The gift of forgiving

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

I was finding it hard to be forgiving. Yet I dearly hoped and prayed that God would forgive me for those thoughts and deeds in my life that were beneath the standard of behavior for a good person; things that I regretted.

Sound familiar to you, too?

The Lord's Prayer addresses this kind of dualistic thinking: "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Matt. 6:12).

For years I missed an important point of the promise in that verse. An original meaning of the word forgive implies forgiving a person's offense - sending it away, rejecting it. I could see how that might mean not imputing it, or thinking of it as belonging, to the offender. And by implication, forgiving the offense removes ancillary effects, like guilt or resentment toward us.

Is there someone you're at odds with? Maybe removing the hurt, bitterness, or victimization you feel begins with forgiving his or her offense.

Recently I've been pondering the meaning of those words of Jesus, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." And I've come to recognize in them the gift that forgiving brings. It isn't the gift you might expect, that is, something given to the offender. No, it is a gift we give ourselves. Forgiveness is a form of love, and love - the quality that comes from God and expresses Him - acts on the one expressing it with a healing power. It transforms us as forgivers, lifting our thinking above blame, retribution, and vindication (thoughts that are clearly harmful both to mind and body). It replaces them with grace.

Forgiving has divine tones. While it does not, cannot, remove the need for reformation by someone who has done wrong, it sees beneath the surface of things and discerns the unassailable identity every individual has as the child of God.

Forgiving focuses our thought on our real nature; it emphasizes the presence of good all around us. Good is from God, and the more we focus on good in thought, the more we feel God's presence in our lives and find the blessings that come from God. In a real sense, forgiving others is a gift of good we give ourselves.

One of Jesus' students once asked how many times he should have to forgive the offense of another. Jesus pointed out to him that it is a duty to forgive always (see Matt. 18:21, 22). On another occasion Jesus said, "You must be merciful, as your Father is merciful. Don't judge other people and you will not be judged yourselves. Don't condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive others and people will forgive you" (Luke 6:36, 37, J. B. Phillips, "The New Testament in Modern English").

I remember a time when I thought I could never forgive someone for actions that had occurred over many years. The burden of unforgiving thoughts had accumulated to the point where every time this person came to mind, I would (without realizing it) become tense, sad, and weighed down with anger and frustration. My resentment had created a wall around me, and imprisoned me inside.

Unhappy in my self-made prison, I finally began waking up to the need to change how I thought about that person and those events. The more I replaced thoughts of injustice with a willingness to love everyone as being created perfect by God - with no exceptions - the more I felt love ruling my life. This gave me a free feeling that put a lift in my step, and a grace in my heart. It was a precious sense of being close to God.

In the words of the woman who established the Monitor: "One's first lesson is to learn one's self; having done this, one will naturally, through grace from God, forgive his brother and love his enemies.... Know ye not that he who exercises the largest charity, and waits on God, renews his strength, and is exalted?... May God give unto us all that loving sense of gratitude which delights in the opportunity to cancel accounts" (Mary Baker Eddy, "Miscellaneous Writings," Pgs. 129-131).

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.

Ephesians 4:32

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