Seventy Times Seven, Conflict and Forgiveness

by Rachel Pieh Jones on September 9, 2014

 

The conflict in mind as I wrote this piece was not related to a team conflict issue.

team conflcit

I used to think that when Jesus said to forgive seventy times seven times, he meant that people would be so mean, so sinful, that they would keep sinning against me (and I against them) and I should forgive each new transgression as readily as the first. And forgiving them looked something like accepting their apology, shaking their hand, or kissing their cheek and hugging, and saying, “I forgive you.”

That seemed challenging but easy enough. I could offer a limp hand or a sideways hug, mumble the words in a quiet voice, and move on. One sin against me, one forgiveness offered, voila, the scales were balanced. And vice versa.

Until this method stopped working. Until a friend hurt me so deeply I couldn’t breathe. Until mumbling, “I forgive you” didn’t erase the anger, bitterness, and sick feeling. Until she bolted so quickly there was no time for shaking hands and I couldn’t accept an apology that has never been offered.

What does forgiveness look like then? Was it a one for one deal? Was I supposed to recall each lie, deception, angry word, hurtful action, and pronounce over them, one by one, Forgiven?

When I tried to do that, I simply ended up in the bathroom crying. Remembering didn’t help, it only increased the clenching in my gut and the raging desire to scream. This didn’t feel like forgiveness.

Probably because it wasn’t.

I had twisted the call to forgive into an opportunity to keep a record of wrongs. In the name of forgiveness, I let my heart grow bitter as I felt, fresh, each wrong against me.

I had to learn that seventy times seven doesn’t mean one for one, every time someone sins against you. It means every time you feel angry about that one single sin, forgive it again. It means forgiveness is on-going, a lifestyle, something that must be revisited and redone. Forgiveness is not a one-time event, shake hands and it is over. It is a state of being.

I drove by my friend’s house and felt angry again. So I stopped the car and addressed my heart and forgave her. I heard her name and felt angry again, about the same thing, so I addressed my heart and forgave her. I stumbled across a photo of her and felt angry again, about the same thing, so again I forgave her.

At first, these moments of anger and forgiving came at me fast and constant. As time passed, they sprang up with less frequency and after a few years, I rarely felt angry anymore. But still, once in a while and at unexpected times, a surge of memory and bitterness tries to stake claim and I have to forgive again.

This is seventy times seven. Over and over and over, the same sin, the same hurt. There is no mumbling here, there is no limp handshake. There is a wrestling and a battle and an acknowledgement of the pain. And then there is a canceling of the debt that is owed, a canceling of the right to run down a list of wrongs.

I’m thankful that God does not have these same issues. For God, once a sin is forgiven, it is forgiven. He harbors no bitterness, no anger, no need to revisit the pain and forgive again. I continue to sin against him and seventy times seven becomes a pouring out of grace. For each sin, forgiveness is available, and I drink it in, soak it up, feel the cleansing.

Then I turn it around and offer it, again, to my friend.

Expatriates can’t avoid this issue but I don’t want the comment section  to turn into a nasty place to rat out the dirty deeds of others. So, with wisdom and tempered spirits, what has been your experience with team conflict?

*image via pixabay

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About Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel was raised in the Christian west and said, ‘you betcha’ and ate Jell-O salads, she now lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Family Fun, Running Times, and more, and she blogs for Brain Child and Babble.

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