“Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will by brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times but seventy times seven.'” Matthew 18:21, 22 NASB
When I was in 8th grade, a substitute gym teacher accused me of lying. I had not lied. But I had not done something I was supposed to. I did not say I had done it. I had just been momentarily silent instead of answering his question and he thought that meant I was guilty as charged. And he never gave me an opportunity to explain. He marched me off to the Vice-Principal’s office, said I knew what I had done wrong, again with no word allowed from me for self-defense. Three very energetic swats on my rear end were the punishment. At least I got a tardy pass to my next class.
This was rather embarrassing because all the other guys in the class knew what happened. But the emotion that gripped me more aggressively was resentment. I resented the way he asked his question. I resented the fact he would not listen to my explanation. And I resented my own failure to stand up for myself and demand the right to speak in my defense both to him and the Vice-Principal. At that age I did not have the self-assurance or moral courage to take that kind of a stand.
This happened many years ago and I am happy to report that I no longer carry that resentment around. But I did for several years. The only way I got rid of it was through forgiveness.
Stages of forgiveness
At first, I nursed the resentment and saw my self as a victim. I had not been treated fairly. And I was put out with myself for not standing up for my right to explain my side of the story. But holding onto and magnifying the resentment did not help but made me more miserable.
A couple of years later I got really serious about my faith and realized what I really needed to do was forgive that gym teacher. Who knew?
This was not easy. I would mouth the words, sometimes out loud, sometimes silently to myself, “I forgive him,” but then would quickly fall back into self-justification and resentment. But I stuck with it until I really got to the place where I could honestly forgive him.
And I thought I was done.
But the feelings of resentment would come back and I would have to go through the forgiveness process all over again. Every time this happened I would go a little deeper in my prayers which exposed lingering resentment that I didn’t even realize was still there. I didn’t keep track, but I think I got pretty close to forgiving him 70 x 7. It took that many times to really wash away all those bad feelings.
Then one day it finally dawned on me that I was still resenting my lack of self assurance which kept me from defending myself. I had to forgive myself too. This was harder. I knew I didn’t have any control over how the teacher treated me. But I did have control over how I acted. And over several years I had thought about all the ways I could have handled the situation differently.
The more I prayed about it, the more I realized it was not about what the teacher did or didn’t do. It was not about what I did or didn’t do. It was about how I saw this man and how I saw myself. Was he the stereotypical gym teacher/coach that intimidates like an army sergeant to show everyone he’s the one in control? Or was he a child of God trying to do the best he could? Maybe he’d had a bad day that day or gotten some very upsetting news. Who knows?
How had I seen myself in 8th grade? Was I just a fat, nonathletic kid who had a poor self-image, and was afraid to stand up for himself? Or was I a child of God, confident in God’s love for me and feeling my self-worth? More of the former, I must admit.
In the years it took me to let go of resentment and forgive the teacher and myself, I began to see through the hard, male-ego exterior of the teacher and discovered a child of God hidden way down deep in that man. I learned to love and cherish this new view of him. As I did, it was so easy to forgive him.
I also had to see beyond a very negative and self-depreciating view of myself and come to appreciate how God saw me as one of His loved and worthy children. Then it was easy to forgive myself.
At this point, the resentment disappeared completely and has not haunted me for decades. I can think of this teacher, Coach Ogden, and have no ill will or negative feelings toward him. I have only love for him.
I’m still working on myself however. I’ve come a long way in seeing my true worth as God’s child. I still have to forgive myself for mistakes I’ve made over the years, but I no longer have any twinge of self-condemnation over that day in gym class.
I know people who have held onto resentment for so long it has become a way of life. It actually makes them ill. But they don’t see the connection. They get a sort of sick pleasure out of bearing a grudge against someone.
Jesus had a completely different approach to daily life when he told us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” When we forgive others and ourselves, there’s a freedom that comes along with it. But something much greater is taking place too. Jesus says that we will not experience God’s forgiveness until we forgive others. There’s an even greater sense of freedom when you feel God’s forgiveness.
Is there anyone at work, at church, or at home that you resent for some reason? If not, you are one remarkable person. If so, then I hope you’ll take a moment right now to forgive whoever you have a resentment toward. I know, that guy at work may have done or said something totally inappropriate. But you can forgive him. The lady at church may have been full of herself when she played politics and wiggled her way into being appointed Prayer Team Leader when you should have gotten the position. And I won’t even begin to talk about all the ways resentment can rear its ugly head in family settings.
The need here is to forgive. Even if they never even realize they have done something wrong and should apologize. You can forgive them, not because they deserve it, but because you do. You deserve the freedom and healing that forgiveness brings to your own heart.
Healing disability through forgiveness
Remember when some guys brought a lame man to Jesus (see Luke 5:18). They were so convinced Jesus could heal their friend they climbed up on the roof and removed some of the roof tiles to let him down into the house where Jesus was. Often Jesus would just command someone to get up or stretch out their hand, or heal them with a word. But this time Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 5:20)
This had a healing effect. Maybe the guy was burdened by guilt and paralyzed with the dread that God would never forgive him. We don’t know. But Jesus discerned something in this man’s thinking. He knew the man needed to experience forgiveness.
Just imagine yourself on a cot, not able to walk for who knows how long, and your friends carry you to see Jesus, haul you up on some guy’s roof, take away enough roof tiles to make a hole big enough to let your cot down through. All the while you are hoping beyond hope that Jesus will heal you.
And what does he say, “Rise and walk”? No, he says, “Your sins are forgiven.” Not what you were expecting. But what you needed. Jesus always knew the needs of the heart. Forgiving the man’s sins was the first part of healing his disability. Once sin and a guilty conscience were out of the way, Jesus told him to pick up his cot and go home. He did so. He was healed.
This same Christly forgiveness heals today just as it did 2,000 years ago.
Whatever the situation, forgiveness brings healing. It can be you forgiving someone or someone forgiving you. It can be God forgiving you or someone else. Forgiveness is like a strong chain cutter that cuts through the links we have forged of fear, sin, guilt, resentment, etc. Forgiveness sets us free.
Be generous in forgiving others and yourself. Let your forgiveness be abundant and reach out to the whole world. Can you forgive the politicians you disagree with? How about the Christians you disagree with? How about those of other faiths or no faith at all, can you forgive them? Jesus did. He forgave us all.
Is there someone, a group, or an institution that just makes you mad thinking about them and the injustices they have caused? Well, it’s time to forgive them. That doesn’t mean condone their behavior. God will deal with them on that account. If Jesus could forgive those who crucified him, you can forgive anyone else.
Just go ahead. You can do it. Forgive.
Every time you do, it brings healing to your own heart and it will bless others in the process.
And remember, God pours out His forgiveness on you.
P.S. Here’s Podcast Episode #18 with some of these same ideas, Forgiving 70 x 7: How I Forgave My 8th Grade Gym Teacher