Jesus’s disciple asked him, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (MT 18:21-23) No matter how many times someone does you wrong, you are meant to forgive without a thought. Every time.
I was reminded to talk about forgiveness by an article in the current Atlantic which cites the psychological and even the physical health benefits to be expected from forgiving. What struck me when I read what was an excellent article on a topic essential to human wellbeing was that it still did not go far enough. So let’s summarize what the dead tell us is the reason why we are born at all. Again, I think Jesus says it best:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (MT 22:37-40)
“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 sons of your Father in heaven…. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (MT 5:43-48)
Human life is a school in which we are meant to learn to love the way God loves: universally and completely. That’s it! And that’s all. Learning to love is why we live in families, why we are crowded enough to have to deal with others, why some of those we deal with do us wrong, and why bad things happen to good people. Every occurrence in your life is either love or a call for love. So no matter the question, love is always the answer.
Forgiving the big and little bruises that come from human interactions is an essential precursor to our learning to love perfectly. Holding grudges against family or friends gets in the way of our loving them, so even in happy family situations the need to forgive keeps coming up. This is “intimate forgiveness,” the simple overlooking of negative interactions with the people we love. And it is basic stuff! It’s kindergarten. The kind of forgiveness that learning to love perfectly requires of us is quite a bit harder.
Both Jesus and the dead who communicate with us urge us to focus on what we might call “radical forgiveness,” which means forgiving every wrong ever done by anyone, no matter how life-changing it might be, as if it never happened at all.
Think about that!
We are meant to learn automatic, reflexive, universal, and complete forgiveness.
Here are some important facts about the process of radical forgiveness:
Human minds are eternal! When measured against forever, these unpleasant interactions with others on earth really amount to precisely nothing.
So, how do we manage radical forgiveness? The easiest way feels like a physical process. What I did in the beginning was to package the wrong in my mind, gather it all up and wrap it together. Then I would think, “I forgive and release!” and let it go. I let it go physically: I pushed it away. Sometimes the darned thing would come back so I would have to go through the process again, but now my forgiveness is so automatic that I seldom give it a thought. Outrage turns out to be a lot like anger. If you court it and really let yourself feel it, you are going to feel a lot more of it; but if you refuse to give it mind-space, soon it doesn’t even get started. You still notice the wrong, and you recall how that sort of thing used to really wreck your day, but now it doesn’t bother you at all.
Learning automatic forgiveness is the foundation of our spiritual growth. It is essential to our learning all the wonders of perfect love. And it makes your life easier. And so much happier!