“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” This is how we protect ourselves from being hurt over and over again by the same people. But it flies in the face of Jesus’ words to forgive “seventy-seven times.” Sheesh! I have a hard time forgiving just once! But 77 times? Actually, since 7 was the number of completeness, Jesus’ 77 times could be more accurately translated, “infinity times infinity.” So… forever, then.
But if I continue to forgive the same person for the same infractions, I will continue to get hurt over and over and over again. Maybe not. Let’s first look at what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not being a doormat and letting people walk all over us. Forgiveness is not permission to hurt us. Forgiveness is not reconciliation.
If not that, then what is forgiveness? Forgiveness is the willingness to let the scales of justice remain unbalanced, and acceptance that the imbalance is ok. Forgiveness is freedom to let go of the hurt and move forward in peace – centered and grounded. Forgiveness might mean closing doors on a relationship that is unhealthy for us, and then letting go of the resentment we carry toward them. It might mean setting boundaries so that another’s poor behavior, even if recurring, does not infringe upon our boundaries. And maybe it does mean reconciliation. Only you can decide how you will forgive.
Several years ago I was asked to say a word and a prayer with a family preparing for the last day of a trial for a man who had murdered their daughter. I decided (after much prayer and terror) to speak and pray for the family to extend to the man their forgiveness. Shaking in my boots, I spoke boldly the words of Christ, “forgive seventy-times-seventy times.” I did not ask them to release the man from his obligation to pay the price for his actions. I did, however, give the family permission to accept that this would never be ok and they would never be the same again, and that they could continue to wake up each day, breathe, put one step in front of the other, and keep moving forward with their own lives in their own way and at their own pace, unfettered by anger and hatred. Someday.
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.