. Forgiving someone is not saying that what that person did was okay. It’s not necessarily being able to trust that person again, and it doesn’t have to involve feeling like you’ve forgiven them. Forgiveness is simply clearing someone of their debts. It’s like presenting that person with a list of all the things they owe you, and then telling them that you’re not going to make them pay you back.
I really like this definition of forgiveness for two reasons. First, I like how it doesn’t diminish the impact of someone hurting you. It allows you to forgive while still recognizing that this person has done wrong, and that there is a lot of hurt. Second, I like this image of a debtor being forgiven of his debts, and I can easily put myself in that position. Whenever I sin and go to confession, I want God to look at me in this way. I want to be cleared of what I owe against God, no matter how much I may have hurt Him and others. But to be able to receive this, I have to practice it myself.
I have adopted this as my own personal definition of forgiveness, and I welcome you all to do so as well. I try to remember it each time I’m feeling angry about someone who has hurt me or suddenly recall a way I was hurt in the past. And I won’t lie, it takes a lot of effort to keep acknowledging these things and forgiving in turn. I know for sure I’m going to use up those 77 times, probably even more, but by remembering this simple lesson, I know it will become only easier to forgive each time I make that conscious choice to do so.
Your Chuckling Sister,
Check out Fr. Mike Schmitz's video on forgiveness!