I watched the pictures of the Queen’s recent visit to Ireland with a lot of interest.
My mother was brought up in a small village near Kells, and we used to spend many holidays on my uncle’s farm there in the 1960’s. Ireland was poor then - I vividly remember going down to the well at the end of the road with two buckets to collect the water for the day! Some people opposed the Queen’s visit, thinking of past offences caused by the British. I remember my mother telling me what she’d heard about British actions in the early part of the 20th century. For a minority, these memories linger on.
It’s never a good idea to cling on to offences and hurts caused in the past. These memories can haunt us for a lifetime, yet sometimes we find it so hard to let them go. The resulting bitterness and pain hurts us the most.
The Christian teaching of forgiveness offers a way through. Jesus was once asked “how many times should we forgive someone who’s wronged us, seven times?” He replied “no, seventy times seven”. In other words he was saying that we should always forgive, as many times as it takes.
No-one says forgiveness is easy. Some hurt and pain may seem just too difficult to forgive. But we do need to. An anonymous writer said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.” If we don’t want to be imprisoned, then there’s no other option.
But what if it’s still too hard to forgive? Jesus doesn’t expect us to be able to forgive without help, as mere human beings we don’t have what it takes. So he modelled it himself, by forgiving his tormentors on the cross. And he sent his Holy Spirit, to give us the power to follow his example. Of course, forgiveness is a far bigger subject that is possible to cover in a few words, and even with God’s help it’s hard, but infinitely worth it.
As poet George Herbert said, “He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.”
*Patrick Woodward is a member of River of Life Church, Broadwater.