Forgive Seventy Times Seven Times

Many of you may recognize this from the New Testament. Whether or not you identify as a Christian, there is a lot of wisdom in those pages where they include specific teachings and messages.

I’m thinking of this because of the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade. I was furious and scared and just plain tired since I marched for women’s rights, including the right to do what we want with our bodies, back in the 70s and now here we are again. I began fantasizing about what I’d like to see happen to some of those Supreme Court Justices and to the people who are so fanatical about abortion and I went down a very dark and angry path. Then I remembered Jesus on the cross saying “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,” and I realized that even if something awful happened to any of the myriad people who had a voice in this, it wouldn’t change their minds. They have their beliefs and opinions based on so many messages they received over the years that led them to this place – as do we all. The biggest motivator of human behavior is the need to belong to the group and that shuts out other voices as well.

So, if anything is going to effect change, it needs to start from a place of compassion, then forgiveness, and then a willingness to Connect.

What does it mean to forgive and why is it so hard?

For many people, forgiveness is seen as saying that what the other person did is ok, but that is not true. What forgiveness really means is to let go of the control our anger and hurt has over us. It means living by the Serenity Prayer:

God, Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change (the other person),
the Courage to change the things I can (me and my thoughts, feelings, and behavior),
and the Wisdom to know the difference.

I give up trying to control the other person and forgive the debt I think they owe me (yes, a reference to the Lord’s Prayer. Again, there is wisdom in all religions and from all spiritual leaders if we just look for it.)

If a friend asks me for a loan and says she will pay me back next week, I might get angry when next week comes and she doesn’t return my money. I might let another week or so go by and as the anger and resentment build, it takes my attention and resources. Keep in mind, also, that anger is stimulating and stimulation is addictive, so there is that as well. At some point, I ask my friend for the money and she says she forgot or doesn’t have it and may even get mad at me for bringing it up and don’t I know how much she has been struggling and so on. Finally, I have a choice: keep being angry and resentful and either passive-aggressive with her or outright rejecting, or I can forgive the loan and forgive her. I can give up any hope of getting my money back and go on with my life. I can choose to keep her as a friend or gently let go. I can choose to give her money in the future or not, but with the realistic expectation that I will not be repaid.

The former option will eat away at me and dominate my life. The latter, forgiveness, will allow me to live as I choose – in a life-enhancing and joyful place – not controlled by anyone or anything outside myself.

This is not just a message that repeats in religious teachings, it is also taught to us in psychology and counseling classes. Victor Frankl’s logotherapy, later Existential Therapy. All forms of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Person-Centered Therapy.

It is far too easy to forget or ignore what we counsel our clients when it comes to our own lives and we can make a conscious effort to do as we say and walk the talk. I bring that to my own life regularly. “Progress, not perfection” as they say in the 12-Step programs – more places of deep wisdom.

In today’s world, where we are beset by unimaginable stressors daily, by all means choose positive actions and take a stand, and yet do not lose yourself. Be the person you want to be, always.