To ask for forgiveness is one of the greatest challenges we face. It demands peace in our hearts. It invites us to confront and overcome our emotions of anger and hurt to practice virtue and mercy. It is a risk. It is a risk for anyone—especially for those of us in recovery—since failing to forgive can put us back on our destructive path of addiction and unhealthy attachments.
In my own recovery journey from pornography, I completed a 12-steps program. It was only afterward, though, that I realized forgiveness was not a step to complete once and move on from but an ongoing step. And as I became more immersed in Scripture, certain verses about the importance of continual forgiveness began to take on a deeper meaning.
Consider part of our Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). We are called by our Lord to forgive all debts, or our trespasses, just as He has done for us. Further, the Gospel of Luke reveals that God’s forgiveness is contingent on our forgiving others: “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). And, seeing the importance of forgiveness again in Scripture, we notice that Saint Paul commands the Ephesians, “And be ye kind one to another; merciful, forgiving one another, even as God hath forgiven you in Christ” (Ephesians 4:32). The necessity of seeking and giving forgiveness is all over Scripture.
The importance of forgiveness has been relevant to me recently due to some personal events as well that have required me to forgive close family members. Saint Paul’s directives are a guide: “Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if any have a complaint against another: even as the Lord hath forgiven you, so do you also” (Colossians 3:13). Saint Thomas instructs us that forgiveness is an act of mercy. And when we participate in this act of mercy by forgiving others, our capacity to both receive and give God’s love is enhanced.
Forgiveness Enhances Love
For a long time, I considered forgiveness only as a commandment to obey. However, when we forgive another person from the bondage of their guilt and our anger something remarkable happens. We are set free. We are free to love in a greater proportion than we thought possible.
Forgiveness is of love and those who are born of God are born of love. Therefore, we are empowered to forgive without condition, which then enhances our capacity to receive and give God’s love. And as love expands, so too does healing.
This does not necessarily occur immediately, though. In my case, it took longer to love my ex-wife again (albeit in a non-romantic, Christian way). It has taken longer still for me to love myself and accept my imperfections, flaws, and past sins. But as love has been enhanced in my life, how I treat others, like those in my own family, has become more merciful despite how hard it can still be. And that is the bigger lesson here: to forgive others is to allow our hearts to be open to both receive and dispense love.
Forgiveness Promotes Healing
In recovery, especially if we work through the Twelve Steps, healing is inevitable. We heal the wounds inflicted upon ourselves as well as those we have given to ourselves. All too often, it is our guilt that makes it so difficult to receive healing from God. Yet, once our guilt is removed by God’s forgiveness, we experience healing. It is a healing that comes through mercy.
As I write this, I am still struggling to offer complete mercy when it comes to my parents. There is my guilt as well as theirs at stake. I have spoken to my spiritual director and a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation about this, and they both speak of the power of mercy to bring about healing. That gives me hope.
It takes humility and repentance to receive forgiveness. Humility towards God is an admission of our need for His help. Without humility, we will simply continue on the same path of our destructive habits, addictions, and sinfulness. Without humility, we won’t ask God to forgive and heal us and, as a result, won’t have the capacity to forgive and bring healing to others.
Forgiveness repairs our damaged relationships with God and others. By continuously seeking and giving forgiveness, God remains with us, guiding us in our relationship with Him and others each and every step of our life’s journey.
Aaron Walter is a lifelong Catholic and former porn addict whose ministry, NewMenRising, is dedicated to pornography addiction recovery. He is a coach, mentor, and accountability partner and is passionate about helping husbands kick their addiction and transform their lives and relationships. You can connect with him at calendly.com/aaronwaltercoachingsessions.