The Obstacles to Forgiveness
St. Peter preaching

The Obstacles to Forgiveness

To forgive is to open our hearts to God’s love. For that reason, it is not easy. The world, the enemy, and our own weakness fight against what we need to receive the love and grace of Jesus. We have often heard the saying, “to err is human and to forgive divine.” I am convinced that the spirit of true forgiveness only comes from God.

We often want to forgive those people in our lives who have hurt us, but we feel it is beyond our ability to do so. That is when God must come into our hearts and heal us. Our healing is the miracle we reference. Whether or not you want to call it a miracle, remember that without God we can do nothing. If we don’t have the ability to forgive and God’s grace enables us to change our attitude and forgive, then, for me, it is God’s miracle that has allowed forgiveness in our hearts.

When we don’t forgive, the enemy has a field day. Lack of forgiveness is drinking poison and expecting it to harm another person. When we don’t forgive, it doesn’t hurt anyone but ourselves.

Why is forgiveness so difficult for us? There are many reasons and obstacles that need to be overcome in order to enable the miracle of forgiveness to penetrate our hearts.

The first obstacle is perhaps the most common. We simply don’t want to forgive. We justify not forgiving by what has happened to us. One story that was particularly poignant for me occurred on one of my visits to a local jail. I was leading a communion service and delivered a homily on forgiveness. I told them how they were forgiven and how much God wanted us to reflect that forgiveness in our lives by forgiving other people.

One of the women in the jail looked up to me and said, “How do I forgive my husband? He put me out for prostitution.” Tough one to answer. There are many difficult circumstances to answer. So many people have been abused sexually, emotionally and physically. It is gut wrenching to hear.  

I answered her in this way: “Yes, that is difficult. That is why we must turn over our lives and surrender to Jesus. Jesus will give us the grace to forgive, even in the most difficult situations. When we don’t forgive, we only hurt ourselves.” She looked at me and her eyes brightened. She smiled and nodded her head.

Ask yourself this question. Are you justifying your lack of forgiveness? Do you find yourself constantly telling yourself and other people the story about why you aren’t able to forgive someone? When we don’t forgive we have a hardened heart that blocks the grace and blessings of God.

The second obstacle is that we think we don’t have to forgive. I have heard people say it is not necessary to forgive. It is part of their personality and not a big deal. People think that it will weaken us or make us vulnerable to be hurt if we forgive too easily.

There is often a misunderstanding of forgiveness. Many people believe that forgiveness means we must reconcile with those who have wronged us. Or, even worse, they think that we need to condone what has been done to them. Neither is true.

To forgive is to open up our hearts to God’s love. It is our ability to extend that love to those who have hurt us. It is not condoning what happened, or forgetting it, but it is not allowing it to harm us. We focus on loving everyone with the love of Jesus.

A third obstacle is that we fail to take responsibility for our behavior. We demand an apology or, even worse, that the person we believe wronged us make some kind of reparation. That is not the attitude for which God is looking.

How often must we forgive? That is the question Peter (Mt 18:21-22) asked Jesus:

“Then Peter approaching asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’”

In our culture, we are not sure what this means. To the Jews at the time of Jesus, it was obvious what it meant: we are to always forgive. No matter what is happening, we are to forgive. No excuses. It is part of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

When we try to justify our lack of forgiveness we leave an open door for the enemy into our lives. When this happens, the gifts of the Spirit are hindered and our ministry is weakened. The enemy uses the opening of lack of forgiveness to harden our hearts. This can definitely lead to bondage by evil spirits. Often it leads to addiction.

A fourth obstacle is our struggle to forgive ourselves. We may think we do not deserve to be forgiven. We punish ourselves for not doing something that we believe we should have done. This is a false pride. Jesus has forgiven us. Who are we to say we shouldn’t be forgiven?

There are other obstacles, but these are the major ones. The most important thing is that we must forgive at all times and in all circumstances. By holding on to our pain and judging others, we bring pain into our lives. Without Jesus in our hearts, it is nearly impossible, if not totally impossible, to forgive. Surrender your heart to Jesus and everything changes. We must forgive because we receive from Jesus that we have been unconditionally forgiven. We say yes to receive and give forgiveness.

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Written by
Deacon Steve Greco