“Then Peter came to him and asked, ‘Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?’ ‘No, not seven times,’ Jesus replied, ‘but seventy times seven!’” Matthew 18:21-22 (NLT)
Every day was full of conflicts and challenges. I constantly endured attacks on my integrity, and sometimes my child was victimized as well. My heart was heavy. My mind tired. My spirit crushed. I felt insecure and unaccepted — and justifiably unforgiving.
Many years ago, when one of my daughters was in middle school, I stepped into a volunteer role at her school. I was excited to have an opportunity to pour into the lives of young girls, but that meant interacting with difficult people who seemed to go out of their way to be mean.
As the months dragged by, I stood by my commitment to serve, do my best and be kind, yet I was slowly becoming more upset and resentful at how I was being treated.
Bitterness grew, stealing the peace from my heart and robbing me of joy. Then one day, a displeased parent (whose child had been addressed due to a behavioral issue) approached me after practice — fuming with hostility and appearing to be on the verge of physically attacking me. I remained calm, but to keep the confrontation from escalating further, I finally turned and walked toward my car while she continued yelling.
I somehow managed to keep from crying until I got home, but then emotions that churned for months erupted like lava from an exploding volcano.
I’m the first to admit the absolute ridiculousness of this situation. Yet, I also know this story might sound all too familiar to you.
Whether it’s in a schoolroom, soccer field, workplace, neighborhood or even church … power plays, unfairness, cruelty, politics, popularity contests, adult cliques and women pitting women against one another happen far too often.
When other people hurt us, especially when it’s intentional, it can cause us to become bitter and angry, making it hard to find the willpower or desire to forgive.
It’s easy for resentment to take root. I didn’t want to forgive these women. They didn’t deserve it. They hadn’t asked for it and I suspected they might never ask for it.
In today’s key verses, Peter posed a question to Jesus about the act of forgiving, “‘Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?’ ‘No, not seven times,’ Jesus replied, ‘but seventy times seven!’” (Matthew 18:21b-22)
Peter wanted to know how many times he was supposed to forgive someone who sinned against him. To me, that’s a valid question. If we’ve forgiven someone multiple times, and that person continues to hurt us, who wants to continue forgiving? It’s hard to forgive people who hurt and betray our trust time and time again — especially if they don’t admit fault or show remorse for their wrongdoing.
Yet that’s exactly what Jesus told Peter to do — 490 times, in fact. Jesus stated “seventy times seven” just to make the point that forgiveness is ongoing. He was teaching about the character of the believer, and His answer to Peter’s question focused on character as well. Jesus knows what’s best for us.
Through prayer, He opened my heart and eyes to the real problem, showing me the real source of my unhappiness and bitterness.
It wasn’t others’ hurtful behavior, although their actions certainly caused me pain. Instead, my joy and ability to love life was being robbed by all the unforgiveness and anger I harbored.
God helped me see that I was the only person suffering, due to my refusal to forgive. My resentment was making me miserable, not them. I dreaded getting up every day, not them, worrying I would have to deal with yet another hard situation.
I longed to love my life and enjoy my family and blessings again. I wanted to wake up feeling happy, not disgruntled. I desired to look forward to each new day God gave me, not dread it. I didn’t want to give others’ selfish actions control over whether or not I loved my life. In choosing to forgive, I took back that control.
Finally, I accepted I could not change the behavior, opinions or actions of others, and I definitely couldn’t change their hearts. But I could always ask God to change mine, and that’s exactly what I did. It wasn’t easy and didn’t happen overnight, but forgiveness was necessary to release me from bitterness.
Through my choice to forgive, although the problem remained, the poison did not. With the new heart God gave me, I set the prisoner free, and that prisoner was me.
Lord, help me let go of hurt and anger and have the willingness to forgive — for me, not for them. Give me the strength to continue forgiving when it’s needed, so I can live with the peace and joy You provide. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY
Matthew 6:15, “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (NIV)
Today’s devotion is an excerpt from Tracie Miles’ newest book, Love Life Again: Finding Joy When Life is Hard. Click here to purchase a copy if you could use more encouragement to learn to forgive and love the life God has given you.
Visit Tracie’s blog for more encouragement about how to forgive even the unforgivable so you can live your life with peace and joy.
REFLECT AND RESPOND
Who in your life currently, or in your past, have you purposely or inadvertently refused to forgive? How is that affecting your overall joy?
How might your life be different if you set yourself free from the prison cell of unforgiveness? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
© 2019 by Tracie Miles. All rights reserved.