Jesus told us we needed to do it. He did it himself on the cross, saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He gave us words to pray: Forgive us our “debts” or “sins” or “trespasses”—choose your translation—as God forgives us.
But how? There are times in my life when I didn’t think it would even be possible. The hurts, the anger, the stubborn pride that creates an impenetrable web.
Even now, during this pandemic, I think forgiveness should be easier. Fewer face-to-face interactions or confrontations. Alas, more time to ruminate can even increase the bitterness. Forgiveness takes work; working with God all the way.
1) Acknowledge the wrong.
A few years ago, someone who’d wronged me—or at least that’s how it felt—died very suddenly. I sent the appropriate sympathy notes and emails. But I was surprised by the sense of betrayal. Deep inside. What a shock. I thought I’d moved on.
I was reminded of something that World War II heroine Corrie Ten Boom acknowledged in her book The Hiding Place and also in Guideposts. She thought she had done her best to forgive the Nazis for murdering her sister and so many others.
Her revelation? That forgiveness is not necessarily something you do just once. No, you do it over and over. The most painful wrongs often need to be addressed again and again.
2) Give it up in prayer.
Prayer is not only a time for asking but also a time of letting go. I’ll sit down in the morning to pray, looking forward to a restful time with the divine. And out of nowhere, something will come up. Some memory. Some conversation.
Note to self: don’t get up then and do something about it. Give it to God first. That’s what prayer is for. The word that Catherine Marshall used so well is relinquishment. The giving up. If there’s something you need to do, you can do it later. Pray first. Act later.
I often say the Lord’s Prayer to myself when I’m washing my hands. It’s perfectly timed for that recommended 20 seconds. Cleansing ourselves in and out. When it comes to forgiveness, I try to put a name or a face or a memory there. Forgiveness from God comes when we forgive.
3) Feast on divine forgetfulness.
You know that old expression, “To err is human, to forgive, divine,” but what about forgetting? I fear I have a brain that tabulates every slight I’ve ever received, every imagined wrong. Guess what? God can also help us forget.
I remember fearing I’d never forget some secret I’d promised never to share. How would I move on? A couple years later the person involved made a veiled reference to it.
For a moment I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then I did. I had completely forgotten. That power didn’t come from me. Not a chance. It was God’s gift. It is divine.