“Seventy Times Seven:” The Challenge of Forgiveness – Part 1

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Are you having trouble forgiving someone?

Everyone deals with the challenge of forgiveness at one time or another.

Then Peter came to [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

 “No!” Jesus replied, “Seventy times seven!” [Matt. 18:21-22]

Forgiveness is an integral part of living a spiritually mature life, yet it is a complex and distressing issue for many of us, Christian and non-Christian alike. This two-part series will explore the challenge of forgiveness and present steps to help us in the process of forgiveness.   

What is forgiveness?

One big stumbling block is confusion over what forgiveness actually means. The dictionary defines it as “granting pardon without harboring resentment.” Forgiveness is an altruistic outpouring of love and compassion towards those who offend us. It does not mean ignoring or denying that we have been hurt; condoning, justifying, or making excuses for someone’s actions; nor does it mean that persons committing an offense should not be held accountable for their actions.

It’s normal to feel hurt, anger, fear, or betrayal when someone offends us. But when we dwell excessively upon the offense, nurse our wounded pride and focus on revenge, our hearts become hardened with the unforgiving emotions of bitterness, resentment, even hatred.  That’s why we must take steps to transform these destructive emotions into positive ones.

We need to realize that forgiveness does not mean we allow someone to continue hurting us through abusive relationships, perpetual irresponsibility and disregard for our feelings, or persistent behavior that is destructive to themselves and others. In such cases, we may need to avoid future emotional entanglements until and unless serious steps have been taken to resolve the problems. But we still can let go of our bitterness. Even after forgiving someone, the relationship and your feelings for the person may never be the same. Forgiveness involves non-possessive, “agape” love (charity), not necessarily an intimate, personal, or physically-demonstrative affection.

The degree of difficulty in granting forgiveness does not always depend upon the gravity of the offense. We may be able to forgive certain actions, yet struggle with others because they injure our feelings more deeply or trigger memories of past hurts. Some people are openly antagonistic towards us for no apparent reason.  This blow to our ego is hard to take. But being spiritually mature means learning to forgive those who do not or cannot love us back.

 Why should we forgive?

Forgiveness is a recurring theme throughout the Scriptures. In the Lord’s Prayer, Christians ask God to forgive us in the same way that we forgive others. Forgiveness is one of the most compelling lessons taught, and perhaps the most challenging.

Here are three reasons why forgiving others is important:

  • It blesses the person who offended us.
  • We have an obligation to forgive as we have been forgiven by God and by other people; for Christians, forgiveness follows Christ’s own example.
  • Forgiving others benefits us physically, mentally, and spiritually. Our emotions always turn back upon us. An unforgiving attitude makes peace of mind impossible, and some experts believe that harboring negative emotions like bitterness, resentment, and hatred for long periods of time can even lead to physical illness.

Steps Toward Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a process that can be broken down into manageable steps.  As with any important undertaking, adequate preparation is essential.

How to Prepare:

Step 1 – Pray for the gift of being able to forgive

Prayer softens the heart, opening it to receive God s grace. Also pray for the person(s) who hurt you. It’s difficult to stay angry with a person for whom you are praying. Here is a suggested prayer:

“Lord, I want to forgive ______, who has hurt me deeply, but I feel no forgiveness, compassion, or charity in my heart. Every time I try to forgive, I just get more frustrated. I don’t want to honor only my human feelings and continue to live with heartache over this, so I’m asking You to help me. Give me a little of Your great capacity for love and compassion. Help me to act with high-mindedness, not just human emotion. Place within my heart the determination to be selfless and forgiving.

Please bless this person I am trying to forgive, and heal any pain or bitterness that is in their heart. If it is Your will that I continue to have this person in my life, please heal our relationship and help us to work out our differences with mutual respect and charity. I promise that as You help me, I will help others; as You forgive me, I will forgive; as You believe in me, I will believe in the value of others; and as You love me, I will love others in return.  Lord, make me a soul who reflects Your Light. Amen.”

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Step 2 – Seek inspiration:

Reading the Scriptures and other inspirational material can also open the mind and heart to forgiveness. Here are some relevant Scripture passages about God’s forgiveness of us, and our obligation to forgive others:

If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.

[Psalm 130:3-4]

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.

[Jer. 31:34].

Where is another God like You, who pardons the sins of the survivors among his people? You cannot stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing mercy. Once again You will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under Your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean.

[Micah 7:18,19].

For if you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

[Matt. 6:12].

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but repay evil with good.

[Romans 12:19-21]. 

Step 3 – Make a conscious effort to begin the forgiveness process:

Don’t wait for a warm, fuzzy feeling towards your offender. You probably won’t feel like forgiving someone who has caused you pain, and it will take an act of will to take the first step.  If warm feelings toward the other person do happen, it will be the result of forgiveness, not vice versa.

(In Part 2, we’ll further examine the process of forgiveness as a series of steps, and explore some tips on how to follow through on your resolution to forgive.)

Forgive Note

                                                                          

The Instrument (30-second Reflection)

Piano with Title

I am but an instrument in the Master’s hands,
but that’s all right with me.
I am seeking praise for the Musician, not the instrument,
as if I were a piano being played on a concert stage by a virtuoso.

At the end of the concert, the applause and good reviews are for the pianist,
although the piano must be finely-tuned,
and the musician must have a good rapport with his instrument,
in order to produce beautiful music.

The instrument is important and serves a purpose in its own way; 
but without the musician, the instrument is silent — just a hunk of wood.
If the instrument is unsatisfactory, the musician can always get another; 
Pianos are numerous, but great musicians few.

Lord, make me a good instrument
through which You can produce your masterpieces and be praised!

© EverydayLifeSpirituality.com

Adversity’s Hidden Blessings

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A legend tells how, once upon a time, birds had no wings and couldn’t fly. One day, God handed them each a pair of wings, which God instructed them to carry. It was grueling at first, because the wings were heavy and cumbersome. But the birds obediently carried the wings at their sides and struggled along. Gradually, the wings began to merge into the birds’ bodies. Their resilience in dealing with this adversity, which had seemed like a burden, soon freed the birds from their earthbound state and enabled them to experience the miracle of flight.

As the legend illustrates, God’s plan is always far greater in scope and better for us than anything we could imagine with our limited perspective. When we are too complacent, we can get lazy. Instead of seeking new opportunities for personal and spiritual growth, we cling to the job, routine, environment, and people that feel comfortable and safe. We are like children who fear the first day of school because it is a new and unfamiliar experience. But if children are to learn and mature, they need to trust and obey their parents, get an education, and face new challenges. Likewise, if we are to grow spiritually and reach our full potential, God has to “shake us up” a bit. This often involves adversity in the form of unwelcome changes, difficult situations, painful events, or the loss of someone or something we cherish. 

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How to Be More Patient

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While Joe was out fishing one day, he spotted an old man observing him from a distance. As the hours went by, the man continued to sit there and watch. As Joe was leaving, he approached the old man and said, “I couldn’t help noticing that you were watching me fish all day.” The man replied, “Well, you see, I used to fish myself years ago, but I gave it up ‘cause I just ain’t got the patience.”

For many of us, patience is one of the hardest virtues to practice. Our prayer might be, “God, please give me patience — right now!” We want to be more patient, but in this age of “instant everything,” waiting for anything seems a waste of time. Being patient is something I struggle with on a daily basis. I usually find it relatively easy to be patient when dealing with clients, working with animals, or when writing, doing artwork or other enjoyable pursuits, even when they sometimes prove difficult. But it is often much harder for me to be patient with other drivers, at home, and with the people closest to me, when the tedium and annoyances of familiarity and the daily routine grate on my nerves and make me irritable and “snappish.” 

Impatience can damage our relationships with other people. It can even affect our relationship with God (whatever “God” means to you), implying a lack of trust that God will do what’s best for us. We want what we want when we want it. But the fact is, our idea of good timing is often not good at all. God knows this and gives us things at just the right time, so that we won’t fall into disastrous situations.

Being impatient is like trying to swim against a riptide. By struggling against it, you eventually become tired, get pulled under, and drown. But if you swim parallel to the shore, you can escape the riptide’s pull and then head back to land. It’s the same with life: if we constantly fight the tide of trouble or stagnation, we get dragged down by defeat and despair. But by steadily going on with our lives, keeping our goals in sight but not struggling against fate to reach them, we eventually succeed.

Floating on your back conserves your energy when you are swimming. In the same way, when we feel overwhelmed by life, we can just float in God’s love for a while and let it carry us through the rough places. At some point we must resume swimming — but this time we will have our strength restored and feel more confident of reaching our destination.

Patience must be nurtured in order to grow healthy and strong. But how can you become more patient? Keep reading!

7 Ways to Become More Patient:

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Finding God’s Peace

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Some years ago, a friend confided that she had a lot of trouble praying and meditating in her house, because her husband had retired and was home much of the time. Their house was small, and he often had the TV or radio on, and so there was always background noise, even if she went into another room. She did not drive, so she couldn’t go to a quieter place except for the times that I took her with me to my parish’s 24-hour chapel, or on Sundays when she and her husband went to Mass. She said she craved quiet time and solitude, because it made her feel peaceful and closer to God.

I told her I understood, because although my husband worked, on the days he was home I had much the same situation. Neither of our husbands was the type to engage in shared prayer sessions, and besides, there are times when one needs to have private time with God.

Shortly after this discussion, during my meditation time I heard the following words in my mind: “Better to get God’s peace in a noisy place than to go without it in silence.” 

I shared this message with my friend, and we had to admit the truth of it. God’s peace and presence must be found in our hearts and souls; it is not dependent on anything external. There are many people who live busy lives and work amid much commotion and noise, and yet they manage to maintain their inner composure and have a wonderful relationship with God and other people. On the other hand, many of us know reclusive people who live alone in what are probably very quiet homes, yet they are bitter, lonely and isolated, empty of any inner serenity or joy.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t seek solitude and silence, ideally on a regular basis. Our minds and souls need this rest, this respite from noise, confusion, interruptions, and the many demands of modern life with its overload of information and dependence on electronic devices. It is essential that we disconnect from our devices for a period of time each day, take a break from work, from TV, video games, social media and other diversions, and spend some quiet time with God in prayer and meditation. But for some people, it can be very difficult to find a few quiet minutes of uninterrupted solitude. Below are some tips to help you.

10 ways to find inner peace despite your situation:

  1. Take advantage of commuting time to pray or listen to inspiring, soothing music or audiobooks that make you feel more peaceful and uplifted. If you’d like to read the Bible or some other inspirational or motivational book, but find it too time-consuming to sit down and read every day, you can find a good audiobook version and listen to it during your commute. If you’re in your car, any of this can be done without jeopardizing your safety — listening to a recording or talking to God is no more distracting than speaking to someone in the passenger seat or on a hands-free cell phone. If you’re on public transit, you can put on your headset, close your eyes, and immediately be transported mentally to another, more peaceful place.
  2. While doing repetitive chores like housework, gardening, bathing or feeding a baby, etc., talk inwardly to God about your feelings, problems, challenges, goals, and your concern for family, friends, and the troubles in the world. Or visualize your goals and aspirations as if they already have happened. Never focus on what’s wrong in your life, unless you want to attract more of the same! Alternatively, you can practice mindfulness, in which you focus on every aspect of the task you are doing, observing it without judgement. One of my favorite teachers for mindfulness practice is Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has many books and programs available on the subject.
  3. Before starting your workday, during which you know you will have no time to pray or quiet your mind, silently offer to God as a prayer all the day’s work, the little successes as well as the annoyances and irritations. God will take them all and use them for your greater good. He will guide your efforts and decisions throughout the day, if you ask Him.
  4. You don’t have to be down on your knees or in a church, or even in a quiet room, to talk to God. God has no hearing problem; He can hear you even in the midst of a noisy crowd or while you’re running the vacuum cleaner!
  5. If you are able to drive or are within walking distance of a park, a nature trail, a church or chapel, whatever suits your particular needs, this is a great place to connect with your inner peace. Even taking a stroll through an art museum can be very inspiring, allowing you to appreciate the artists’ God-given talents and be soothed by the beauty of the artwork. Take advantage of this change of scenery to put you back in touch with your inner life. It’s much easier to feel close to God and at peace with yourself when you are out in the beauty of nature, or in the serene hush of a chapel. Even if you just walk or sit without words, God will know what is in your heart.
  6. Spend time with animals. Watching horses graze in a pasture, sitting quietly petting your dog or cat, or watching fish while sitting by a pond, are great ways to learn inner silence and peace. Animals do not talk, yet they still can communicate with one another and with us, and they exude a sense of peace and serenity that is very comforting. Being close to these peaceful creatures makes us feel closer to the One who created them.
  7. Years ago I used to do a lot of embroidery, and I found this a wonderful time to pray silently or listen to inspirational music or motivational recordings. Whenever I was working on an embroidery project that I intended to give someone as a gift, I thought about and prayed for the recipient as I stitched. I always liked to think that I was stitching lots of “good vibes” into it along with the thread, and that these would bless the person who would eventually receive the gift. You might try this if you are a “artsy-craftsy” person who likes to make things for other people.
  8. If you live in a noisy environment and cannot get away, purchase a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. You can listen to non-distracting background music, soothing sound effects (water, birdsong, wind chimes, etc.) or white noise while you meditate or pray, and the noise of your surroundings will be much less intrusive.
  9. Remember to listen as well as talk when you dialogue with God. We need to create a quiet space in our minds for God’s still, small voice to get through. Although it is much easier in a quiet environment, of course, it can be done anywhere. God can speak to us in many ways, and He will use any opportunity. So invite Him to do so, and then be alert for the many ways God will use to answer you!
  10. Not only our waking moments can become a prayer — even our sleeping hours can be a means of attunement to God. Before you go to sleep at night, take a few moments to talk to God and ask for guidance and enlightenment while you sleep. This can come in the form of a helpful dream, or you might wake up with the answer to a difficult decision or situation clear in your mind.

Most of all, if we realize that God’s peace is a matter of openness, an attitude of being willing to unite every moment of our lives with the One who created us, who knows and loves us more intimately than any human ever could, we won’t become frustrated or anxious when our outer world does not align with our idea of a peaceful life. God’s presence, love, comfort and serenity don’t require ideal situations to permeate the mind and soul. Although we should never stop trying to find peaceful moments in our daily routines, just invite God in and He will make Himself at home — even in your noisy house!

Do you have any tips for staying calm and peaceful amid all of life’s noise and confusion? If so, please share in the comment section!

 

7 Steps To Sharing Talents – Pt. 3

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This is the last post in a 3-part series. To read Pt. 1 click here; for Pt. 2 click here

In Step 3 of my previous post, we listed all our talents and abilities. Step 4 dealt with finding opportunities to share our gifts. Now on to our last three steps:

5. Give without worrying about your imperfections or limitations. “Freely you have received; now freely give.” (Matt. 10:8 NIV). You don’t have to be a saint,  genius, or the next winner of a TV talent program to bring joy to others with your gifts. Let’s face it, the vast majority of us will never reach those levels! Give without restraint, and it will free you to be more than you ever imagined. Don’t get discouraged by what you see as your limitations. My mother couldn’t drive in her later years, but she used her talent for knitting to make sweaters and other items for charity.

Your gifts are only as great as you allow them to be. If you feel the need, read books or take a class to improve your skills. But it is by using our gifts and seeing the happiness they bring that we gain the greatest confidence. Our skills will grow as we continue to share them. We will also gain valuable feedback about where we are succeeding and how we can keep improving. 

Jesus told a parable about three servants who were entrusted by their master with varying sums of money (called “talents”), each according to his ability, before he left on a journey. The first two servants invested the money wisely and doubled the amount they had been given. But the third servant, because he was afraid of losing his master’s money and angering him, buried it in the ground. When the master returned, he praised the first two servants for their ingenuity and entrusted them with greater authority and responsibilities. But when the third servant returned the money exactly as it had been given, with the excuse that he had been afraid to do anything else with it, the master was angry. He took the money from the third servant and gave it to the first servant, who had returned to the master the greatest amount of money.

God wants us to “invest” in the talents he has given us, and if we do, He will increase them and reward us with greater opportunities and deeper fulfillment. But if we “bury” our talents out of laziness, fear, or feelings of inadequacy, this is contrary to God’s plan. It is not showing proper appreciation and gratitude for the gifts our Creator has entrusted to us. Hoarding our gifts gives nothing back to the world, or to God from whom we have received so much. When we stop giving, we stop growing.

Although we fear other people’s criticism and rejection, we usually are our own worst critic. We are eager to answer God’s call to use our gifts.  Then that little negative voice inside us undermines our confidence, reminding us of our limitations and everything that can possibly go wrong. “You can’t do that!” it taunts. And that’s true: We can’t do it, but God can do it through us! If we reach out to God in faith, He will lift us up to our true potential.

6. Remember that sharing our gifts and earning money are not mutually exclusive! What if you are unhappy in your job, or unemployed and trying to find a job, or are in need of additional income? Usually our talents will lie in the areas for which we have a real passion. Many times, these passions point to our life’s true purpose. A career change or an entrepreneurial opportunity will sometimes develop from volunteer work that opened new doors for us. If you are unhappy in your present job, finding ways to do the things you love and for which you have an innate gift can help you feel happier and more fulfilled, whether or not you ever earn any money from it.

If you are unemployed and job hunting, share your gifts and abilities in the meantime. Offering your talents as a volunteer is an excellent way to hone your skills, make new contacts, and ward off the depression and discouragement that can come with being unemployed and searching for a new position. It also is a way to “plant seeds” that will demonstrate your faith and grow into future blessings.

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7. Make use of the present time and don’t procrastinate. “So then, if we do not do the good we know we should do, we are guilty of sin.” (Jas. 4:17). The excuses are many: “I’m too busy right now,” “I’m not ready,” “I’ll wait until I retire,” “Maybe next year,” “I’m not good enough yet.” But our time on earth is limited. We don’t know if we’ll have tomorrow. By procrastinating, we can miss precious opportunities and later regret it. Future possibilities grow out of what we do in the present. Don’t wait until all the conditions of your life are ideal or your gift is “perfect.” Guess what? This will never happen! Do it now!

As we freely share what we have been given, our power to help others and do God’s work multiplies. Using our gifts is an investment in God’s Kingdom. This is like buying stock that can only go up. Be a star in God’s talent show! Lavishly spending our gifts brings happiness to others as well as ourselves. It fulfills our responsibility to make the world a better place.

What are your particular gifts and how have you used them?  I would love to hear your own thoughts and experiences in the Comment section below.