If You Cannot Forgive, You Cannot Love
By Rev. Fr. Leo Copacia (reprint from the “Solia”).
In this article on the gospel lesson of St. Matthew 18:23-35, Jesus tells us a parable about the act of forgiveness. He tells us about a certain person, who, after being forgiven a debt of a huge amount of money, immediately goes to a person who owes him a few dollars, grabs him by the throat, and then demands immediate payment for his debt.
Normally, most people who hear this story, react and say nobody acts like that today. That may be, but that is not the point of this parable; for you see, Jesus told us this story not because of this particular situation, but because he wanted to show us that this is what really happens, even today, when we refuse to truly forgive someone, regardless of the circumstances or the things they have done to us.
What this parable actually depicts is a marvelous example of our wicked human tendency to plead for forgiveness, when that is what we need, but to deny it or be incapable of forgiving someone else when it comes their turn to expect it. Before going on any further with this subject of forgiveness, let me first define and explain to you what forgiveness is not.
* Forgiveness is not forgetting the hurt or abuse that has been spewed upon you.
* Forgiveness is not justifying the other person's actions for why and what they said or did to you.
* Forgiveness is not excusing the person or persons who have hurt or abused you.
What forgiveness is, is simply saying to the person or persons, whomever they may be: "I lay aside forever, the hurt and anger that you have caused me., over whatever time frame you have experienced this situation, and I forgive you unconditionally, and no longer hold it against you."
However, there is one other very important thing I want you to remember when you take it upon yourself to forgive someone. You are not responsible for what the other person's response will be to your forgiveness. For you see, God may heal and forgive you, but the other person who hurt you may never forgive you and be healed. Further, such unforgiving people may go to their graves with that terrible poison still in their hearts. They and they alone will be required to give account to God for their actions of not forgiving. You are not responsible for someone else's forgiveness. They are.
You are solely responsible for your own act of forgiveness to someone who has hurt or offended you. Some of you may ask, "How do I do this when that particular person will not speak to me or has died?" Here is a suggestion I would like to share with you from the advice of a very learned pastor and therapist, Dr. Charles Stanley, which I know works. He said, "Here is what you do if you cannot, for whatever reason, sit face to face with these people and ask their forgiveness. You set up two chairs in the privacy of your room when no one else is around. You then sit in one chair and pretend the person you want to forgive is in the other chair. You then start to verbally express to that person all the terrible feelings you have about them and the hurt they have caused you over the years or whatever period of time you experienced this. Let all of those pent-up and abusive feelings come out and do not hold anything back. Say it exactly like it is and how you feel it personally down deep inside. Some of those feelings may be so hideous and traumatic that you have suppressed them for ten, twenty or more years."
Then I want you to say this short prayer: "Because our lord and Savior Jesus Christ has forgiven me so many times in the sacrament of confession over the years, and because he died on the cross for me and for my salvation, I now choose to forgive you unconditionally for what you have done to me and for which I have kept bottled up inside of me for all this time.
Then the next thing I want you to do is to accept from this person, his forgiveness to you as if he had given it to you verbally, face to face. When you finish doing this, the healing process from God through the Holy Spirit, which is already in you as an Orthodox Christian but may have been dormant from your baptism and chrismation, will immediately begin to heal your body and soul. From that moment on, God will set you free from that hurt and anger that may have been destroying you for all of these years.
May I caution you about one more thing. Forgiveness is not forgiveness unless it is accepted. So, no matter how unworthy you may think of yourself, forgiveness must be accepted, because it is a gracious gift that places us in God's debt forever. I once again caution you that if you have never been to confession and have been carrying this kind of hurt and anger around in your soul for years, if you do not go through this catharsis process, somewhere along the line, you are going to blow a fuse, either in your mind or body.
When you cannot forgive someone, you cannot, no matter what you say, have the capacity to truly love yourself or anyone else. I say this, because if you cannot love our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and all of his creation, what is life really worth living for?
Nothing is more precious and God-like than participating in the act of forgiveness. Yet nothing is more difficult for anyone to do than to forgive someone from the heart. Remember that forgiveness cost God his Only-Begotten Son on the cross for our salvation. Let me assure you that nothing is more wonderful than forgiveness freely given and freely received. By God's grace, it will unblock, heal and restore all of the discord you may have experienced over whatever time frame. When those valves are opened freely and those veins cleared, you will receive and experience the love, peace, happiness and joy of God which will remain manifest in you throughout the remainder of your lives.