What Forgiveness Isn’t
“I hate my father!” she blurted out. “He abused me for more than a decade!” Jamie cried. “But my pastor said if I want to heal from my childhood pain, I have to forgive.”
“What did you tell your pastor?” I asked.
“I told him I could never forgive my father, that I didn’t want to forgive him, that no one—not even God—would expect me to forgive him!”
Jamie told me all the reasons that kept her from forgiving her abusive father. I’d heard many of them before. In fact, I’d used some of them two years earlier, when a friend I’d trusted to keep a confidence told several women in my Sunday school class about a painful circumstance I was going through. I felt betrayed by my friend—as I should have. But forgive her? That was the last thing I wanted to do! I dropped out of the Sunday school class and avoided her at church. But a year later, when I reread what the apostle Paul said about forgiveness, his familiar words touched my heart in a special way: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32, my emphasis).
As I meditated on that verse, I knew I’d been forgiven much. I needed to forgive my friend, even if I didn’t feel like it. I decided to do so. Later, when I met her and told her I’d forgiven her, she apologized, and we both cried. I wish I could say she and I became good friends again—but I can’t. Her betrayal deeply hurt our friendship, and I was careful never to share another confidence with her. But God’s Word and my decision to forgive set me free from bitterness.
Facing the Challenge
Jamie and I are just two of a legion of Christian women who’ve struggled with forgiveness because it’s difficult—almost impossible—to do. Yet in Luke 6:37, Jesus says, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” He elaborates in Matthew 6:14-15: “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.” The apostle Paul repeats Jesus’ command: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). Surely Paul’s “whatever grievances” covers any kind of hurt, betrayal, or injury another person could inflict!
In talking with hundreds of women about forgiveness, I’ve discovered six myths that keep us from the healing and freedom God desires for you and me.
Forgiving means the offender didn’t really hurt you. Jamie thought if she forgave her father, it lessened the severity of his abuse. Yet Jamie’s forgiveness doesn’t deny her father hurt her. In fact, it clearly recognizes the enormity of his evil—if Jamie’s dad hadn’t deliberately caused her pain, she’d have no reason to forgive him.
“Forgiveness is a redemptive response to having been wronged and wounded,” wrote author Lewis B. Smedes. “Only those who have wronged and wounded us are candidates for forgiveness. If they injure us accidentally, we excuse them. We only forgive the ones we blame.” Choosing to forgive her father acknowledges the pain Jamie endured at his hands. It also begins her healing.
Forgiving means you excuse the offender’s hurtful act. When I chose to forgive my friend, I didn’t condone her cruel behavior. Forgiveness, I’ve discovered, is a response that seeks to redeem the hurt, not brush it off. An accidental “slip of the tongue” needs no forgiveness because it isn’t deliberately caused. Intentional hurts—like my friend’s betrayal—need forgiveness. When I forgave my friend, my forgiveness didn’t lessen the impact of her painful action. But forgiveness unlocked my own “prison” of bitterness.
Before forgiving, you must first understand why the offender hurt you. On December 1, 1997, Missy Jenkins, a sophomore at Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky, stood with her classmates and prayed before school started. Before they said their final “amen,” 14-year-old Michael Carneal pulled out a pistol and fired 11 shots into the student prayer group. One bullet severely damaged Missy’s spinal cord. Paralyzed from the waist down, Missy will spend her life in a wheelchair.
Missy doesn’t know the reason her classmate deliberately hurt her. Michael may not understand his reasons. But that didn’t keep Missy from choosing to forgive him.
“I believe hating him is wasted emotion,” Missy says. “Hating Michael won’t make me walk again. Besides, I know it isn’t what Jesus would do.”
Our human mind yearns to make all the confusing puzzle pieces fit together neatly before we forgive. However, the truth is we can forgive an offender even if we never discover the reasons for the inflicted pain. Author Philip Yancey writes in What’s So Amazing About Grace, “Not to forgive imprisons me in the past and locks out all potential for change. I thus yield control to another, my enemy, and doom myself to suffer the consequences of the wrong.”
Before forgiving the offender, you must feel forgiving. Forgiveness has nothing to do with how you feel. You can feel hurt, betrayed, and angry, and still completely forgive the one who wounded you. Biblical forgiveness is an act of the will. It’s a choice you make.
Can you still feel angry after you forgive? Yes! Anger means you’re in touch with reality—it’s part of being human. But be careful to aim that anger at what your offender did, not at the offender herself. Then let your anger push you toward justice.
Forgiving means the offender will face no consequences. When we choose to forgive someone, our forgiveness doesn’t “let him off the hook.” Forgiveness also doesn’t mean justice shouldn’t be served.
In December 1983, Pope John Paul II visited a prisoner, Mehmet Ali Agca, at the Rebibbia prison in Rome. In May 1981, Agca had aimed a pistol at the pope and shot him in the chest. After much pain and agony, John Paul recovered, and now he looked Agca in the eye, extended his hand, and said, “I forgive you.”
Even though the pope forgave him, Agca still faced the consequences of his crime. He served a lengthy prison sentence until he finally was released years later.
When your offender is punished, you’ll find closure. On June 13, 1990, Linda Purnhagen saw her two daughters, Gracie, 16, and Tiffany, 9, for the last time. Dennis Dowthitt, a dangerously sick psychopath, strangled Tiffany to death, then raped Gracie and slit her throat. When authorities discovered the girls’ bodies, they arrested and convicted Dowthitt, and scheduled his execution.
A decade later, as executioners strapped him to his death gurney, Dowthitt apologized for the savage killings. But not even his confession, apology, and execution brought closure for Linda. She was disappointed after the execution, not relieved.
We think we can more easily forgive others if they confess the crime and apologize for the pain they caused. But don’t look to justice, imprisonment, or execution to bring needed closure and healing. Only forgiveness will do that.
The Choice to Forgive
The decision to forgive an offender is probably the hardest choice we can ever make. Some crimes seem too horrible to forgive. Our instincts tell us to avenge the person who caused us pain, not to release him from the debt he owes us. But as Christians, we can’t afford to have unforgiving hearts, for we have been greatly forgiven by God in Christ (Ephesians 4:32).
Only forgiveness can release us from a life of hatred and bitterness. “Forgiving is a journey, sometimes a long one,” wrote Lewis B. Smedes in Shame and Grace. “We may need some time before we get to the station of complete healing, but the nice thing is that we are being healed en route. When we genuinely forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover the prisoner we set free was us.”
Acknowledge the hurt. When someone deliberately hurts you, don’t try to diminish the pain and its effect on you. Acknowledge your suffering—and express it aloud to God. Scripture promises: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18), and “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).
Blame the offender. If a person hurts you by mistake, she didn’t mean to inflict pain, so she needs no forgiveness. But if a person intentionally hurts you, then the pain she caused was deliberate. Say aloud: “I personally blame you, (name of offender), because you hurt me on purpose.” Correctly placing the blame readies you to begin the forgiveness process.
Cancel the debt. You’ve acknowledged the hurt and rightly blamed the offender. Now you’re ready to make the willful decision to “cancel the debt” your offender owes you. Find a quiet place to be alone and ask the Lord’s help in forgiving the person who hurt you. You might pray the “Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13) and meditate on verse 12: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” After you’ve prayed and while you’re still alone, speak aloud your decision to forgive: “(Name of offender), I’ve chosen to forgive you for hurting me; I’ve decided to cancel the debt you owe me.” You’ve now embarked on the process of forgiving the person who hurt you. —D.G.
Copyright © by the author or Christianity Today/Today’s Christian Woman magazine.
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July/August 2006, Vol. 28, No. 4, Page 38
Let’s face it: human beings are messy and hurtful. We don’t mean to be that way. We don’t intend harm. But most of us have caused and received many relational injuries. We have all insulted and injured our parents, siblings, spouses, children and a wide array of other people.
Right there is the point where two worldviews collide.
A utopian view insists that humans are born perfect and then corrupted by society. Therefore the perfect society always remains a tantalizing dream. That dream seduces some into an endless chase of the unattainable.
Strangely, the prospect of perfection leads some to reverse the God and human roles. Those who pursue the utopian dream always seem to conclude that God is non-existent, indifferent, weak or vengeful. Conversely, humans are seen to have boundless potential for great nobility, soaring artistic achievement and moral perfection. That illusion claims that if we could only and totally liberate humans, we would finally discover the ideal society.
So, the utopian confusion sees God as weak and miserable and man as transcendent and glowing with goodness.
Ironically, the utopian pattern – which has marched under the banners of socialism, communism, eugenics, hedonism and other philosophies – is a brutal way to live. Like Hitler’s pursuit of “the master race,” utopianism tends to morph into dehumanization and holocausts. It sacrifices human beings on the altar of its own mad idealism.
A redemptive view accepts the full scope of sinful human nature; it fully believes that people are going to trample and even kill one another.
That viewpoint knows that “human potential” is an illusion. The only hope for humanity lies in the God who paid the price of our sinful nature. In other words, redemption assumes that people will be people and that God will be God; the roles cannot be reversed. But, because He chose to freely forgiveand to give His Spirit to us, we have become partakers of His nature. Think of it: We are invited to live on the higher ground of His purposes.
A redemptive view releases humans to accept personal responsibility for their own actions. And we will never get very far accepting responsibility without the mysterious role of forgiveness.
What is Forgiveness?
To forgive is to release. Let it go. Freely and wholeheartedly grant freedom and blessing. It has very little to do with feelings or even trust. Forgiveness is simply a decision to let go of our regrets and our own view of justice.
Lily Tomlin captured a wonderful summary of forgiveness: To forgive is to give up all hope for a better past.
I think that is why some people find it almost impossible to apologize. To do so seems to be a subconscious abandonment of the utopian ideal. It is an admission that we didn’t measure up to the possibilities which are implicit in the idea of a perfect society.
Well, yes. To try to live in utopia is to deny the relational nature of life. That illusion says that we are to be perfect — all by ourselves! Not at all true. God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. When we step into His magnanimity, the matrix of failure, injury, disappointment and forgiveness opens us up to the large panorama of possibilities which mark the Christian life. It is often through heartache and redemption that we discover new reasons and rhythms for life.
Have you ever deflected an apology? How often have you heard (or said), “No apologies are necessary,” or “Oh,don’t worry about it? “Those kinds of responses abort the necessary and healthy process of redemption and renewal.
When we violate another human being, an apology and plea for forgiveness is essential to cleaning the wound and preventing relational infection. Apologies are serious stuff. They should be heartfelt and real.
And, when I extend forgiveness, it has to be real also. I can’t forgive in order to avoid or quickly conclude an uncomfortable moment. The seeking and the granting of forgiveness are profoundly serious acts. They demand full attention and deep sense of reality.
I do not deny the dark possibilities contained in human nature. But, more than that, I want to try to pull back a curtain on the powerful, beautiful and unique role of forgiveness in human relationships.
How does forgiveness actually play out in a family situation? What does it look like in other arenas of life? How do we live out forgiveness toward those whom we do not know? For example, how do we forgive the racists (or racist system) which turned humans into personal property?
Finally, how does forgiveness take hold of the reality of heaven and apply it in the dust of the earth. In short, does forgiveness have a role in seeking the Kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven?”
When Jake O’Hara 1 was 13, his father violated his marriage with an affair. Soon, his sexual infidelity slipped into a lifestyle. Sadly, his chronic immorality plunged the whole family into years of an ongoing nightmare of confrontations, fights and suicide threats by Jake’s mother. When the children finally left home, Jake’s parents divorced.
Naturally, Jake resented his father for what he had brought to their family.
Within a few years, Jake married. And then, he told me, “My own family began to take on an eerie resemblance to my parents.” Jake’s parents had four sons and a daughter. Jake and his wife had four boys and a girl. Mr. O’Hara had traveled frequently; Jake was spending much of his working life on the road.
One day, 11 years into marriage, a friend confronted him with what Jake will always recognize as a “message from the Lord.” Through that message, the Lord reminded Jake that he would soon reach the same age at which his father became adulterous. That reminder was followed by a very sober warning: Jake would soon face the same failure . . . unless he forgave his father.
Mr. O’Hara agreed to meet at a local restaurant. As they sat at the table, Jake recalled the painful and unrelenting crises of his childhood. Then, Jake freely forgave his father and expressed his deep love for him. The two men wept as they understood the enormity of what had just happened. Both men were free; the pattern of sin was broken! Both men had given up all hope for a better past.
From that point of release, his father made things right with Jake’s mom and their children. Jake told me, “Years later, I had the privilege of leading my father to the Lord. He lived two years as a Christian believer.” When he died, Jake conducted his funeral.
And Jake has escaped the bondage which held his father throughout much of his life.
Choosing to Forgive
Jake O’Hara did not wake up one morning in a mood to forgive. He did not suddenly realize that all the pain of his childhood was gone. Rather, Jake made a choice to forgive. That choice released the emotions which flowed at the table.
Our therapeutic age has suggested that we feel our way into action. It is, in fact, just the opposite. Even in the face of emotional evidence to the contrary, we have the power to choose.
The choice to forgive is a deliberate and purposeful act. It surveys the landscape of life, recognizes the full range of possibilities and consequences, and then makes a decision to forgive. Forgiveness is not holding our nose, squeezing our eyes shut, uttering a prayer and then jumping into a new reality because we believe that is what the Bible commands. That kind of forgiveness doesn’t produce anything for anyone. To forgive is to make a choice to break the pattern. It takes everyone off the hook. Very often, that choice breaks multi-generational patterns and extends far into the future.
Creating a Culture of Forgiveness
Every home (like every other micro-society) has a distinct culture. In other words, every home reflects a pattern of unspoken assumptions which convey the approved way to perceive, think, and feel.
One of the most important things parents can do is to create a culture of forgiveness in the home.
How can they do that?
It begins with a gracious tongue. Parents should be quick (and sincere) to speak grace into every corner of family life. The language of graces and manners – “Please,” “thank you,” “pardon me,” and “I’m sorry” — should flavor the family conversation.
Additionally, parents should not tolerate disrespect, shrillness, selfishness or cynicism. That kind of parental vigilance should not be motivated by an expectation of perfection. Instead, responsible parenting recognizes that those weeds will choke out the garden of grace.
When our children were growing up, each of them heard me or their mother correct their attitude or actions toward their siblings by saying, “You will not treat my daughter (or son) that way.” They knew they had to honor their siblings simply and primarily because they were ours. We didn’t dishonor our children; they couldn’t either. House rules.
Forgiveness should never be extended purely as a model or teaching tool. However, parents should be quick to apologize to each other and to the children. And, of course, children should be taught how to extend and receive forgiveness.
Finally, a theology of forgiveness should permeate the home. Children should know the story of Adam’s failure and the greater story of God stepping into human history and choosing to forgive and redeem. Children should be firmly rooted in the assurance that the blood of Christ covers all sin — including any and all violations against them by their parents, siblings, school or team mates, neighbors or anyone else.
In view of God’s incomprehensible generosity, how can we remain locked up in the prison of resentment? We are free to forgive each other freely and generously because we have been freely and generously forgiven.
The young pastor moved his family halfway across the United States because he believed he heard a call to help carve out a new church. Everyone was excited about the possibilities. In the joy and excitement of the moment, promises were made to the pastor.
After two years of joyful and purposeful partnership in the grand adventure of church planting, a pivotal player in the new church moved to another city. Then, one by one, other members slowly drifted away from the once-glorious mission. Financial resources began to dry up. The pastor and his wife felt abandoned. He had to get a job; in fact, he had to work two jobs. His wife went to work. They ended up declaring bankruptcy. The dream was dead.
He told me about the depth of betrayal which he felt . . . from people and from God. But, one day as he drove – “I can show you the spot in the road where it happened” – he suddenly saw a financial ledger sheet. He saw columns of numbers representing what was owed to him. But, he also noticed the ledger contained no columns of what he owed to others. Suddenly, his heart broke. He groaned out to God, “No one owes me anything. The ledger is clear.”
And, in that moment, he chose to forgive. Giving up all hope for a better past released him to walk into a new future.
Forgiveness as a Way of Life
It could accurately be said that forgiveness is the remission of debt. The debt is justly owed; payment can righteously be demanded. But, what happens when the one to whom it is owed chooses to forgive it?
For example, Jesus told a story of a king who forgave a debt to one of his servants who begged forgiveness. However, when that man encountered one of his debtors, he physically abused him until it was clear the debtor had no capacity to pay. At that point, the recently-forgiven man tossed his own debtor into prison (Matt. 18).
That man had received forgiveness but could not walk in it. He was too conscious of the ledger of columns showing what was owed to him.
In his book, Surprised by Hope, N. T. Wright says, “Forgiveness is a way of life, God’s way of life, God’s way to life; and if you close your heart to forgiveness, why, then, do you close your heart to forgiveness. . . If you lock up the piano because you don’t want to play to somebody else, how can God play to you?
“That is why we pray, ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ That isn’t a bargain we make with God. It’s a fact of human life. Not to forgive is to shut down a faculty in the innermost person, which happens to be the same faculty that can receive God’s forgiveness.”
How do we Forgive?
First, I think it is helpful to recognize that offences and injuries are always bottled in our past. So, forgiveness requires us to deal with our past – not our present or future. We have to let go of our past in order to fill up the present and bless the future. When we fail to deal properly with our past, we are like someone whose elastic belt is caught on a barbed wire fence; we can make very little forward progress until we unhook ourselves from our pain and injustice in our past.
Once we understand and settle that, we can walk into a forgiving way of life. Consider these specific components of walking in forgiveness:
1. Look at the larger picture
Bitterness and unforgiveness are almost always the results of boring into a very small perspective. Living in that smallness is trying to gaze at the great vista of your life through a tiny and very dirty fisheye lens.
For example, rather than focusing on your embarrassment at being fired, remember that your next job became a doorway to a brand new chapter of life. So, in fact, the humiliation was a gift from God to move you from one dead-end job to a place of purpose and fulfillment.
2. Celebrate your life
Do you understand that your life represents a multi-generational miracle? All your ancestors were protected from death until the lineage which produced you was passed on. That is an enormous gift.
So, to forgive is an act of celebrating that gift. To forgive is to boldly declare that your life does not belong to the offending party or incident in your past; it is God’s gift to you. Moreover, you choose the freedom to fill up your own life with the joy and purpose which God intended.
3. Release your need for justice
Forgiving is also the choice to surrender and reject your own view of, rights to and desire for “justice” (more accurately known as “revenge”).
4. Choose the Kingdom of God
Life without Christ consists of an impossible calculus of justice. It represents meticulous ledger sheets of obligations and endless partial payments. We can never tear up the note.
Jesus is the continental divide of history. He changed the calculus. He gave His Own life as “payment in full” for the crippling legacy of sin as well as for specific transgressions. Because of God’s abundant mercy, we are forgiven – released from – the obligation to pay our own account.
Dallas Willard has written, “Once we step into this kingdom and trust it, pity becomes the atmosphere in which we live…It is not psychologically possible for us really to know God’s pity for us and at the same time be hardhearted toward others. So we are ‘forgiving of others in the same manner as God forgives us.'”
Walking in forgiveness is choosing to live a large life. It rejects the suffocating smallness of the old calculus. It releases everyone (including ourselves) from our own claims. To forgive is to finally walk away from the miseries and mistakes of the past and onto the higher ground of a life so large that it could only be gift from God.
The condition of our life has been shaped in part by people, groups and ideologies which we will never see or understand. Regardless of who or where you are, the life you are living has been curtailed or diluted by forces which are historical, global, invisible and inaccessible.
For example, many people feel accused and violated every time they fly because of the security checks at the gate. And, they have to endure that humiliated matrix because of nothing they did. It is inflicted on them because of terrorism and bureaucracy and they will probably have to submit to this systemic insult every time they fly for the rest of my life. And, they did nothing to cause it. Injustice is the most difficult thing to embrace.
Accused and Violated
On a much larger scale, how do African-Americans forgive the pervasive and unrelenting culture of racism which killed, raped and robbed their ancestors and created an exclusive, elitist and often unresponsive power structure which continues to this day?
These are very tough issues; they trace the far horizons of organized cruelty and injustice. How does forgiveness play out in the context of these hidden sources and offenders? When you cannot face the one who injured you and constricted your borders, how do you forgive? Is it even possible to walk away from such overwhelming injustice? How would a Jewish father ever transcend the memory of his daughter being torn from his arms and sent to the gas chambers of Auschwitz?
I recently sat beside a woman on a long airline flight. I was tired; she wanted to talk. She won. In the course of her opening up her life, she revealed the searing pain of her husband’s cruel rejection and the trauma of divorce. She talked about it for more than an hour.
Asking Forgiveness on Another’s Behalf
When she finished, I said very spontaneously, “As a man, I am sorry you had to suffer this injustice. I despise what he did; he violated who you are. But, he is not here and I am. So, I’m asking you to forgive me on his behalf.”
Tears filled her eyes. She said, “I didn’t know I needed to hear that until this moment. I accept your apology and I forgive you.”
As those who are forgiven, we are free and empowered to be agents of forgiveness. It does not matter that we are not the specific offending party. If we represent them at all, we should ask forgiveness. The prophet Daniel repented for things he had not personally done. He represented others in going before God to ask forgiveness.
Asking Forgiveness for Another Generation
I once asked an African-American friend to forgive me for what white people have thought, believed and done. I broke down in a very public place – for a moment I felt like I stepped into the sin which had abused and oppressed so many. I personally identified with it and was more reviled by it than ever in my life. My apology groaned up out of my guts. And, he broke down, wept and forgave me.
Don’t Walk in a “P.C.” Culture
Don’t misunderstand; we should not live in some politically correct posture of running up to people and asking their forgiveness. But, as we sense “the moment” of redemptive grace and invitation from the Lord, I believe we should always be ready to serve as an agent of forgiveness.
I can and must forgive the 9-11 hijackers and others unseen, unknown and unreachable because I choose to give up all hope for a better past. Giving it up is not at all to condone it. But it does release me to walk beyond the reach of what they did.
Forgiveness also releases me to live beyond my own capacities and walk in the everlasting provision of the One who does for me what I cannot do for myself.
Part of the Forgiveness and Restoration Series
Why Do We Find It So Hard to Forgive?
One reason we resist forgiving is that we don’t really understand what forgiveness is or how it works. We think we do, but we don’t.
Most of us assume that if we forgive our offenders, they are let off the hook — scot-free — and get to go about their merry ways while we unfairly suffer from their actions. We also may think that we have to be friendly with them again, or go back to the old relationship. While God commands us to forgive others, he never told us to keep trusting those who violated our trust or even to like being around those who hurt us.
The first step to understanding forgiveness is learning what it is and isn’t. The next step is giving yourself permission to forgive and forget, letting go of the bitterness while remembering very clearly your rights to healthy boundaries.
- Forgiveness is not letting the offender off the hook. We can and should still hold others accountable for their actions or lack of actions.
- Forgiveness is returning to God the right to take care of justice. By refusing to transfer the right to exact punishment or revenge, we are telling God we don’t trust him to take care of matters.
- Forgiveness is not letting the offense recur again and again. We don’t have to tolerate, nor should we keep ourselves open to, lack of respect or any form of abuse.
- Forgiveness does not mean we have to revert to being the victim. Forgiving is not saying, “What you did was okay, so go ahead and walk all over me.” Nor is it playing the martyr, enjoying the performance of forgiving people because it perpetuates our victim role.
- Forgiveness is not the same as reconciling. We can forgive someone even if we never can get along with him again.
- Forgiveness is a process, not an event. It might take some time to work through our emotional problems before we can truly forgive. As soon as we can, we should decide to forgive, but it probably is not going to happen right after a tragic divorce. That’s okay.
- We have to forgive every time. If we find ourselves constantly forgiving, though, we might need to take a look at the dance we are doing with the other person that sets us up to be continually hurt, attacked, or abused.
- Forgetting does not mean denying reality or ignoring repeated offenses. Some people are obnoxious, mean-spirited, apathetic, or unreliable. They never will change. We need to change the way we respond to them and quit expecting them to be different.
- Forgiveness is not based on others’ actions but on our attitude. People will continue to hurt us through life. We either can look outward at them or stay stuck and angry, or we can begin to keep our minds on our loving relationship with God, knowing and trusting in what is good.
- If they don’t repent, we still have to forgive. Even if they never ask, we need to forgive. We should memorize and repeat over and over: Forgiveness is about our attitude, not their action.
- We don’t always have to tell them we have forgiven them. Self-righteously announcing our gracious forgiveness to someone who has not asked to be forgiven may be a manipulation to make them feel guilty. It also is a form of pride.
- Withholding forgiveness is a refusal to let go of perceived power. We can feel powerful when the offender is in need of forgiveness and only we can give it. We may fear going back to being powerless if we forgive.
- We might have to forgive more than the divorce. Post-divorce problems related to money, the kids, and schedules might result in the need to forgive again and to seek forgiveness ourselves.
- We might forgive too quickly to avoid pain or to manipulate the situation. Forgiveness releases pain and frees us from focusing on the other person. Too often when we’re in the midst of the turmoil after a divorce, we desperately look for a quick fix to make it all go away. Some women want to “hurry up” and forgive so the pain will end, or so they can get along with the other person. We have to be careful not to simply cover our wounds and retard the healing process.
- We might be pressured into false forgiveness before we are ready. When we feel obligated or we forgive just so others will still like us, accept us, or not think badly of us, it’s not true forgiveness — it’s a performance to avoid rejection. Give yourself permission to do it right. Maybe all you can offer today is, “I want to forgive you, but right now I’m struggling emotionally. I promise I will work on it.”
- Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. It’s normal for memories to be triggered in the future. When thoughts of past hurts occur, it’s what we do with them that counts. When we find ourselves focusing on a past offense, we can learn to say, “Thank you, God, for this reminder of how important forgiveness is.”
- Forgiveness starts with a mental decision. The emotional part of forgiveness is finally being able to let go of the resentment. Emotional healing may or may not follow quickly after we forgive.