Four years and two weeks ago, my little world was torn in half. A secret was revealed that changed my life for good, and caused me to question what I thought I knew about friendship, love, and human nature. This sounds incredibly dramatic, and it was, not so much because of the circumstances themselves, but because I was young, passionate, and, in many ways, very naïve.

Up until that point, I had never experienced the kind of relational destruction that was about to take place, and I had no idea what to do, how to process what had happened, or what to do next. It wasn’t until today, when I realized how many years had passed, that I recognized just how unprepared I was, and, therefore, how long it took to heal.

I have spent years trying to figure out how to forgive a wrong I just can’t forget. I have tried putting myself in the other’s shoes, but when you can’t understand them, this doesn’t work. I have tried just pretending I had forgiven (fake it ‘til you make it), but I’m not that good at self-deceit.  For many years I had such internal fog when it came to those days, that event, that I couldn’t even discern coherent thoughts, much less conjure up the virtuous spirit that would allow me to look beyond my experience, my pain, and forgive. I had spent years in church being told why one forgives, but no one had ever told me how. How? how could I forgive someone when the mention of their name still stabbed like a knife? What does forgiveness even mean when your heart just won’t cooperate and you can’t let go?

I still don’t know the answer. All I know is that I don’t feel that way anymore. Somewhere over the course of the years, forgiveness and love crept back in. I am no saint (sometimes I think I am barely a human), and there is much that happened four years ago that others will need to forgive me for someday, but today I find that years of intentional and difficult spiritual growth changed my heart when I wasn’t looking and I am no longer waiting to forgive. At some point, I was already able.

And so I am beginning to feel that forgiveness isn’t an event, an accomplishment one can check off their to-do list and move on from. That’s what I wanted, and was expecting. I wanted a moment I could look back on and say, “Now I have Forgiven!” But my heart is fickle and easily injured, its pride frequently bruised, and in these moments the old hurts come flooding back, replacing any sense of growth with the same old pain, and making a fool of me and my “moment” of forgiveness.

If forgiveness isn’t an event or decision after all, but is instead much more like many other emotional or spiritual states in its maturation, then growth means living more often in the good, the virtuous, the loving, the kind—ultimately, the Godly—parts of who you are, and that moments of anger, hatred, cruelty, selfishness, or self-pity occur less often and pass more quickly. This isn’t the sort of lightening bolt change I was hoping for, but it is familiar, it is how God seems to work with me.

If this is true, then my quest for forgiveness was thwarted because I was looking for the wrong thing. I was after a moment’s decision that would mean permanent change, and instead I just got more tangled in the intricacies of the human heart. Typical.

And yet, four years is not so very long, and learning that forgiveness might be bigger and more complex (and more grand) than I was expecting, might just be worth the wait.

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Posted by Cate MacDonald


  1. I know what you mean, Cate.


  2. I have been feeling the same exact way regarding a specific event in my own life that I could describe much like you described your own. In looking to Scripture for guidance, the thing that caught my attention was Peter’s question to Jesus about how many times to forgive a person, and he responded 70 times 7. What I’ve realized from that and the experience in my own life is that forgiveness is a continuous act. In my situation, it means that when the person I’ve forgiven wrongs me or does something to re-expose the hurt they caused, I have to forgive them again … and again … and again. That’s the strange dynamic about forgiveness in the human experience. Even if we’ve decided to forgive someone, if something aggravates the wound it caused, we are incredibly quick to become bitter all over again. It’s like the experience that hurt us is occurring all over again.


    1. Cate MacDonald July 21, 2011 at 1:11 pm

      Thank you, Louis, that is really helpful. I’ve read that verse so many times, and it never occurred to me that it could be referring to not just forgiving the same person over and over, but forgiving them for the same act or event over and over, every time you feel unforgiveness make it’s way back in.


  3. I was going to say this reminds me of something C.S. Lewis says: we don’t forgive 70 times 7 times for 70 times 7 wrongs, but for 1 wrong. Makes a lot of sense to me.


  4. Is forgiveness similar to conversion (or perhaps it is comingled with conversion itself)—-an ongoing,lifelong process, as compared to a single event?

    Does it necessitate a kind of inward vigilance of, and commitment to, prayer?


    1. Cate MacDonald July 22, 2011 at 11:24 am

      Well, Greg, you’ll might be treading on our Evangelical toes taking away our Salvation Event like that :), but I understand what you’re saying. Forgiveness, like commitment to Christ itself, requires near-constant re-devotion.


      1. Cate, you’ll appreciate that my work boots are steel-toed.

        (…and for the record, I am eternally grateful for my own ‘event,’ a very happy Dec. 24, 1967 :> :> :> )


  5. Thanks for this.

    It seems the reference to the stereotypical debate over conversion is apt. One can expect forgiveness to be a discrete, once and for all time act, and then, to one’s dismay, discover that one’s act somehow didn’t reach as far or go as deep as the wound. On the other hand, anything short of trying to forgive someone full stop isn’t really forgiving them, is it? Isn’t it a “both and”?

    I am reminded of Augustine’s Confessions and the intertwined conversion of memory, will, and mind depicted there. Perhaps forgiveness is similar. Just as the redemption of the whole of one’s relationship with God progresses on many levels and through many avenues of grace (regardless of where one would like to peg conversion proper) so the redemption of our human relationships is as multi-faceted and complex as we are.


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