You probably know the verses, same as I do. Jesus tells Peter to forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven times (Matthew 18:22). Even if someone does us wrong seven times in one day, we’re commanded to forgive them (Luke 17:3-4). We are to forgive others just as we have been forgiven of much more (Matthew 18:23-35).
So… those sure were great stories when I was a kid and someone had taken the toy I wanted or said mean words to me. The hurt was merely a scratch, easily healed, easily moved on from. But now that my emotions and thoughts run much deeper, hurt also finds its way into those crevasses.
Now I wonder if we have to tell someone, “I forgive you” repetitively, not because they hurt us multiple times, but we have to forgive them multiple times, as a process.
(This is not including the cross by which God has forgiven us, who have accepted His grace and His role as Savior and Lord in our life. That is a one-and-done deal.)
I’m not here to compare pains of our past… I know some people have been through a more horrendous situation than I ever will know. For that, I hope you can find healing and peace with our beloved Father. But I guarantee, if you are reading this, you have experienced some manner of pain caused by another individual. And if you are a Christian, you are supposed to forgive that person.
I heard the question posed, wondering if forgiveness means forgetting. For some (reasonably) worry that if the pain is forgotten, then we never learn a lesson and are susceptible to the same hurt repeatedly. And if you’ve ever felt the hurt I’ve felt, you know that forgetting is simply not an option. There is a line where the pain has cut far too deep for a blissfully ignorant life beyond that to even be conceivable. So I’ve come up with the following metaphor.
Physical healing is when an injury no longer bleeds when scratched. Yet the skin bears a scar that will never go away. Emotional healing similarly bears a scar; we will remember the pain we went through, but it no longer hurts or hinders us.
Scabs take time to heal into scars. And those scabs will take longer to heal if we pick at them. Obsessing over the pain and dwelling on the wrongs that others did to us is not healing; it’s picking at the scabs and refusing to allow the healing process to do its work. Sometimes we pick by habit without even realizing it. Sometimes we can’t think of anything else, so we pick at the pain. Sometimes we are so numb to everything else that remembering that pain is the only thing we feel anymore.
You will not heal for as long as you hold on to the pain and pick at your scabs.
Scars tell a story. I have one on my arm that is a great anecdote about a Fourth of July experiment gone wrong. I have another one on my knuckle that warns of the dangers of hot ovens. But I know not all scars reflect happy stories. When I press on my scar, there is no pain. Just the memory of what happened, which also has faded over time. The only blood that will come from that scar would be from a new injury.
Here’s the unfortunate yet necessary ingredient to our healing process: time.
I did not like writing that sentence. But it is what I’ve found to be true.
When old pain wants to distract you into obsessing about the past, look at a physical scar on your body. Remember what happened, why you were hurt. Acknowledge your memory of the pain. Affirm to yourself and in prayer at that moment, “I forgive.” And move on with your day. Do not pick at the scab and dwell on the pain. See, remember, forgive, move on.
Sometimes forgiveness is about not allowing the other person to control you. Holding a grudge doesn’t weigh down the other person; it makes our hands unavailable to hold onto God. Sometimes forgiveness is about finding our own freedom by releasing that pain that has been all we’ve known for longer than we can remember. Once your hands are free, I entreat you to embrace our Heavenly Daddy.
Nothing heals like when a parent kisses their child and makes it all better.
“Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.” 1 Peter 5:7