I have heard from many people that they have had trouble forgiving certain people in their life. Their emotional feelings of resentment, and sometimes righteous indignation, get in the way. A marginally Christian woman who had been the recipient of many years of abuse at the hands of an alcoholic husband told me just last night that she doesn't feel she can ever forgive him.
My bottom-line impression of forgiveness is that it does not rely upon any emotional feeling on my part. To my mind, forgiveness is a decision, a deliberate orientation toward the will of Christ, in response to his commandment that we are to forgive 70 times 7. Christ said that if we love Him we will follow his commandments, and this is one of them.
I have heard and read some Christians say that they do not believe in forgiving others and that they adhere to the "eye for an eye" principle found in the Old Testament. Jesus specifically abolished this standard, so it is hard for me to understand how someone who claims to be Christian can follow the old prescription. I chalk it up to poor education in the faith, and perhaps some unwillingness to follow a faith, as opposed to requiring that the faith follow them.
In the "Our Father" we pray, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us." My willingness to forgive is directly tied to the measure of forgiveness that I receive from the Lord. This prayer is a reminder to me that I have many faults, and yet the Lord has forgiven me. He loves me, though I wouldn't say that I "deserve" it. Can we ever say that we "deserve" the love of our Lord who is spotless, pure and without defects? Thinking along these lines prompts me toward a feeling of humility. It occurs to me that I must be humble if I am going to forgive those that hurt me. Recalling my own sins and shortcomings chastens me.
I am not a theologian and I do not pretend to know and understand everything about this crucial aspect of the faith. I just thought I would write about my thoughts behind it and how I handle it. It is a topic with which I have had to wrestle quite a bit, having been the recipient of a great deal of brutality, unfairness and suffering throughout my life.
I have been physically, sexually, and mentally tortured. I have been the object of public ridicule for nothing other than my weight. I have experienced a great deal of rejection on superficial grounds. I have been "kicked when I was down." My reputation was destroyed among family members so that theft and murder could be disguised. Friends abandoned me when I became ill. Some abandoned me because I converted to Catholicism. People to whom I have been generous and kind have stolen from me and lied about it. Family have turned their backs on me, living in luxury while studiously ignoring my need.
There has been a LOT to forgive!
My habit is to pray that the light of Christ becomes perceptible to those people who have hurt me, that they respond to it, become converted in their hearts, go to Him, and accept His love. As far as I can see, there can be no greater good for which I could pray. If my prayers were to be answered, the persons for whom I pray would obviously become changed in a crucial way and would no longer be of an inclination to torment me or anyone else. They would experience great joy and would naturally radiate that joy into the world. We become transformed when we respond to God and begin to approach Him. I know that I have changed. Bad habits still cling to me, no doubt, and I carry the cross of my inadequacies daily, but I also carry gratitude, peace and Divine Love. If I am to love others as much as I love myself, I assume that I must wish this great joy upon everyone.
In addition to specific prayers of forgiveness, which I repeat often, these people whom I have occasion to forgive are tacitly included in the grace I pray every time I am about to eat or drink something. It is a standard format that I have altered to include prayers for mankind, as follows: