Break through resistance to forgiving
“Earth is forgiveness school. It begins with forgiving yourself, and then you might as well start at the dinner table,” says Anne Lamott. “That way, you can do this work in comfortable pants” (“Twelve truths I learned from life and writing,” TED.com, June 9, 2017).
Lamott, a popular Christian author, always makes me laugh. And her talk that includes the quote above is insightful as well as humorous. Yet even in comfortable pants, forgiving can seem hard to do!
Consider this question asked by one of Jesus’ disciples: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21, 22, New King James Version). In the Bible, the number seven is often used to indicate completeness, and Jesus used it here to teach that forgiveness is a thorough and limitless act of love.
But how can unlimited forgiveness be possible when to forgive even once can take such an effort? We may hit an inner wall of resistance if we see forgiveness as naive or even dangerous—as making ourselves a doormat for the offenses of people who seem to have no restraints or suffer no consequences for their hurtful actions. What makes it possible to break through resistance to forgiving is an understanding of the spiritual foundation of forgiveness.
During his crucifixion, Christ Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). His plea went out in compassion toward those who felt they had something to gain by wrongdoing. He understood that the fundamental basis of forgiveness is God’s infinite love for us, which always triumphs over evil by destroying it, thus saving us. Divine Love continually pours forth its healing influence, overwhelming limited and self-destructive thoughts and ignorant and vengeful acts. This is the ultimate lesson in earth’s “forgiveness school.”
Reluctance to forgive or a desire for revenge comes from a false sense of forgiveness as passive acceptance or excusing of evil. But Christ Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness as continual, compassionate, and healing (see, for instance, Matthew 18:23–35 for the parable that follows Jesus’ response to his disciple quoted earlier) honor God as the only power and recognize our fellow beings’ true identity as God’s pure, spiritual reflection. They put evil in its place by revealing its powerlessness.
Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy further illustrates the Christly method of forgiveness: “The destruction of sin is the divine method of pardon. Divine Life destroys death, Truth destroys error, and Love destroys hate. Being destroyed, sin needs no other form of forgiveness” (p. 339).
Forgiveness totally disconnects us from the ball and chain of anger that we may have been dragging around—a severance so complete that we’re no longer weighed down with mental mutterings about evil. It cuts us out of the picture of wrongdoing—as either perpetrator or victim—as it separates the error from any person, place, or thing. Unattached to any entity, evil loses its influence; we see it for what it is—a false belief, not a formidable reality.
True forgiveness, deep and constant, shines a light on each of us as God’s child—the radiant outward reflection of divine Truth, Life, and Love, which no dark element can enter. This helps to hasten the restoration and joy of one individual and the reformation and salvation of another. In proportion as we understand this, we find ourselves embracing our own uninjured, spiritual identity, and we’re able to let go of anger and fear. We are no longer reluctant to forgive but are ready to explore the full restorative power of forgiveness—for us and for the other person.
Years ago, I was wronged in a life-changing event. Forgiveness didn’t come easily. I regularly got caught up in mesmeric ruminations over what had happened and what I thought I’d lost.
Little by little, a conscious awareness of God’s absolute goodness lifted me out of those dark thoughts. I grew to see that God is divine Love, encircling each one of Her children and not allowing evil to touch our true being. So whatever harm someone does, or tries to do, cannot actually affect our God-given identity. Even if that wrongdoing seems to have caused harm, we can be lifted out of that mortal narrative by the purifying strength of limitless forgiveness—a reflection of God’s perpetual love that destroys sin and restores us. “No power can withstand divine Love” (Science and Health, p. 224).
I realized that nothing God, good, gives can ever be taken away from me and that another person can never control my life or my prospects. At the same time, I saw that it was not my job to work out someone else’s salvation or try to control their actions. “If you have been badly wronged, forgive and forget: God will recompense this wrong, and punish, more severely than you could, him who has striven to injure you” (Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 12). Divine Love is steadfastly governing everyone and supplying all that is needed. That means nobility, goodness, restorative justice, and reformation are available for everyone to pursue.
I also gave a hard look at why I had resisted forgiving for so long. I saw that my reluctance to forgive stemmed from a lingering fear that evil is a real power that had harmed me and might do further harm. There was a gnawing sense that others can get away with unjust actions and profit by doing evil. I also felt in a subtle way that by vengefully holding claims of injury close, I could somehow bring about justice.
I broke through this impasse when I saw that because my spiritual being as God’s reflection is never touched by evil, my life could be freed of any lingering effects of the incident. Suffering comes from holding on to anger—and from believing that harming others can bring benefits. But the wrong done or held on to only harms the one who believes that evil is real. This is a sin in itself. Forgiveness rests on the understanding that sin was not created by God and is not a part of anyone’s true spiritual nature.
Once I accepted myself as a loved child of God, I agreed to forgive the other person, and to forgive myself for getting into this situation. Then the past had no more hold over me, and the emotional baggage lifted. With this wholehearted forgiveness, I felt empowered, clean, free, and ready to take on new possibilities for my life.
Forgiveness—unlimited, and as transformative as it is comprehensive—rejoices in the original blessing of our untouched spiritual identity. It opens the door to divine justice, which guides our practical footsteps toward restoration, reconciliation, and character reformation—freeing us to be as God created us: intelligent, whole, and intact.
Jesus’ statement “Forgive them; for they know not what they do” comes from a position of triumph and grace expressed in unselfed love for humanity. It’s a position we can take now. Breaking through the walls of resistance and willingly forgiving as often as needed clears the way for us—and all those we embrace in our prayers—to experience the purifying freedom that limitless forgiveness brings.