Forgiveness can be a difficult thing. It can be difficult to forgive someone when they do something that hurts us. It can also be difficult to accept forgiveness that is offered to us after we have hurt someone. When someone tells us they forgive us, we might wonder if they really forgive us or if they are just saying it without meaning it.
The first readings for daily Mass this week came from the Book of Genesis and tell us the story of Joseph in Egypt. If you remember the story, Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers who were jealous of him and wanted to get rid of him. Joseph arrives in Egypt as a slave but becomes a servant of the Pharaoh with great power. Joseph is wise and builds up stores of grains. When famine comes, people from all over come to ask for grain. Joseph’s brothers are among those who come to him. They do not recognize him but he immediately recognizes them but does not tell him who he is. Ultimately, Joseph tells them who he is and the whole family comes to live with him in Egypt.
In today’s (7/9/11) reading, their father Jacob (Israel) dies. After burying him, the brothers are concerned that Joseph hasn’t really forgiven them and now that their father is dead, he will strike against them. Joseph assures them that he forgives them. They continue to live as a family.
Scripture says a lot about our need to forgive others. If we want to be forgiven, we must offer the same to people who have hurt us. I don’t think scripture says much about how we might struggle to accept forgiveness.
Many people think forgiveness means everything goes back to the way it was before the hurtful act. There is the great example of Joseph and his brothers coming back together as a family (note that even as they come back together, it is not exactly as before). It would be nice if this happened in every case but it doesn’t seem to be reality of our human relationships. I think here of the phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” In my own life, I am aware of friends who have done something that has hurt me. I believe that they did not mean to hurt me. I offer my genuine forgiveness but at the same time I decide not to continue the friendship but it is not because of a particular act they have done. Rather, over time I was already beginning to wonder about continuing the friendship. The “hurtful act” simply becomes “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
In these cases, I truly do offer them my forgiveness for whatever they did that hurt me. But since I choose to stop being friends with them, they believe that I am still mad at them, don’t forgive them, and sometimes even think I hate them. That’s not true. It may not be perfect but my forgiveness is genuine. I do not hate them in any way.
How do you struggle with forgiveness?