“Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
About a month ago, I came across an NPR story about a woman named Mary Johnson whose only son was shot and killed by Oshea Israel, a teen involved with gangs and drugs. Toward the end of his prison term, Israel and Johnson met face-to-face and reconciled. Mary Johnson forgave the man who murdered her only son and went on to develop a caring relationship with him.
When I come across an unimaginably tragic story in the news – and there are probably at least a dozen in today’s newspaper alone – I often find myself mentally contemplating how I might react if it were to happen to me or my loved ones. Would I react as Mary Johnson did? Would I be able to forgive?
But what is the point, really, of these hypothetical mental exercises which involve scenarios I am unlikely to encounter? Why bother with hypotheticals when there are countless opportunities for me to forgive within the ebb and flow of my regular everyday life? These everyday opportunities to forgive are seemingly innocuous, but they are important because they involve the people I love most in the world, whose relationships I value above all else. How many times do I feel hurt or angry as a result of something my husband inadvertently does? How many times do I find myself annoyed and at wit’s end with my kids? How many times do I stew over my own wrongdoings, unwilling to forgive myself? Living and loving others is not without anger, hurt, and frustration.
When Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”, Jesus responded, “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (If you have a spouse and children, you will have ample opportunity to put his words to the test!) Jesus is essentially saying that there is no limit to the number of times you must forgive. Jesus is talking about cultivating a permanent attitude of forgiveness.
Relationships cannot thrive when we hold on to our anger. Holding on to anger is toxic, but forgiveness is healing, restorative, and liberating. If we can cultivate a permanent attitude of forgiveness beginning at home with ourselves and our loved ones, it’s only natural that forgiveness will soon permeate the other areas of our lives. We will find ourselves more and more forgiving with more and more people. It will not always be easy or convenient or deserved, but it is necessary for living joyfully and abundantly. And now, if you’ll kindly forgive me, I must attend to the loved ones who present me with countless opportunities to practice my newfound attitude of forgiveness.