It can be confusing when we begin to talk about things like forgiveness and prayer like they are events that occur at distinct points in time, with a beginning and an end.
In a certain sense, this feels right to do. We say, “I forgive you,” or “Amen.” But there is something about the spiritual realm that seems to transcend the limitations of time and enter a state of continuity that is not only possible, but more appropriate for concepts like prayer and forgiveness. Few of us, when attempting a conversation with God, make one statement and leave it at that. We follow up a statement or question with an expectation of an answer. There is an answer, or there is silence, and both are very powerful parts of an ongoing conversation.
When we say “I forgive you,” we don’t leave it at that. We are not free of resentment or negative feelings forever. We are human, so we get angry again, or resentful, or get mad about something new that occurs that seems to re-confirm our original angry feelings. A need to forgive re-emerges.
There are concepts within the Christian faith such as “prayer without ceasing” and forgiving “seventy times seven,” not because these are impossible goals, but they are what naturally occurs as we seek to forgive and pray. There’s an ongoing conversation and a continuous process toward change. In psychology, there is a well-known spiral model of how people change (Prochaska, DiClemente & Norcross, 1992). According to the model, people revisit the same issues again and again, but always from a slightly different perspective. To understand this model, imagine a slinky representing the change process, rather than a straight line from Point A to Point B.
We would benefit from seeking to pray, to forgive, to change, knowing that if there is not an end point, we are probably doing it just right.