Why is it so hard to forgive?
A colleague sabotages your project at work. A friend breaks a confidence and embarrasses you. Your father berated you mercilessly as a child. Your spouse has been cheating on you for the last six months with a mutual friend. Your child squanders her opportunities and resorts to drugs and risky behaviors. You cannot accept your own failures to accomplish your most cherished goal.
Once again, Peter asks a question on all our minds: How much do I have to forgive my neighbor? And myself? Multiple times? And Jesus responds with his usual radicality: Not multiple times; unlimited times.
Both our Christian tradition, and now popular psychology, tell us that we must forgive to free ourselves – of bitterness, corrosive anger, and captivity to the past. I believe that; perhaps most of us do. But we still find it so difficult to let go of past offenses, whether others who have hurt us, or our own failures and lapses that gnaw at our sense of self. To let go feels like losing part of ourselves, a loss of dignity.
Forgiveness is a virtue that must be practiced intentionally. The forgiveness muscle is one that must be exercised, built up, if it is to meet the challenges of our imperfect lives. At root, forgiveness is an act of the will, not just an emotion that we cannot control. Jesus is calling us to do regular workouts with our forgiveness muscle, so that it grows strong and steady. This does not mean we do nothing to change abusive relationships. It means that we make our life choices free of the corrosive power of vengeance. JBM