Sometimes I wish I were one of those quick to forgive people. How when I feel dishonored, disrespected, or disavowed, or otherwise holding onto memories of someone’s mistreatment of me, I can just go “I forgive you” and all of the hurt and ill will just vanishes. It’s like we feel this tacit pressure from other Christians. They hear our struggles with the pain of our situations—the anger, the hurt, the sheer pain of it—and confuse that with not being able to forgive. Almost as if we aren’t forgiving on their time table or that a good Christian would have forgiven by now. Or faster. Or better.

I know many folks who when confronting, for example, their poor relationships with parent, are encouraged that they just need to forgive and move on. Then they say some magic words like “I forgive you for how ever you have hurt me” like some sort of general waving of a magic wand and I’m left frustrated. Because I know that forgiveness has to, needs to, happen, but blanket-type forgiveness doesn’t work because the heart remembers details.

So when we’re hurt, we’re hurt specifically, and sometimes it can seem that we’re being slow to forgive when actually we’re doing the hard work of processing through the emotions of being hurt. That we simply aren’t finished, we have to keep forgiving them. How quickly our hearts mend depend on how willing we are to work through it.

And let me tell you, I’ve been known to hold a grudge or two.

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22

This passage continues to haunt me. Sure, most times we read this passage and go “okay, we need to be able to forgive a variety of screw ups from the same person.” And then we nudge our spouses. I wonder if another way of looking at this is the sometime need to forgive a sin a multitude of times. That as we process a particular hurt, and pray over it and the person who perpetrated it, that we might have repeat the process when the sting of the situation rears its head again.

On the spot forgiveness works with smaller slights, but deeper wounds require more, especially if they tap into a familiar one. Sometimes we have to ask if part of what has wounded us is us carrying something else with us from the past that we are connecting to this present person or circumstance.

The human reality is that—barring a miracle of God—it may take years to work through the process of forgiveness. (Actually, I think any time there is forgiveness it is a miracle of God.) And that if we are still angry or sad when we think about the person, how it’s probably a sign that we aren’t through with the process of forgiveness. That we haven’t been finally released from it. And that’s part of what forgiveness is about, freedom from the things which hold onto us.

Yes, it’s harder to forgive the unrepentant, those who don’t acknowledge their wrong, make no effort to realize their fault, and make no attempt to deal with things. But God wants us to love our enemies (and this sometimes includes friends who have hurt us). Restoration of relationship is a different matter. One that has to be decided on after the process of forgiveness because, frankly, some relationships are toxic and shouldn’t be restored.

I also have to wonder when the Bible says “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15) if it’s not referring to the natural by-product of not forgiving as a hardened heart. A hardened heart can’t feel the love nor the forgiveness a faithful and just God has to offer, it has walled itself off. Whereas pursuing forgiveness is agreeing with God that there needs to be healing and trusting Him to heal us through the process.

And sometimes it’s a hard, long, messy process.