They called the third time and again in the middle of night. “If you don’t come over here and help me restrain myself, I’ll kill her!” he yelled.

I dressed hurriedly and went to their house.

On the two previous occasions, it took about an hour of calming them down before they held each other and he apologized. He admitted he had overreacted and started the fight. She kissed him and it was over.

The third time, she reacted differently. “Stop telling me you’re sorry! If I forgive you, you need to promise that you’ll never do it again.”

He promised he wouldn’t. They hugged each other and I left.

That wasn’t the end of their problems, but it was the last time I visited. The fourth time, I asked them to come to my office the next morning. They didn’t show up and they stopped calling.

As I replayed that memory, I realized the wife wanted assurance that he had changed and wouldn’t repeat his behavior.

And isn’t that the way many of us respond when someone asks us to forgive? We don’t say it as strongly as she did, but we want to believe that it won’t happen again.

A few times I’ve heard people say, “I’ll forgive you, but if you ever . . .” Is that truly forgiving? It sounds like conditional forgiving. But if I truly forgive you, that’s an act of faith on my part. I believe you’re sincere and that you won’t repeat your behavior.

Most of us can grant absolution. Once. It may be difficult to forgive the same transgression a second time. But a third time? A tenth?

Maybe that’s why forgiveness becomes so difficult. “I forgave her once . . .”

And yet Jesus told Peter to forgive “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).  Jesus’ words make me realize that I don’t truly forgive if I expect the same wrongdoing again.

I want to be able to forgive as if it’s the only time.

Maybe that’s why true forgiving isn’t easy.

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