Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”Matthew 18:21-23 (NIV)
Some hurts run deep. I didn’t realize how much anger, bitterness and unforgiveness I still held until I tried to write that letter. A letter of forgiveness to some people who had deeply wounded me. I knew that they hadn’t intended that, but that didn’t make the pain any less real. It didn’t make it easier to forgive. In some ways it was harder, as they didn’t even know the pain they had caused. I knew that I would never send this letter but I had to write it.
So I started. The words came easily enough as I wrote some of the ways that they had hurt me and then the words “I understand and I forgive you.” Then I couldn’t write what I wanted to write. The deepest hurts. The pain that felt so fresh. My pen seemed to freeze in my hands. I couldn’t write the words. So I started a different tack. I wrote “God, please help me to forgive [them] for […]. I want to forgive but right now I’m not sure if I can.” I wrote about how I felt, how their actions had impacted me. I also started to see it from their perspective. I can’t remember how I finished it, but I know my intent, my desire, was to forgive completely.
When I finished writing I read it over. I added a few other things that I forgave them for. I may have included areas where I wanted their forgiveness. I honestly can’t remember. Then I folded up the letter and walked over to the fire.
The fire had been burning for a while and the flames were dancing as I put in the letter. I wanted to watch the whole letter burn and symbolically watch my anger and pain disappear and the fruit of forgiveness take hold. Some of the paper caught easily and burned away. Inexplicably the rest of it stayed there, surrounded by the heat of the flames but not catching.
I felt God say that I could walk away and trust the process. I could trust the process of the fire: because I had put the paper into the middle of the fire, the heat and flames would consume the paper and nothing would be left but ash. I could trust the process of forgiveness: I had asked for God’s help in forgiving, and God’s grace would allow the anger, bitterness and pain to be replaced with peace and forgiveness. It could take time but it would happen. When I came back to the fire later, you couldn’t see any sign of the letter.
I pray that the same will be true for my scars as God helps me to forgive. Just as ash is a great fertilizer, I also know I will grow, am growing, from this experience.