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For a long time, I had a small, hand-written sign that said, "Forgiveness is a CHOICE; not because someone earns it, deserves it, or asks for it." It hung in my office as a reminder to myself and to anyone else who may have read it and receive something from it.
In my life, I’ve had a lot to forgive. I grew up in a fairly abusive family, and, as the oldest, I received the worst of it. The wounds and scars stayed with me for years after I left home, impacting my relationships with God, myself, and others. Thankfully, through special people God placed in my life—mentors mentors, friends, pastors, therapists, and other family members—I forgave….and forgave…and forgave. It was not an easy, fast process. It took a lot of time, humility, grace, and love. Ultimately, it took a desire to want to be free, joyful, and peaceful, and to no longer allow things from the past to impact my present.
I struggled with the Biblical concept of forgiveness and had a constant, inner question on my mind, “How did Jesus do this?” In Matthew 18:21-22, the author writes, Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
My response was, “Seriously? I have to forgive someone 77 times? When do I get to say no and set some limits?” William Blake wrote, “The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness. It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” If I took what Jesus said literally, given that what Blake writes is accurate in my perspective, does that mean I’m to forgive my family over and over? In my career, I work with people who have been terribly hurt and abused. Am I supposed to tell them to forgive 77 times too? And in some translations, it states, “seventy times seven.” When does it stop?
And that’s what I learned through my study of this passage; it doesn’t. That’s the whole point. Jesus isn’t being literal; He’s saying forgiveness never ends. There isn’t a limit to our forgiveness of others, just as He set no limit on His forgiveness of us. “Forgive us our debts/trespasses/sins as we forgive our debtors/those who trespass/sin against us.” Thank God for that! What would I do if God only forgave me 490 times? I’d have expired that in early childhood, I’m sure. So because of His grace, mercy, and forgiveness, I’m now empowered to forgive those who hurt me….while still perhaps not setting myself up to be hurt again.
I thought I had completely healed from my past; I thought I had a new, vibrant life, and that the old life was finally buried. Then in church a while back, the sermon was about Joseph and his brothers, how they hurt him, abused him, and he forgave them and was even reconciled to them later on. We don’t really know if Joseph instigated his brothers’ anger toward him because that’s not the point of the story in Genesis. The Old Testament points to the coming Christ, and every event and telling has to be viewed in light of salvation and grace. Joseph’s powerful story is that of incredible betrayal leading to ultimate glory, healing, and restoration, not unlike Christ’s own mission on earth.
The sermon hit me in a profound way that day; a simple message based on a story I have heard since childhood. And to hit it home further, God continued to show me things, speaking to me in a personal way, through that day and the rest of the week. In my devotion time the day following that sermon, I sat down and made a list of everyone I had anger towards. Uncensored, it was slightly embarrassing to see all of these people, however seemingly inconsequential, that I still held resentment against. So I listed reason after reason I was angry, resentful, hurt.
It took a few days to do this, and more and more examples came to me in my sleep. Eventually, though, it was complete, and I felt freed. The smaller, more benign situations were forgotten, and the deeper, heavier burdens weighed a lot less, and I was able to see either good in the person, or a sense of my own responsibility in the conflicts that I had neglected before, or just healing and freedom.
After experiencing that freedom, I was amazed that it opened me up to love even more fully the people currently in my life. I learned that on an “anger-o’meter,” my anger had been around 10-30%….all of the time. I realized this because I carried defensiveness with me, and it came out quickly whenever I perceived criticism or lack of integrity in others. The more tired, hungry, overworked, or burdened I was, the more that anger-o’meter went up. It was so easy to react.
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Anger, the antithesis to forgiveness, has a way of destroying us emotionally, spiritually, and even physically. Multiple studies have been done on the effects of anger on the human body. Anger keeps us from being able to forgive. And the thing is, sometimes we’re so attached to it, we don’t even realize it.
After experiencing this forgiveness, after choosing forgiveness, obedience, and mercy, my anger went down exponentially, and I experienced a peace I have not felt in a long time. It showed up in wonderful ways: before, my sharp tongue was often an initial response to things my immediate or extended family would do. Now I’m able to either let it go, end the conversation, or see the person through loving lenses that assume that they mean well and may not be intending what I am perceiving. And I still don’t have to choose to be hurt or in those sort of situations.
I feel more peace now; I feel forgiveness. It doesn’t mean I allow unhealthy things more often than before, it just means I respond and react to them in a more Christ-like way, more often. I’m still a work in progress, but I’m grateful God showed me how to choose forgiveness and how to let go of anger I did not even know I was still holding on to. I had no idea how much this would impact positively me and my immediate family.
The reason I chose the sign for my office was that I had to learn boundaries with my grace. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily protect or save someone from their own consequences, and it doesn’t mean we continue to place ourselves in harmful situations. What it does mean is that we allow certain people, circumstances, or situations to stop controlling us.
Lori Kucharski has loved Christ since she was a little girl, but she hasn't always lived it. She and her husband are parents to an energetic little boy and are expecting a girl in January. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist practicing in Colorado Springs. When she isn't writing, her family enjoys skiing, hiking, and traveling.