Forgiveness is a concept I’ve struggled with aplenty.
I used to think that I was excellent at forgiving people. The truth is that I don’t actually have the memory to hold a grudge. Perhaps that’s a blessing! You see, if I could remember more vividly, it’d probably be harder to let certain pains go.
That said, for the offenses that I do recall, forgiveness has become a real discipline. No, it doesn’t come naturally. Unfortunately forgiveness comes with a lot of wrestling, a lot of praying and a lot of surrendering.
In my life, I’ve learned that forgiveness is not an occurrence. Nope. It’s a decision, a commitment, a process and a way of life.
Presently, I’m processing the fact that I’m going to have to forgive my dad some more. No, he didn’t do anything different, new or extra. It’s the old stuff that I’m going to have to forgive, but forgive with more maturity, more awareness and more understanding.
This is why I say that forgiveness isn’t an occurrence (as in, it’s not always a one shot deal):
When I was five years old, my dad walked out on our family the day before Christmas while his new family (girlfriend complete with two young daughters) sat waiting in the driveway for him to pack his bags. My sister was ten; my brother was one.
There came a point in my youth when I had to forgive him for the offenses that I understood at the time. It makes sense that to the capacity that one comprehends a hurt, it is to that same capacity that the hurt must be forgiven.
But then I got a little older.
And suddenly, I understood his actions in a new light. I was a wife now. With more maturity came a greater knowledge of the selfishness of his abandonment. So having realized a deeper hurt, I had to forgive a little deeper myself.
And now I’m going to be a mom.
This week it has occurred to me that I’m going to find myself having to forgive my dad on a brand new level. I’m going to know what it feels like to have my very own child, and the pain of his abandonment is going to hit me from an angle I’ve never experienced before.
When Bennett is one, I’m going to think, “How could my dad have walked out on a baby?”
When Bennett is five, I’m going to think, “How could my dad have walked out on a kindergardener?”
And when Bennett is ten, I’m going to think, “How could my dad have disconnected from his family so greatly as to commit himself to a new family?”
And each time, I’m not going to have to forgive him again, as in, I won’t have taken the other forgivenesses back. No, I’m going to have to forgive him deeper because I’ll have a fuller understanding and perspective of his actions.
This used to confuse me, this concept of forgiveness being ongoing. I used to get frustrated with myself, thinking that my original act of forgiveness must not have been genuine as I found myself angry all over again. Eventually it occurred to me that the only reason I was angry again was because his abandonment had affected a corner of my heart that, until then, I hadn’t realized had been wounded in the first place. So how could I have possibly offered forgiveness for an unrealized offense?
In Matthew 18 verse 21, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
(Before, I used to think that Peter was imagining one person sinning against him seven times.)
Jesus wisely replied, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Yeah… Because one selfish act might hurt you in seventy-seven different ways! And you’ve got to forgive each one. You’ve just got to.
Pretty much, if we say we walk with Christ (or even just admire Him enough to want to follow in His footsteps), we’ve got to understand that this life is going to require so much forgiveness commitment that, essentially, we’re going to wind up losing count. That’s kinda the point.
(And on another deep note, think about the fact that when Christ was forgiving us while being crucified – before we ever even sought forgiveness – He, being omniscient, fully forgave, knowing full well the true-100%-every-corner-of-the-heart-77x nature of our own offenses against Him!)
That’s what’s been on my mind this week.
I’m going to have to forgive my dad some more.
I’m going to look in Bennett’s face and wonder yet again, “What was he thinking?”
And that makes me sad.
You know what I mean?
It makes me disappointed for my dad. He quit too soon. He’s missed so much.
I pray that no root of bitterness springs up in my heart over this. I pray that I won’t think that I’m better than him. I just pray for him. And I thank God that He, the Lord, hasn’t stopped forgiving me either.