While the article below quotes the Bible, it is not a theological or religious discussion. As such, it does not promote any religion or religious perspective.
In this final installment, we summarize what’s been said so far and answer the question How Many Times Should I Forgive?
First, so much has been said about the importance of forgiving an unlimited number of times that some readers could get the wrong idea.
No part of this discussion is intended to convey the idea that forgiving is always easy. Forgiving someone who hurt you could be a very difficult thing to do. It will likely depend on many factors about you, the other person(s), and what happened. Children have a tougher time processing things than adults. But adults with a lot of mental or emotional scars could likewise find forgiveness unconscionable.
So, depending on who you are, what happened, and the nature of your relationship with the person who hurt you, forgiveness could seem like an impossible thing to do. There is no sugarcoating that fact.
Second, notice that the word “must” appears in the above passage from the Gospel of Matthew. Its premise is that forgiveness is a must! It should not be treated as a casual option a hurting person might exercise, depending on the circumstances. It’s a must.
Now, some will say “must” means your eternal salvation will be determined by whether you obey. I see it differently. I believe forgiveness is considered a “must” because it is a necessary ingredient for living your best life possible. If you think forgiving someone who deeply offended or traumatized you is not the right thing to do for you, you must know that the alternative – in this life – is always worse.
Refusing to forgive is equal to needlessly consigning yourself to a mental and emotional incarceration to which you hold the key. To get and remain free of that prison, you must forgive. For your own health and happiness, forgive. Reject every invitation sent by your subconscious to hold onto anger, resentment, or bitterness toward someone for what they did. Forgive. That, I believe, is the message of Matthew 18:21 & 22.
Thirdly, it should be noted that the above passage from Scripture does not describe a wrongdoer who asks for forgiveness. If you hold the belief that forgiveness does not have to be granted unless or until the person who hurt you asks for it, you are urged to consider dropping that belief. It’s wrong and potentially very destructive.
Forgiveness is an important thing for you to do FOR YOU! The person who hurt you doesn’t need to ask for it. You don’t need to meet with them or let them know you did it. The act of forgiving doesn’t need to have anything to do with those who hurt you. Not at all. It can, but it isn’t a prerequisite for you to enjoy the benefits of forgiveness.
This may be news to some people. It could be very good news for those adults who find themselves ready to forgive but whose abuser has died. If you’ve had the idea that the person who hurt you in some way needs to play a role in being forgiven by you, please release yourself from that erroneous belief. If that person is dead or completely out of your life, and you have no idea how they might be located, do not worry about it. Forgiving them is not for them. It’s for you, so they do not need to be involved.
Forgiveness. It’s something you can do right now or while driving a car, going on a walk, lying in bed, eating a bowl of soup, or at any moment under any circumstances of your choosing. Forgiveness isn’t a prayer, and there need not be any ceremony to it. Other Obstacle Blaster articles get more precise as to what forgiveness is and is not, so that won’t be repeated here. The point is that you should forgive those who have hurt you because doing so is good for you.
And lastly, on the surface, the notion that forgiveness must be given to the same person hundreds, potentially thousands of times, may seem unrealistic, even absurd. But it starts to make a lot of sense when we consider how many times unforgiven wounds are remembered by the recipient of those injuries.
The subconscious part of the human mind is not always helpful when it comes to the mental and emotional healing of pains from the past. Every time your mind does a vivid replay of an unforgiven injury, your subconscious (which controls your emotions) does not know the difference between this and a new injury.
Psychologically, this means long-remembered unforgiven offenses have a negative compounding effect upon us. This prompts us to look again at the first half of Matthew 18:21, where Jesus is asked, “How many times can my brother wrong me …?” The answer is simple. As far as your subconscious is concerned, you can be wronged as many times as you think deeply about your anger or resentment at being wronged.
Until you forgive, this cycle will continue.
After you forgive, and depending on the severity of the injury you experienced, you will obviously still remember what happened. And each time you do so, you will have the opportunity to go back down the path of anger, resentment, and bitterness. Or not. It will always be your choice.
Whether it’s the first time or the 490th time, forgive. Then forgive again.
Resources on the connection between unforgiveness and disease:
Harbouring feelings of bitterness ‘increases the likelihood of physical disease’
Bitterness Can Make You Sick
Unforgiveness and Cancer
How Anger Hurts Your Heart
CNN Article Says Unforgiveness, Anger, Bitterness Can Ruin Your Health