Weeding the garden, like forgiving, is a task that’s never-ending.
We can’t simply say, “I weeded last week, so I’m done now. I won’t need to weed for the rest of the season.”
Every gardener know that the weeds will keep cropping up. The job of weeding is one that lasts for as long as you have a garden.
So it is with forgiving those who have offended or hurt us. Forgiving is not optional for believers: we are to forgive others as God has forgiven us.
But sometimes we think that it’s a “one-and-done” effort. We grudgingly forgive someone once, and assume we’re done with it.
Inevitably, though, we learn that it doesn’t work that way. The next week, we might ruminate about what they did to us and get mad all over again. We find there’s still a root of bitterness in our heart, and we have to forgive them once more.
Like weeding, the duty to forgive is ongoing. It may require more “rinse and repeat” cycles than you might imagine.
One day, Peter came to Jesus and asked Him, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
I suppose Peter thought that forgiving someone seven times reflected considerable magnanimity and beneficence. After all, some people of his day thought that forgiving three times was the limit to what was required. Peter probably assumed that going more than twice beyond that number demonstrated uncommon mercy, and that Jesus would commend his noble spirit.
But what Jesus said next must have stunned the disciples.
“No, not seven times, but seventy times seven!” (Matthew 18:21-22)
By giving the figure of 490 times, Jesus wasn’t putting an upper limit on the number of times we should forgive someone who has wronged us.
Rather, he was essentially saying that just as God never stops forgiving us, we should never stop forgiving others. There is no limit to the grace that God has extended to us; similarly, we should extend grace to others in a never-ending stream.
How do we know when we’ve truly forgiven someone?
Let’s go back to the analogy of weeding.
When I uproot dandelions in my lawn, oftentimes I think I’ve dug up the whole root. And indeed, no dandelion plant grows in that spot for the rest of the season, so I figure I’m done with that particular weed.
But next year, to my surprise, a dandelion grows in that spot again. Clearly, I hadn’t attacked the entire taproot. There was still enough stored energy in the vestige of the root to fuel the growth of the plant again.
Eventually, however, if I’m thorough and meticulous enough, I’ll eradicate every fragment or remnant of the dandelion root. If, year after year, no dandelion comes up where the weed once was, it’s a good sign that I’ve eliminated the root.
Similarly, it’s a good sign that you’ve truly forgiven someone if, year after year, no bitterness crops up when you think of that person.
If you’ve thoroughly dug out the root of offence, you can wish that person well, show God’s love to them, pray for them, and even do them a good turn.
Getting to this point may require forgiving them innumerable times.
But hasn’t God done the same for us?
© 2021 Lori J. Cartmell. All rights reserved.