“Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” Matthew 18:21-22 (New Living Translation)
I’m going to share a personal insight on the above Scripture that may or may not get a round of applause from seasoned theologians; but for those of you who struggle in this area, it may be what you need to help set you free.
I went through an ordeal once where, for about 5 years, I was done terribly wrong by someone very close to me. I was hung in an endless loop of hurt and self-permitted abuse, and one of the biggest tethers which had me bound was my own inability to let it go.
You see, often when we deal with a deep-seated or long-term hurt, it becomes as much our “friend” as it is our enemy. Our hurt becomes our identity, something we nurse and justify and protect. Without it, we no longer know who we are…why, what would we have to talk about with others if not for “it?” Without it, on whom or what could we blame the weight gain, those pesky gray hairs, or that once-in-a-lifetime dream gone down the tubes?
During this season of my life, I was faced with a crossroads and not much time in which to choose. On the one hand, I had a lifetime ahead of me to continue carrying that overloaded briefcase of offenses, stuffed haphazardly with the file folders of my memory. I might be humpbacked from straining and dragging it behind me, but at least I’d never be alone as long as I had my hurt! I’d never have to reinvent myself because at least I recognized and had learned to co-exist with the long, pitiful face staring back at me in the mirror!
On the other hand, there was a clean slate and a pure conscience; there was love and opportunity and peace of mind waiting through a narrow passage…only I couldn’t squeeze through that passage with my knapsack stuffed with past hurts. What if I got to the other side and missed being able to thumb through the pages and pages of things gone wrong? What would I have left if no one else were made to remember the martyr I’d been for having gone through all that hurt? What glory was there in people suddenly forgetting my sacrifices and longsuffering? What IF?!!!
Perhaps I’m being overly illustrative, but I truly was struggling and I wanted desperately to do the right thing. Deep in my heart, I was tired of being sad, and tired of having an excuse for not rising above that series of incidents which kept me stuck in first gear. It was at this point that in my prayer time, God began to not only edge me toward a new level of maturity, but He also began to reveal something simple yet profound enough to help me actually want to be free. He’s a really merciful Father…He loves us too much to allow us to stay the way we are!
I had read the Scripture many times about forgiving 490 times in a day, and had a whole different idea of what it meant. Although my offender at times came pretty close to meeting quota by my estimation (smile), I never actually had to release 490 separate sins committed against me in one day EVER. But, this Scripture came to life and began to grow with greater revelation when I suddenly made the course-altering move to speak the words that very first time, “I choose to forgive.”
I had thought all my life that, once you forgive someone, you forgive…and the forget part comes automatically. Well, eventually perhaps, but not always. For situations like what I overcame, and what you’re getting ready to become free from, there comes “File 13.”
Beginning today, I want you to set a goal to get out from under that one hurt you’ve babied and protected. Jesus had your situation in mind when He commanded to forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven–or–as often as it comes to your mind. Our memory can be pretty active when it comes to instant replay, and unless we discipline ourselves to shut that button off, we can consume entire days with reliving hurts over and over. What a waste of a perfectly good life!
Get serious about this thing, because not only is it toxic to your spirit and to your physical body, but if you want to receive forgiveness from the Lord, you’re going to have to learn how to dish it out. Right now, say out loud with me, “I choose to forgive __________ (name).” That person can be dead or alive…doesn’t matter…you’re doing this in obedience to God, and you’re doing it for YOU. You need to let him or her off the hook more than your offender needs to be let off!
It will feel almost like a self-betrayal at first–and your carnal side is going to kick and scream for retribution and that proverbial pound of flesh–but stick to your guns! Oops, you just now thought of it again…so say it again: “I choose to forgive _________.” Don’t be surprised that, since thoughts seem to travel at warp speed, you may have the occasion to forgive the memory of one act 490 times in a day. Your mental trashcan will probably have wadded up papers flowing out on all sides. Keep confessing forgiveness and tossing the offense into the garbage.
Know this: if you have to re-do the act of forgiveness, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you didn’t truly forgive in the first place. That doesn’t make you a failure any more than having to die to sin each new day makes you unsaved. Don’t give up and say, “I just can’t forgive!” You CAN—with work. It’s as much a process as it is an action, and sometimes you have to speak with your mouth and then let your attitude follow your intention. The power of life and death is in the tongue, and you’re in a battle for the quality of your life! You may not even feel your heart 100% in what you’re saying, but keep saying it anyway. Trust me when I tell you that for every time you say it with as much faith as you can muster, that hurt has less and less a hold on you. Eventually the day will come when you really will forget to hurt! You may not forget the incident, but you will forget to let it control your life. That’s freedom indeed.
I’ll never forget an object lesson Debra Catron taught on a Wednesday night at our church several years ago, when she recounted a difficult season in her own life. She said, “There’s a little trunk of painful memories in the attic of my mind. Now, I can open that trunk and go through the contents at any time, or I can leave it locked. I simply choose not to go there anymore.”
©2011 Lisa Crum.
Please feel free to share, but if reprinting, please use acknowledgments!