What Forgiveness Is and Is Not: Seven Rules of Forgiveness


Too often forgiveness is a burden on the wounded. Instead the imperative of accountability must be on the abuser.

When I’m told to forgive, I think about

my math tutor when I was barely twelve years old, who shouted in my face and dug his fingers in my shoulders

a grown woman who beat me for “misbehaving” at a public pool when I was seven

students who randomly assaulted me in school calling me racial slurs

the thousands of hate crimes and murders both reported and unrecorded against POC

the dozens of stories I’ve heard from patients assaulted by their most trusted people.

But I’m told to just let go. “Forgiveness is a gift.”
Is it? How is it a gift to remove this knife from my gut that never should’ve been there? Why is abuse became the abused person’s problem to solve?

Forgiveness is powerful, yes. On the other side there’s freedom. But when forgiveness is demanded of a victim in a bad power dynamic—who benefits? Abusive people and systems often act in a remorseless repetition of violence. It’s that very violence which keeps power and profit.

I have learned it is more wrong
not to be angry at injustice.
Why demand the wounded
to be level-headed, neutral, watch their tone, to grow, be resilient, be the example, take the high road?
Sometimes the high road
goes right off a cliff.

Inside anger
I hear the voice of grief
because the abused person
had their life interrupted
and never asked for an apology
—they needed honor for their dignity.

Here are some of my rules on forgiveness.
1) Forgiveness does not mean friendship.
2) Forgiveness is a daily choice that can take a lifetime.
3) No one can rush your forgiveness, ever.
4) You can be angry while forgiving.
5) Forgiveness does not negate justice.
6) If you have been abused and traumatized, then forgiveness is not a prerequisite for your recovery. To make forgiveness a burden on the abused only enables the abuser. It also mocks the abused. To skip anger is to bypass pain and therefore true recovery.
7) Do not make forgiveness an imperative burden to force a romanticized outcome of “peace,” especially on the abused and oppressed. All you’ll do is guilt trip already wounded people into a false truce.

— J.S.

My Friend Called Me a Racial Slur: Are They a Racist?

Anonymous asked a question:

If a friend of yours who showed no signs of racism ever just happened to get mad at you about something and called you a racial slur, what would you do?

Hey my friend. That’s terrible that this happened to you, and I’m sorry.

That’s also a very, very big yikes for me.

The short answer here is that your friend is most likely a racist, and it’s a good idea to drop them.

Some words are so charged, violent, and historically poisonous that they should never be spoken, certainly never from a friend you trusted, whether they were angry or not. For me, that would be a red flag, dealbreaker, and burned bridge all in one. I would have an extremely difficult time forgiving, much less trusting, this person again.

Before that sounds too harsh, here’s a story that my friend told me.

Continue reading “My Friend Called Me a Racial Slur: Are They a Racist?”

Struggling with Mother’s Day


For those struggling with Mother’s Day because of a broken relationship, here’s a one minute answer that I gave on Moody Radio for those specifically struggling with today.
— J.S.

If My Father Abused Me, How Could I Ever Say “Heavenly Father”?

Anonymous asked a question:

My father is an abuser and maybe it’s stupid, but how can people can not be afraid of the words “our father in heaven”?

Hey my friend, thank you for sharing so honestly and I’m sorry you experienced such abuse. I hope and pray you are at a safe distance today and that you are recovering.

Your concern is not “stupid” at all. It’s absolutely valid. I work as a chaplain at two places, the hospital and a homeless shelter, and when I address God, at both places I am very careful when I say “God our father.” Especially at the homeless shelter. Many of the low income families I encounter have not had good experiences with any sort of male figure. To say “father” is okay for some, but also devastating for others.

Continue reading “If My Father Abused Me, How Could I Ever Say “Heavenly Father”?”

How Do I Open Myself Up to Friends Again?

Anonymous asked a question:

I read a text post from you about wanting friendship just for appreciation of the person, not opportunism. I used to be like that. But somehow through the hurt I’ve accumulated from people, real relationships feel too fragile. To cope, I found myself using people for clear defined reasons, than sentimentality. It has kept me safe, but I feel like I’ve lost a part of my humanity too. How can I love people for who they are despite the total possibility of being letdown?

Hey dear friend, thank you for your very honest message.

I went through a very similar phase where for years, I couldn’t trust anyone. I had been brutally hurt by a church and I never thought I would recover. I did. It took a ton of therapy and self-examination and safe people to get there.

Continue reading “How Do I Open Myself Up to Friends Again?”

Forgiveness Is Not Friendship


It’s unfair to rush someone into forgiveness. It’s powerful and necessary, but forgiveness is not a one-time moment that magically seals up the wound. It takes a deliberate, daily battle over a lifetime. That occasional angry twitch doesn’t mean you’ve failed at finding peace; it’s only part of the process. Let it happen. It hurts because it meant something. It has to pass through your body, like flushing out poison. No one is allowed to rush your healing, including you. No one can just “get over it.” It’s your pain, your pacing, your tempo. But I do hope to see you on the other side, where there’s freedom. You can take all the time you need, and I’m with you.
J.S.

Love Doesn’t Enable, But Empowers.


I fell for the romanticized, destructive idea in both church culture and pop culture that we must constantly “love and forgive and give away,” a sort of martyr-hero syndrome that guilts us into perpetual generosity.

I spent too many years consumed by the “sacrificial radical love” model of Christianity, which required that I pour out more than I had—but it only scooped out my guts and left me bitter and resentful and exhausted.

To love must include truth, wisdom, and boundaries. Sometimes it means distance. It means knowing when to rest and recharge and to embrace our limits. It always means to have grace for yourself, too.

And to love is not enabling, pampering, coddling, or letting someone off the hook—or it wouldn’t really be love at all. There’s a way to help others that really hurts them because it only feeds into their harmful patterns.

For those who have been abused or traumatized: Forgiveness doesn’t mean friendship. No one should ever be rushed into forgiveness, not for the sake of “getting right with God.” Not for trying to look like the “bigger person” or “because it’s the right thing to do.” We need to recognize patterns of unrepentant abuse and gaslighting and manipulative language that will only guilt-trip back into a vicious cycle. We can never mindlessly open the door again on an abusive relationship. You have the right to say “no.”

God does redeem the evil, yes, but God is for the victims, for the abused, for the survivors, too. God is for the exile, the foreigner, the despised, the despondent who crossed the Red Sea. God is for you.

— J.S.