Do You Struggle to Forgive those Who Hurt You?
Let’s face it: Most of us struggle with forgiveness, whether it’s letting go of a hurt someone has committed against us or forgiving ourselves of offenses against others. As Catholics, we are well aware that it is important, and, indeed, a command, to forgive, yet we still aren’t sure how to forgive well. Does forgiveness mean we forget someone’s heinous act? Does it mean we ignore the person who has harmed us in the hopes that the wrongdoing will simply vanish? Even if we do realize that “forgiving isn’t forgetting,” we still vacillate in the place somewhere between authentic forgiveness and guilt over our lack of mercy.
Jesus commands us to forgive “seven times seventy times” in Scripture (see Matthew 18:21-22), but many of us cannot simply let go of a deep-seated wound caused by a rift in a relationship or otherwise painful situation. Forgiveness serves a twofold importance, however: interior peace for the one forgiving and mercy upon the one being forgiven. Practicing forgiveness likely looks different for everyone, but we can all follow a basic process from hurt to healing:
1. Pray for the desire to forgive.
2. Bring your wounds to the Sacraments – the Eucharist and Reconciliation are called “sacraments of healing” for a reason.
3. Talk over your grief with a spiritual director or trusted friend.
4. Write a letter to the one who hurt you, even if you don’t mail it. Pray about it before or if you decide to send it.
5. Remember that forgiveness isn’t condoning what happened.
6. Even if you never speak to or see the person who hurt you again, pray for that person to receive God’s mercy and healing.
7. Separate behavior from the inherent dignity of a person. Judge the act, not the person. We have no way of knowing what caused someone else’s brokenness.
Here are fifteen quotes from Scripture and the saints to help guide you through the process of learning to forgive:
“If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” -Matthew 6: 14-15
This passage may appear harsh at first, especially if our grief is raw, but it exemplifies just how much God wants us to extend mercy to others as He has done for us. When you feel like lashing out against the person who has hurt you, remember what Jesus endured – mocking, jeering, poking and prodding, and ultimate crucifixion – and pray His words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (See Luke 23:34)
“If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” -John 1:9
It’s tempting to harshly criticize someone who has inflicted verbal or physical assault against us or someone we love, but humility always brings us back to ourselves – we, too, are sinners in need of forgiveness.
“It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more.” -Isaiah 43: 25
Find refreshment and comfort in the words of Isaiah. In God’s eyes, we are all equally sinners, yet equally loveable. Try to remember that when you want to categorize “good” and “bad” people based on their actions or decisions. Pray for God to heal you and the person who hurt you.
“Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.” -Acts 3: 19
Forgiveness always involves repentance. We cannot be reconciled to God without changing in some way. Naturally, the person who hurt us may not change at all or, in fact, become worse. Even so, we are called to turn back to God in the midst of our suffering and pain.
“Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool.” -Isaiah 1: 18
Don’t allow someone else’s sin to cause you to sin. If you have experienced divorce, abuse, neglect, or betrayal in any form, you may be inclined to turn inward with your anger, which, if rooted long enough in your heart, will become shame, guilt, or depression. This anger can become sinful if you don’t express it openly through the Sacraments and other healthy avenues, such as journaling, counseling, or various forms of exercise (to name only a few).
“In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace.” -Ephesians 1:7
Jesus became the bearer of all sin so that we could be reconciled to Him. Perhaps God is asking you to bear someone else’s burden through love in prayer. Unite the person’s brokenness to the Cross. See him or her through the eyes of love rather than hatred or fear.
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us.” -Psalm 103:12
We can meditate on this verse when someone has hurt us, because it expresses God’s immense and unconditional love for the person who committed a transgression against you, as well as His love for you.
“He who knows how to forgive prepares for himself many graces from God. As often as I look upon the cross, so often will I forgive with all my heart.” (390) -St. Faustina
Again, the cross is our beacon. It guides us away from our self-pity and tendency to blame others and concurrently beckons us toward love and mercy. Forgiveness essentially is a component of mercy, and when we choose to forgive, we are choosing the path of mercy.
“To the extent that you pray with all your soul for the person who slanders you, God will make the truth known to those who have been scandalized by the slander.” -St. Maximos the Confessor
The one regret I have in my life is angrily defending myself against slander in one of my jobs. I couldn’t believe the accusations made against me, all of which were grossly false. I wish I had found this quote during my time of mediation between my employer and me, because maybe my approach would have been different. Today, I realize that God permitted me to experience slander in order that my character might be perfected in some way. The same is true for you. Ask God what virtues He is trying to perfect in you through your trials.
“This Blood, that but one drop of, has the power to win all the world forgiveness of its world of sin.” -St. Thomas Aquinas
Call upon the Blood of Christ to wash over you and the person who offended you. Even if reconciliation isn’t possible, the relationship can be healed in a spiritual sense through this act of charity. The fruit of the Holy Spirit will descend upon you as you learn this lesson of love.
“Avoid slander, because it is difficult to retract. Avoid offending anyone, for to ask forgiveness is not delightful.” -Saint John Cantius
Consider the circumstances that often put people at risk for sinning against another. Gossip is among the most common sin that causes misunderstandings, starts rumors, perpetuates lies, and can evolve into massive and irrevocable shifts in relationships. These can be work-related or personal, but the key is that avoiding sin can begin with you and me. Practice charity of speech so that you model it to others.
“Forgiveness is the remission of sins. For it is by this that what has been lost, and was found, is saved from being lost again.” -Saint Augustine
When you choose to forgive someone else, God’s grace is extended to you, as well. It’s incredible to discover how God unravels those knots of pain surrounding your heart when you deliberately opt to forgive others and yourself. The spiritual catharsis releases you from the bondage in which “un”forgiveness was keeping you.
“Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again, for forgiveness has risen from the grave.” -St. John Chrysostom
Jesus exemplified the ultimate act of forgiveness, and we can model this in our daily lives: the perpetual dying to self and rising again in Him. This cycle of death and resurrection includes forgiveness. As we die to our pride, our ego is wounded, which causes the need for forgiveness. Once we operate our will to forgive, Jesus intervenes with the grace of healing and the fruit of peace.
“We will either accuse ourselves or excuse ourselves.” –St. John Vianney
It seems that a necessary aspect of genuine forgiveness is humility. Sometimes we are the ones who are at fault and in need of forgiving. We can choose to perpetuate the chasm we’ve created in our relationships through excuses and rationalizations, or we can look at ourselves honestly and be the first to approach the Throne of Humility through a sincere and entire confession. Reconciliation is always a possibility when humility is the prevailing virtue in a relationship.
“Do not try to excuse your faults; try to correct them.” - St. Don Bosco
Once we have understood the ways we’ve contributed to gossip, slander, misunderstandings, angry outbursts, and so on, we can begin to rectify our wrongs. This, of course, is a necessary aspect of repentance and ongoing conversion, or metanoia. Don’t stop at apologizing; look at patterns of behavior where vice has entrenched itself in your soul, and work on uprooting those vices while planting virtues. The best way to do this is through spiritual direction, daily prayer, and frequenting the Sacraments.
Ultimately, forgiveness is a work of mercy, an act of charity. When we understand that true Christian charity involves suffering, self-denial, and sacrifice, the leap to forgiving someone – even a person who isn’t remorseful or hasn’t made restitution for his wrongdoing – isn’t so difficult to make. When we forgive, we show mercy to another and sometimes to ourselves. Mercy melts the ice of resentment and replaces it with the warmth of love. When we love, the Holy Spirit grants us the spiritual fruit of peace.
Forgiveness yields true peace, which is what all of us seek. Forgive through love, and you will be transformed by it. Chances are, others will, too.