I tell a story sometimes, about someone I had to forgive. The forgiving took a long time, and I only realised it had happened many years later. It took me by surprise when I finally understood how deeply the forgiving had happened.
But in between times - O there was some wrestling. And since then too, if I'm honest. Many times. Does that mean it hadn't really happened? Had I just had a brief moment of calm in the midst of life's natural storms?
No. God works his truths out within us, if we let him. But life throws stuff at us. Memories surface. Events mirror events, and emotions play their tricks. And then we come face to face with what is real: that either the past lives, or it has died. Forgiveness allows death to die and life to live. That is why its rhythms beat right at the heart of Christian faith.
Luther, when facing temptation, would cry out - "I am baptised!" and in that cry would declare that he had died to sin and been raised to a new life in Christ. Just so. We, who are forgiven, have died to holding on to sin, and have been raised to bestowing forgiveness with the freedom with which we have received the same.
Forgiveness is, like all things, a choice; even when it's a no-brainer we maintain the right to act like the brainless! But Jesus places before us both the option and the strength to choose something better. He doesn't leave us alone. "Forgive," he tells the disciples gathered for fear behind locked doors in an upper room, simultaneously breathing on them the Holy Spirit lest they think he means them to try to attempt this trick without the aid of someone greater holding their hand all the while.
Choose life. Choose the hand that strengthens. Choose it again, for again we need it - over the same darned issue. And again. And again. And -
And then we think we need to forgive again, but actually, it has gone. In fact, we simply need to let go. To understand that this 'thing' is in the past. It has died. Hold a funeral, watch the coffin descend, walk away, hold a party, and let the cycle of forgiveness turn from mourning to dancing. There will be moments when you catch your breath ('How many times O Lord?') but in reality the truth has moved on. Death has died. Now we live. To use Corrie ten Boom's picture, God cast the thing we so struggled with into the sea and put up a sign saying 'No Fishing'. And so we shouldn't consider hiring a boat, just to check...
I am reminded of all this, this week. And I'm not hiring a boat, though I have been thinking about it, just to make sure.
Some things aren't perfect in this life, and sometimes temptation comes in the form of trying to tart up the broken with sticky tape and paint, when actually it simply needs to be called 'broken' and allowed to be left. No point putting lipstick on the pig; it's still a pig.
We are not in control of everything. But we know One who is. So we should act faithfully; living as obedient, gracious and as holy a life as we can, and asking for forgiveness as often as we must along the way. God will make all things new in his time and in his way. We should let go, forgive, seek & accept forgiveness, let the mistakes of the past die and the wonders of today live.
How many times?
Just enough, thanks be to God.