Forgiving When it Seems Impossible| by Rebecca Hastings | The Joyful Life Magazine

The last time I spoke to my father I was pregnant with my first baby. It was a few weeks after Christmas and my stomach was stretched taut, all the excitement and fears of motherhood swirling inside me. We did our dance of apology and pretending. He apologized for not being in touch and I pretended it was okay. That was 14 years ago.

The truth is, my father and I never really connected. I always reminded him of my mom, and even as a child, I knew that didn’t bode well for me since he had stopped loving her. I figured it was a matter of time before he stopped loving me too. I guess I was right.

There were years of court-mandated visits and years of progressively decreasing communication. When it came time for my wedding, I told him I would like him to be there, but he wouldn’t be giving me away. It surprised me that he came anyway, and I held hope that it was an olive branch after all the years of taking on water, a desire for a relationship that never materialized.

We tried every six months or so to navigate the ocean between us, but somehow we never seemed to make it work. I was too hurt and he was too proud or angry or something else I could never quite understand. We kept drifting apart and it felt like I was the only one who noticed.

Every birthday without a phone call hurt.

Every holiday without a card hurt.

And finally, I reached a point where I was so tired of hurting I knew something needed to change.

It hurt too much. I was always angry when I thought of him. How do you forgive someone who isn’t even sorry they hurt you?

I’ve discovered it’s one toddling step, one word at a time.

So I made a choice. Actually, I made 490 choices.

IS THIS REALLY WHAT HE MEANT?

In Matthew, Peter asks Jesus about forgiveness. I picture Peter, looking the Messiah in the eye, questioning Him like a snarky teenager: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times” (Matthew 18:21, NIV)?

In all fairness, I don’t know if Peter had an attitude, but I know I did. I would be hurt or let down time and again by my father, the person who was supposed to take care of me. In my pain and desperation, I’d go to Jesus asking, “How many times do I need to forgive him? I’ve already done it so many times. You saw me. I did what I’m supposed to do. How much more do you expect?”

I bet Jesus’ response surprised Peter as much as it did me: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22, NIV).

It turns out, Jesus can handle snarky, and He can respond accordingly with loving truth.

Seven wasn’t enough, not even close. He would have us take that seven and multiply it by seventy. That’s 490.

I don’t think 490 is a magic number. Rather, Jesus was simply showing us that our forgiveness should far exceed what we may think is fair. That seven times Peter suggested was nothing compared to what is expected of us. Peter and I both thought seven was generous; Jesus has something more extravagant in mind.

He wants us to stretch so far beyond our idea of ‘fair’ that it seems ridiculous. Forgiving 490 times seemed a bit excessive, but I like concrete answers, so I took that ridiculous number to heart. I decided to forgive my father 490 times a day until it didn’t hurt anymore.

SIX MINUTES

Each day I would get in the car and head to work. I would take a deep breath and then I would start by saying, “I forgive him.” One. “I forgive him.” Two. “I forgive him.” Three.

The first time I counted every single one, all the way to 490. It took six minutes. That became my measuring stick. Six minutes of saying, “I forgive him,” every single day.

I didn’t feel anything at first. As a matter of fact, I felt a little bitter, the words tasting metallic on my tongue as I spoke them out. Each day I would say the words more out of obedience than anything else, like a kid apologizing when she doesn’t really mean it. Except instead of apologizing, I was forgiving and not really meaning it.

After about a week I felt a shift. I was no longer dreading those six minutes—I was actually looking forward to them. Something in my heart began to change, and I liked how it felt.

I kept on declaring forgiveness each day for weeks and months. Some days it was out of pure obedience, but I increasingly felt meaning behind the words. Over time, I meant them, thinking of specific situations to genuinely forgive him for. Eventually, it felt like I was removing tiny hooks from my heart. Miraculously, after a few months, it no longer hurt to think of him or say his name.

I forgave out of obedience, and it was the most freeing thing I could have done. God transformed my perspective to an extent I never could have expected.

MOVING FORWARD

Even in all my newfound forgiveness freedom, there were still pinpricks that would find a tender place. Forgiveness doesn’t harden your heart. It may heal wounds, but scars can remain tender, and life had a way of reminding me of that reality.

As time went on and our paths crossed, I found myself needing to forgive again. The hurt or sadness became a barometer. When I found myself wrestling with those feelings, it reminded me that I needed to practice forgiveness.

So, while I thought forgiveness was complete, a massive undertaking I had finally checked off, I learned, instead, that it was an ongoing process—probably for the rest of my life. Each time I feel a prick in a tender place of my heart, something that brings pain or sadness or anger, it’s a reminder to forgive again in that new place.

I had trouble navigating what forgiveness looked like in real life. Did it mean I needed to call him and seek him out? Did it mean I needed to chase him? Did it mean I needed to set myself up to be hurt again?

God showed me that though He uses it for His glory, He never delights in the suffering of His children. He promises to be with us when it is required but it isn’t always required. We don’t need to put ourselves in a self-imposed prison of suffering in the name of forgiveness. I believe God wants more for us than that.

It is always appropriate to forgive. Reconciliation is a different story.

When I gave birth to my first baby, I realized I could forgive my father, but that didn’t mean I needed to reconcile some fantasy of a relationship that had never existed in real life. I chose to protect my children from someone who would let them down. I chose to protect myself.

God showed me how to separate the forgiveness and reconciliation that I once held so close together. Once the layers of anger and hurt were removed, I could see that forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. God gently revealed that while He always calls me to forgive, reconciliation may not look the way I expect. Sometimes, it may even mean moving on instead of staying in a destructive place. He continually helps me make the distinction between these, and each time brings new freedom within.

God gave me what I needed in order to forgive. He still does. And He released me to let go of the need to reconcile.

Sometimes He calls us to reconcile, and sometimes He gives us the ‘okay’ to let go. When we press into Him in full obedience, we can trust that He will guide us each step of the way.

Whatever you are facing today, no matter how impossible it may feel, God can give you the strength to forgive, one word at a time. 

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Forgiving When it Seems Impossible| by Rebecca Hastings | The Joyful Life Magazine
43 comments
  1. WOW! this statement:
    We don’t need to put ourselves in a self-imposed prison of suffering in the name of forgiveness. I believe God wants more for us than that.

    How I needed to hear those words.

    Thank you. For being vulnerable and sharing.

  2. Love you for sharing your hurts and heart so eloquently. Perfect timing on forgiveness for me. God bless you and all your future writings. May God’s healing and enlightening grace filled words continue to come through you and your testimony.

  3. Thanks for sharing. There have been a few people in my life that I have had a hard time forgiving. Thankfully not my parents though. That would be really tough, but praise the Lord nothing is impossible with Him. As I realized how much He has forgiven me, then I realize too that I can forgive others, even those who have hurt me. I love the story in Luke 7 about Simon and the woman who was a sinner.

  4. I love how God’s power overcomes our own resistance. It’s beautiful how He changed you, even as you resisted the reality of forgiveness, yet took active steps in the right direction.

    Your questions struck me: “I did what I’m supposed to do. How much more do you expect?” Our human nature believes in cause and effect – I do this, then get results. Yet, God calls us to obedience and faithfulness, but the fruitfulness and results are up to Him. We don’t get to determine how or when we get to enjoy the rewards of our faithfulness. Praise God for His grace and mercy, because the joy and peace that’s found in obedience to Him is profound!

    1. Yes! The rewards and fruitfulness are up to God. It’s really a matter of me taking on too much control, thinking I’m responsible for it all. We are like kids. And our Dad is there to protect us, feed us, provide for us. We just need to be willing to see it!

  5. Rebecca, this is POWERFUL! I appreciate your openness and transparency. Forgiveness is one of the most difficult paths in the life of a Christian. It’s one thing when it’s just some person at church. It’s entirely another when it’s someone like a father. I’m sorry for your pain. I’m glad that you shared it. I know it will be a help to many.

    Tweeted and will share to the InstaEncouragements FB tomorrow. BTW, I think you have a new look to your blog. It’s beautiful!!!

    Thanks for linking up at InstaEncouragements!

  6. What a wonderful article, showing us the path to forgiveness. It is difficult to forgive someone who is not repentant and maybe doesn’t even realize they hurt you, but you are exactly right – we are called to do so seventy times seven. You forgave in a spirit of obedience and received a gift for yourself in return, taking away the bitterness you felt toward your father.

    1. Sometimes obedience is the only thing that we can make sense of. That’s what it was for me. I’m so grateful that God changed my heart in the process! (And that He keeps doing it even when old thoughts creep in.)

  7. What a great testimony! I am currently healing from a relational break-up and this is exactly what God shows me every day – forgiveness is an ongoing process and the path not only leading to freedom and healing but also the way to stay free. Thank you so much! Blessings!

  8. What a great testimony! I am currently healing from a relational break-up and this is exactly what God shows me every day – forgiveness is an ongoing process and the path not only leading to freedom and healing but also the way to stay free.

  9. What a beautiful testimony of His grace in the midst of great pain and disappointment! In the biblical counseling world, we use “the 3 promises of forgiveness” as a tool to help people forgive. The idea is based on the fact that God forgives us based on promises like 1 Jn. 1.9. The 3 promises are 1) I won’t bring it up to the other person in an accusing way, 2) I won’t gossip to others about it, (I think 3 is the hardest) 3) I won’t dwell on it myself. And the way to not dwell on the hurt by playing each one like a mental dvd, is to chose to think what God says. That is part what you did by focusing on “I forgive him.”

  10. I’m quite I would lose track if I even TRIED to count to 490, Becky. But I love that you did, and I’m grateful for what you’re sharing here. I’m sorry for the suffering in your relationship with your Dad. Due to circumstances in my own life, I have also had to learn the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation. Thank you for the wisdom and encouragement from God’s Word!

  11. Beautiful obedience, Rebecca.
    And I’m sure you are a better mum because you have taken care of the baggage going forward.
    It’s true that sometimes we have to forgive the unforgivable, but we can only do it in His strength and with the knowledge that we have been forgiven much.

  12. Such a beautiful story Rebecca. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. Forgiveness is so hard. It’s harder still when it is with those core people that you expect to be better… do better. I can relate on so many levels and am so proud of you for doing the hard work and recognizing the forgiveness doesn’t always lead to reconciliation. Praying for you today and your family.

  13. I love this article, it is such a deep and meaningful truth that we all need to work on. I love what you say about obedience, that is where the process starts. God is so good to us when we take that first step in obedience. Thank you for sharing your tender story, it has blessed me and reminded me of how to do the whole forgiveness thing!

  14. I love this! What a powerful, emotional, and yet practical way to keep finding forgiveness for those who have hurt us. I appreciate your honest heart, and how you share that just because you forgave, it can still hurt, and that forgiveness can be a continual process.

  15. It probably si even more than 490, but even the Lord has to let people go, if they won’t hear His voice.

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