Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22
Imagine spending four days on retreat with close to 150 high school and young adult folks talking about forgiveness. . . . In a word, transformational! Like Peter, we were seeking from Jesus a deeper understanding of the important place forgiveness plays in our faith journey.
We began our time together by working on setting up a framework of defining what forgiveness is and what it is not. As a part of this time we explored potential cultural myths about forgiveness. We then examined these in light of the words and actions of Jesus. From there, we took a deep dive into discerning those situations in our lives in which we need to forgive others and in which we need to forgive ourselves. And finally, we spent our time together making a concrete plan to live a life of forgiveness.
Along the way the young people shared some incredible stories of pain and loss in their lives. Sadly, innocence and naivety do not last long these days for our children. Murder, violence, suicide, abuse, addiction. and so many other life-altering experiences come far too close to an alarming number of youth in our world.
As adults we know, left unattended, how these occurrences can be lifelong, debilitating burdens. That is why gaining the grace-filled tool of forgiveness early in life is so important. Theologian Frederick Buechner sums it up succinctly:
“When somebody you’ve wronged forgives you, you’re spared the dull and self-diminishing throb of a guilty conscience. When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, you’re spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride. For both parties, forgiveness means freedom again to be at peace inside one’s own skin and to be glad in each other’s presence.”
One of the central components of becoming the Beloved Community and living the Way of Love is to be a people who are able to forgive others and ourselves. As such, may we all continue to find the tools to live a life of forgiveness.