How many times must I forgive? I have often been asked this question especially by people who know very well that if they were to forgive this time, the same hurt will most likely occur again. When Simon Peter asked Jesus this question, he probably expected Jesus to quantify his answer. However, Jesus’ answer must have surprised him.
Human experience tells us that it is not easy for people to forgive a repeated offender. There will come a time when one is forced to face the reality of asking how many times must I forgive? We may pray so freely “… forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us…” but in reality forgiving is not as easy as it sounds, even though the gospel demands it. How does a wife learn to forgive her abusive husband? How do I forgive my neighbour who is constantly spreading rumours about me? And the list goes on.
I remember reading and using a story in one of my homilies some years ago. It is about a sage and his disciple. One day the sage told the disciple: “Think of all the people who have hurt you, especially those you cannot forgive. For each of them, inscribe the name on a potato and put all the potatoes in a sack.” The disciple did as he was told and soon the sack became heavy. The sage told the disciple to carry the sack on his back all the time for one week. In time the disciple was burdened by the weight of the sack.
After one week, the sage asked the disciple what he had learned. “When we are unable to forgive others, we carry negative feelings with us everywhere, much like these potatoes. That negativity becomes a burden to us and, after a while, it festers,” the disciple answered.
Often, unforgiveness is accompanied by anger and hatred. “We are the ones burdened by the energies of anger and hatred when we choose not to forgive. But when we choose to forgive, we release ourselves from the weight of these negative emotions and allow the healing power of forgiveness to work its wonders on our being. As we forgive and let go, we are released and we are healed” (Rosanna Ragacion).
We often say “to err is human, to forgive is divine.” There is truth in this saying. We know that one can learn to forgive but to forget the hurt is almost impossible. This is where we need God’s grace (divine) to penetrate our inner being so that we can be set free from all negative resentments. When we make the decision to let God in, He helps us to let go of the pain and hurt.