The Need to Forgive

By Major Beth Desplancke

She hurt me deeply. Her words to me were mean, and untruthful. She attacked my character and my capability. She came across as being perfect, without any faults, and I had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I tried to defend myself, to correct her perspective of me, but she would not listen. No matter what I did, she would not change her view of me.

She shared her opinions about me as facts to other people. She came across as being perfect, without any faults, and I had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. They listened and believed her version of reality.
I was mad. I deserved and desired an apology. Just seeing her made me angrier; instantly my jaw would become clenched, my shoulders would tighten, and my hands would ball into a fist. Simply hearing her voice would cause the feelings to bubble inside of me.

She had moved on. She hurt me and didn’t care. I told myself that I was over it but knew better. I was still upset. She continued to fill my thoughts, and conversations. The whole situation took up way too much of my time. I am not proud of my behavior, but I was like a dog with a bone – I wasn’t going to let it go.

Then one day in Sunday School class, the infamous verse came up in the discussion. As soon as I heard the reference, I knew what the verse said, and I did not like it. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says these words about loving your enemies, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-44).

I squirmed in my seat. She wasn’t my enemy. Well, she wasn’t my enemy before the incident. Now, after what she had done, I didn’t want to be around her. Yes, in my mind, she had become the enemy. Of course I will pray for her, I thought to myself. I will pray that she comes to her senses and realizes what she had done was wrong, and she will apologize. Or better yet, she will be treated as I was treated and experience the same kind of hurt and pain. Deep down, I knew that this wasn’t what God was intending with this verse.

As If I weren’t uncomfortable enough, we then turned to the passage later in the book of Matthew, when Peter asks Jesus a question about forgiveness. Matthew 18:21-22 says, Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Peter was looking for an easy answer – a limit to how many times he had to forgive someone who wronged him. Jesus’ answer wasn’t a mathematical solution. Some translations say it “seventy times seven” times (490). What Jesus is saying is that forgiveness is not to be calculated. It is unlimited. We are to continue to forgive people, no matter how many times they have hurt us.

God was really trying to get my attention that Sunday morning. I knew I needed to forgive her. I wasn’t hurting her; I was only hurting myself. She had moved on; I hadn’t. My stewing over it was doing nothing to her; she probably had no idea that it was still festering inside of me.

Diane Marr, in her book, The Reluctant Traveler, says this about unforgiveness: “Unforgiveness can be likened to a parasite it feeds on the anger and hurt of its host, finding its most satisfying nourishment in human pain. It thrives on the cycle of replayed scenes, recalled anguish, and rehashed justification for holding fast to grudges. Essentially, unforgiveness grows plump on our desire for revenge.” The picture of a parasite growing inside of me is enough to gross me out and want to forgive.

The Bible is very clear. Forgiving others is a command; it is not optional! I may not feel like forgiving her for what she had done, but God expected me to do it. Another verse that came up during that Sunday school class, one that I had memorized as a small child, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Ok, God, I get the hint.

I spent a lot of time in prayer, asking God to forgive me for my attitude towards her. I asked God to work in my heart and to also work in hers. Every time those feelings of unforgiveness and anger started to boil up, I immediately asked God to help me to forgive her.

There have been a lot of “hers” in my life. The stories and situations are different, but my lack of unforgiveness is a common reoccurrence in my life. I know my experience isn’t unique. We all have times when we need to ask forgiveness of others as well as when we need to do the forgiving.

Forgiveness does not come easily or naturally. We cannot forgive in our own strength. We must rely on His Spirit, and His power to forgive others. Instead of being a bulldog chewing on a bone or allowing unforgiveness to grow in our hearts like a parasite, we need to remember that Christ forgave us of our sin, and we should forgive others. As the Lord’s prayer says, forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (Matthew 6:12).