The last few weeks have given me plenty of opportunity to put on a few pounds—Paris, a trip to the mountains and my mother-in-law’s house, weekend company, a clergy conference at a place with abundant good food. In the past ten years, I’ve gained ten pounds, more than in my entire adulthood. As I’ve gotten older it seems much harder to lose those added inches and added mass. Weight loss takes more effort and my body doesn’t have the energy for it. Besides the weight, there are the wrinkles and the spots and the effects of gravity. I’ve noticed in myself a growing disdain for my aging body.
This morning I thought, “Sybil, you need to forgive your body and get on with it.” Then I thought, “What an arrogant thought.” My body has done nothing wrong. It’s doing what aging bodies do. So I really have no right to forgive it. Accept it, yes, but forgive it, no. Just because it has not done what I want it to do does not mean it requires forgiveness.
This whole session of musing made me think about how lightly and inappropriately I use the word “forgive.” Real forgiveness requires a real wrong act. Do I have the right to forgive my children, husband, or friends just because they failed to please me or meet my expectations? I don’t think so. My supposed forgiveness has often been a self-righteous “I forgive you for ____” with a sniff of the nose and a martyr-like roll of the eyes.
The number of times I have been truly wronged or hurt is tiny. Forgiveness for those acts has not come quickly or easily. If and when I actually forgive, I don’t feel self-satisfaction or pride, I feel surrender. It’s not something I can do alone without God’s help.
Matthew’s gospel reminds me that forgiveness is difficult and ongoing work. “At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22, The Message)