A Few Quick Things About Forgiveness: What It Is and What It’s Not

A few quick things about forgiveness.

– Forgiveness is not a one-shot deal, but a daily lifelong process that might take a hundred times a day. This is partially what Jesus meant when he said forgive seventy times seven.

– It’s okay to be mad. It’s okay to grieve about what happened. You don’t have to stuff these feelings. In fact, it’s better to feel them down to the bottom if you want to make it back out.

– Forgiveness does not mean friendship. Boundaries are necessary and you’re not required to hang out with the people who hurt you. It’s possible to be kind, but that doesn’t require becoming best buddies.

– Forgiveness does not mean that the hurt should be forgotten or dismissed. In fact, true forgiveness actually confronts the very real hurt that was done to you and says, “This is not okay. This is something terrible that requires that someone pays.” The Christian recognizes that reparations are required, while at the same time we absorb the emotional hurt with the process of forgiveness.

– Christians are too quick to rush this process and it’s almost like they become lawyers for the perpetrator instead of healers for the wounded. The people who hurt you should still be held accountable, with all the mercy you can give and with all the justice that they’re owed.

– When you feel the rush of anger and hurt and sadness and confusion, let it happen. It has to pass through your body, like flushing out poison. Write something angry (don’t publish or send). Have the internal argument. Win the argument. Vent with the gym. Weep until you get to that still place of peace. And it might help to say, “What they did is not okay, but I still have to live and love with my whole heart.”

– It’ll feel like bitterness is easier. Sometimes it is. But in the long run, of course, it only ruins dang near everything. We need people around us who remind us of what love and trust and connection look like. Surround yourself with those people.

– All throughout the Bible, the way that God forgives is to “put the sin behind His back” or to “hurl our sin into the depths of the sea” (Isaiah 38:17, Micah 7:19). We should recognize that God does not say, “Forgive and forget.” That’s a worldly, shallow type of forgiveness. Instead God chooses to deliberately acknowledge the pain and initiate a weighty healing process. Later in Isaiah 53, it says “by his wounds we are healed.” In other words, the forgiveness that God offers always comes with a cost. It’s not a small thing. It requires all of us and all of Him to offer the divine gift of forgiveness to another.

– If others get down on you for not being able to forgive, they need to know your tempo and your boundaries. It might be wise to work on a clear, gentle reminder, such as, “What happened really hurt me and I hope you can appreciate how hard this is and how much I need your help with forgiving.” This hopefully puts others in a more compassionate position.

You have my prayers, dear friend. None of this is easy stuff. We’ll mess it up and we’ll feel like we hardly made progress on our worst days. But that’s forgiveness. It’s a process, in progress, towards wholeness through the hurt. It will hurt. That’s the healing at work.


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