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There’s 3 types of forgiving. The first type comes like a sharp pebble in your shoe. Usually I wiggle it around a bit, I tap my shoe trying to shift the stone so I doesn’t poke me. This pebble is when I’ve said something unkind, or maybe when I’ve ignored someone who wanted my time. These small transgressions happen every day. If cooperation sets the stage for raising children, forgiveness is the engine that allows for cooperation. We actually forgive our children everyday, several times a day– when they break things, keep us awake, make us late, interrupt an important phone call, lie to us, etc. Parents should take a lot of credit. Every parent knows about for-give-ness, whether they apologize or not. We forgive so we can start afresh, we turn our mindset around, so as to make room for love. We forgive so as to love even when we sacrifice plenty.
A second type of forgiveness that’s demanded of me is when I cheat and cause damage even to dear friends. I jumped ahead of an acquaintance in line so they didn’t get those Red Sox tickets. I lied. I gave away my extra desk, and kept the best one for myself. I borrowed without asking permission. As a mother I trespassed into my teenager’s room to sniff out any contraband. I refrained from telling you what I knew. I hurt you. So I ask for forgiveness.
Forgiveness shouldn’t be such a huge magnanimous venture. If I bump into a person I say I’m sorry. Suppose I laugh sarcastically. This is not such a clear-cut transgression, maybe a bit harder to apologize for a short laugh. But I push myself to say I’m sorry. This is the muscle to keep flexing. As easy as it is to carry someone’s groceries, we could be extending more apologies. Don’t just apologize for the bumps and small annoyances. Can we get in the habit of apologizing for bigger things? It can be a daily practice. Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he answered how many times we are supposed to forgive? He said don’t forgive seven times, but seventy times seven. (Matt 18:22)
The third one is more involved. When someone transgresses against you in a hurtful way, you are asked to forgive. Offering forgiveness on demand not as easy as it seems. It’s easy to say “I forgive you” but it’s not genuine. Doesn’t it take time? When someone apologizes to me after I’ve been hurt, it can be a real power trip. The apologizer is in a vulnerable place; I’ve got a piece of their soul in my hand. Someone says “I’m sorry” and a part of my mind shifts: instead of being hurt and thinking viperous thoughts, I can play with the choice of forgiving. Having the upper hand can really be a game-changer: ask any second-born child. As a child of God, forgiveness is not optional. I might not be able to dole out forgiveness on the spot, but I’m expected to keep working on it internally until there is some peace resolved. To hold back on forgiving, is only scarring yourself. Resentment rules your decisions. You’re like a dry alcoholic not able to grow in fresh ways.
I wonder how the etymology of the word FORGIVE came about. When I let go of my anger at you am I giving to you or to me? Is pardoning someone for giving? It’s a gift that gives as much as you give. Reconciliation doesn’t happen with one act of forgiveness. I have to sort it out, all the sides of letting go of anger. It helps to practice giving and forgiving. Then, if I tell myself I should do better, I have to forgive myself. Over and over. Amen.