Onions. They look so innocent in their thin paper-like outer covering. If you’ve ever removed the outer skin and cut through one, you are not at all surprised by what happens next. Uncontrollably, you feel the burn. Your eyes begin to water. The deeper you cut into its layers, the more intense the burn until you are crying big tears!
Many people, however, are surprised—confused even—by the intense mental and emotional process of forgiving. We tend to expect, and sometimes actually receive immediate peace when we make the first step in choosing to forgive someone. Another false expectation is that of instant “finality” to the situation.
Surprise and confusion set in when later that day, or upon waking the next morning, we are hit again with hurt, sadness, or anger. The liar takes his queue to speak, “You didn’t really forgive. You’ve taken it all back. You must start all over again.”
In that moment, we misunderstand our continued need for healing from Jesus in these now raw places where we have chosen the most courageous act of forgiving. Remember, a person’s sin against us is the taking of something that cannot be returned by the offender. Only Jesus can return our security, trust, innocence, or joy. (click here to read "It's Not What You May Think")
We grieve what was lost and stolen by another another's wrong action. Grief is painful and intense. The deeper we walk into our wounded heart, the more intense it gets.
Inviting Jesus to go with us and heal our broken hearts will inevitably bring us to the choice to forgive. By forgiving, we choose to turn from the person who wronged us to the One who can heal and restore us. When we do, He is then able to do His work and “close up” that layer.
But then He takes us deeper, and another layer of our wound is revealed. There, more healing must take place. More truth must replace the lies we’ve believed. More needs to be restored. And another opportunity to forgive presents itself.
“At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”
Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.”
(Matthew 18:21-22, The Message)
This conversation between Peter and Jesus is usually understood to explain how many times we forgive someone based on how many times they continue to hurt us. I also believe it can apply to how many times we forgive a single hurt as we continue to sift through our grief and loss.
The next time you are surprised by your emotions and thoughts after choosing to forgive, remember the onion. Forgiveness over even a single issue is rarely a one-time, final event. Layer by layer we heal, and layer by layer we forgive.