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Amy Patsch

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We have all heard someone say, “I can never forgive that,” or maybe we have said it ourselves.  

My coworker repeated that phrase often enough that I felt the need to research what the Bible says about forgiveness so that I could, if possible, help them or others in their efforts to let go of pain. 

Those of us in contact with many people throughout our daily lives likely find someone that has hurt our feelings or even intentionally slighted us. Occasionally, it even feels like a betrayal.  

Of all the pain I find, family can wound us the most. Pain just seems to sting more when it comes from a family member, and yet, keeping those relationships not only open but filled with love is important. 

I have a friend whose brother seems (to them) to be a ne'er-do-well, taking advantage of their parents' kindness. He is in his 40s, now and again living under their roof as his ever-changing needs dictate. 

He can’t seem to hold a job for long, and, according to my friend, he has a long list of faults that prevent him from living as a responsible adult. He has repeatedly taken monetary advantage of his parents’ desire for him to do better. He is the youngest of the family.  

Doesn’t this sound familiar? 

Even though there are four siblings in that family, one certainly appears to be the favorite. At the same time, their favor rests on this son, who is on the outs with his three other siblings. This, too, sounds familiar.  

More than once, I have heard my friend say the siblings agree they will never forgive him for taking advantage of their parents, but is that intentional estrangement God’s will for that family? Certainly not. Families are precious to God, and after all, He created us to live in them. 

The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus replied, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” In other words, a lot of times. In reality - every time. 

Jesus is speaking of Peter forgiving those who have harmed him. He was not talking about Peter being forgiven by others.  

We cannot control others. We should always ask for forgiveness when we have done wrong, but the hurt party must decide for themselves whether or not to obey Jesus. Assuredly, Jesus is speaking as much to us today as He was speaking to Peter that day long ago. 

The decision not to forgive has negatively affected everything about my friend. For years, we would meet for dinner and have a lovely time discussing family, friends and work. That stopped a few years ago, when, after the fourth dinner with my friend releasing so much vitriol and anger about the family situation, I felt beaten and depressed when I left the restaurant. The unforgiveness and associated anger that my friend has held in their heart for so many years had darkened their outlook on life. 

The central theme to Christ’s death on the cross is forgiveness, specifically our forgiveness. As we say the Lord’s Prayer, we see undeviatingly that we are to forgive as we are forgiven. No options exist in prayer. If we want to be forgiven by God, we must forgive others. 

I find I should forgive immediately. If I linger more than the time it takes me to think “I need to forgive this,” I create the problem of my mind considering payback. If I don’t forgive immediately, I’ve got two problems on my hands, the first being unforgiving and the second that I’m considering retribution, even though God has said, “Vengeance is mine.”  

If I don’t forgive immediately, I have to ask God to forgive me for not only my unforgiveness, but also the thoughts of retribution. Of course, I can’t do that until I have forgiven the one that hurt me, which is why I have chosen to forgive within the first few seconds of being hurt.  

Doing this takes a lot of practice, and I’m not up to the standard that I would like to be, but I work at it each time I feel I've been hurt. The time it takes me to forgive now is much shorter than it was, even five years ago. God is teaching me, and I’m practicing. 

I have seen a variety of ways to attempt dodging true forgiveness. People will warp forgiveness slightly so they can hold on to anger. Don’t we know people who claim forgiveness as a badge of honor because they’re so proud that they still speak to that person who hurt them? After all, they tell us they have forgiven them, words are immediately followed by, “But I can never forget.” 

How, then, do we forget pain so forgiveness is complete?  

Every time pain comes to mind, we have to immediately focus in another direction. I try singing a praise song or old hymn, which brings me to the point where I realize how much I have been forgiven by God – an overwhelming bucketful of grace has been given to me by God, and His name is Jesus.  

My sins are gone and forgotten. That is the pattern I am to follow. How could I not give my best effort to forgive and forget when such wonderful grace envelopes me? 

ED. NOTE: Amy Patsch writes from Ocean City. 

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