“Each of us has experienced trauma, humiliation, and abuse through the actions of others. Our hearts are bruised many times over in our lives. But God tells us we must forgive, and from the passages we have quoted [Matthew 18:21-22, Matthew 6:14, Luke 6:36-38, Matthew 5:23-24, Matthew 5:43-48] we can see why. Our own salvation is intimately connected to the action of forgiveness. Jesus tells us that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven. If we judge and condemn, we too will be judged and condemned. The measure we measure with will be measured back to us. Lack of forgiveness brings an eternal sentence upon us – a sentence we create and one that begins in this life.

St. Paul tells us “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Eph. 4:26-27). When we refuse to forgive, we sin. And through sin we choose evil over the grace of God. By so choosing, we make room for the devil to work within us, and the fruit of his labor is bitterness, resentment, hatred, and hostility. As we nurse these ill effects with the milk of sustained anger, they ultimately mature and alienate us from God. Like a twisting vine, they wrap around our heart, choking off the life of God within us. Left to itself, our soul becomes hard and stormy, an impenetrable fortress of iron. We are imprisoned within ourselves, feeding on our anger as cancer feeds upon its host.”

Full of Grace: Women and the Abundant Life, by Johnette Benkovic

Forgiveness is an area I’ve struggled with, over and over. This is the first time, though, that I’ve consciously thought about why forgiveness is so important in light of the concept of unforgiveness as sin: “When we refuse to forgive, we sin. And through sin we choose evil over the grace of God.” Refusal to forgive is sin. It gives the devil an opening (and I don’t need to be giving him more openings than he already has with me!), and it furthers his work, not the work of God, within us.

“We must know what forgiveness is not.

“To forgive does not mean that we condone the hurtful behavior. To forgive does not mean that our pain doesn’t matter. To forgive does not mean that everything is OK. To forgive does not mean that I should allow ill will toward me to continue. To forgive does not mean that I should stay in an abusive situation. To forgive does not mean that I feel forgiveness.

“Rather, forgiveness is a free-will action, prompted by grace, which sets us free from the consequence of sin. In Matthew 18:18 we read “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” When we forgive, the harm committed against us loses its power over us. Anger flees, and with it goes hostility, hatred, resentment, and bitterness. The wall of resistance that we have built around our hearts begins to crumble and fall. No longer held captive to the effects of anger, our stony hearts become “hearts of flesh.” We are set free – and so is the person who has been held in spiritual bondage by the fetters of our unforgiveness.”

Full of Grace: Women and the Abundant Life, by Johnette Benkovic

I’ve borne the burden of not forgiving at least twice in my life, in a major way. The Lent before I became Catholic, I was moved to journey the path to forgiveness in one of the largest black holes in my life, my relationship with my mother. It took me all of Lent to do it, to wipe the slate clean in my own heart and accept what forgiveness really meant. And then, the act of my forgiving her bruised another set of relationships in my life, which led to different pain in my heart, a new set of bruises, and then a continuing examination of forgiveness. Even so, forgiving my mother set me free. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t rewarding in the sense that I saw fireworks and heard a chorus of angels. But I was free of the self-imposed weight of my sin.

In the years since I forgave my mother, I have noticed just how easy it is to build a wall around your heart (especially once you’re an old pro at it, as I am) and to just tuck your grudges inside that fortress. It’s so easy to feed the little pup of unforgiveness and, over time, have it grow to be a full-fledged wolf, and, over more time, a beast that’s crowding the space, demanding more room and more food. Though it’s painful to kill of the little pup, it’s far easier than slaughtering that beast. For one thing, you get used to having the beast around, even if you don’t particularly like it.

Forgiveness has been an ongoing journey in my life. As I read this chapter on forgiveness (titled “Resurrection: Made New for the Abundant Life”), I was struck by how many little areas need attention in the Forgiveness Hold. I didn’t realize I was still harboring some little pups-turned-wolf. Guess I’d better get busy!