What is Forgiveness?

I’ve been thinking long and hard about forgiveness lately.  

What is it, exactly?

If I forgive then must I also forget?  If I forgive then must I also allow unfettered access into my life?  If I forgive then do I have to pretend the wounds inflicted by the offense don’t still hurt?

Here’s what I have so far: 

  • Forgiveness means letting go of the feelings surrounding the offense.  It means no longer expecting an apology, restitution, repentance, restoration.  It means trusting that whatever work needs to take place in the heart and life of the one who has injured me will have to be done in and through them by the power of God, not by me holding their feet to the fire.
  • Forgiveness means extricating my own heart from the bonds of expectation regarding the other person.  We start fresh.  Clean slate.  I lay down my hopes for how that person should/will/might treat me.  It’s a way of liberating myself regardless of whether they choose to remain in bondage to bad habits, a bad temper or unfruitful relationships.
  • Forgiveness means I have stopped looking to the other person for healing.  I must tend my own wounds, work my own field of feelings, deal with my own shortcomings, poor choices and habitual sins.  I can no longer use another person’s action or inaction as an excuse for my own delayed healing.
  • Forgiveness means that I can and should erect appropriate boundaries.  Every relationship is not a mission field.  I am not required to lay down my life to enable another person’s bad behavior.  If the person I forgive chooses not to change hurtful behavior, then I do not have to give them access to my heart and life.  I can be kind, receptive and compassionate but I do not have to hug them close just to make it easier for them to hurt me again.
  • Forgiveness means that I don’t use my injury at the hands of that person to malign his or her reputation.  If I have released that person from obligation to me through forgiveness, then I must choose to lay down the offense and not mention it to others.  (This, to me, is a good test of whether or not I’ve forgiven someone.)
  • Forgiveness is an act of my will regardless of the other person’s response to my choice.  Love, kindness and forgiveness are in essence the proffered hand.  If the person to whom it is extended slaps it away, then it’s on them.  I may be ready for a sea change, but the other person may still be resisting

forgiveness is not forgetting

Some people are easy to forgive!  

They recognize how their actions or words have wounded my heart and they ask for forgiveness. 

Others are much harder!

They either choose to ignore or are unable to see that they have hurt me.  

But I am called to forgive regardless because I have been forgiven.

forgiveness is difficult because it involves death and grief brene brown



Nagging Guilt in Child Loss

I should have known.  I should have been there.  I should have called, texted, spoken one more warning or given one more hug.

Should.  Should?  Should!

wistful woman looking out wet window

I have yet to speak to a bereaved parent who does not harbor guilt of some kind over the death of his or her child.

Not one.

Why didn’t I know?  What did I miss? Why didn’t I say “I love you” one more time?

Hindsight being 20/20 means that there are always threads a heart can pull to guide it back to some moment when it should have been obvious what was about to happen.

reaching hand in grief

We comb through days, months or years of evidence like a crime novel detective, determined to find the clue that unravels all the mystery surrounding our child’s death.

Guilt is a relentless hound nipping at tired heels.

I know there are circumstances where a parent may well be responsible in some measure for the death of his or her child.  If that’s you, then I hope you have a good counselor to help you work through all those feelings.  It will take a lot of time and a lot of effort, but it can be done.

But for many of us, the guilt is phantom pain. It has no basis in reality.  There was nothing we did or didn’t do that contributed to our child leaving this world.  Nothing we could have done to prevent it.  No way we could have known it was going to happen.

Running from guilt can keep a heart from doing the work grief requires.  It can build barriers between us and the people that can help us most.  It can lead our minds down a dark path into a bottomless pit.

Guilt is a thief and a liar.

Guilt will steal what I have left if I’m not very careful.

When my heart is overwhelmed by the “what ifs” and “shoulds” and “should-have-knowns”, I scream, “Shut Up!”.

I force my thoughts to turn instead to the things I know for sure:

  • Dominic was (is!) loved.
  • He was (still is!) a beautiful, thoughtful and capable soul.
  • His death was an accident and nothing I could have done would have prevented it.
  • He is safe, right now, in the arms of Jesus.
  • This separation is temporary.

I still have work to do and people to love and I can’t do either if I’m obsessed with the past.

It’s a costly act of will to stop the guilt soundtrack playing in my head.  

But it’s worth it. 

heart leaf torn



Repost: My Heart Hurts

Oh, how my heart hurts!

Deep down where no one can touch it-it aches for my missing child, the family I used to have, the lost opportunities, the missed moments.

And there is no cure.

Yes, there is  a Balm in Gilead-there is hope in the Person of Jesus Christ.

And it soothes the pain, takes the edge off, makes it bearable.

But it does not take it away.

Read the rest here:  My Heart Hurts

Why Friends Abandon Grievers

It happens in all kinds of ways.  One friend just slowly backs off from liking posts on Facebook, waves at a distance from across the sanctuary, stops texting to check up on me.

Another observes complete radio silence as soon as she walks away from the graveside. 

Still another hangs in for a few weeks-calls, texts, even invites me to lunch until I can see in her eyes that my lack of “progress” is making her uneasy.  Then she, too, falls off the grid.

Why do people do that? 

Why is it, when we need them most, many friends-and I mean really, truly FRIENDSjust can’t hang in and hold on?

I admit in the early days I didn’t care WHY they did it. 

It broke my heart and enraged me all at the same time.  I felt abandoned, judged, forgotten, pressured to conform to some unwritten standard of how I was “supposed” to do grief and utterly, completely forsaken.

It took me months to begin to even consider their perspective and years to come to a place where I could forgive them.

butterfly away from hand

Here’s what I’ve figured out this side of devastating, overwhelming, heart-shattering pain about why some friends run away:

  • I represent their greatest fear.  I am a billboard for loss.  My life screams, “We are NOT in control!” And that is scary.  Most folks run away from scary if they can.
  • I remind them that faith is a living thing, tender and vulnerable to trials and testing.  We love to tout Sunday School answers that follow like the tag lines on Aesop’s fables when asked about anything to do with Jesus or how God works in the world.  But it’s just not that simple.  The Bible is full (FULL!) of untidy stories where even the giants of faith got it wrong for a season.  I think people are afraid that if they follow me down the rabbit hole of questions they might never come back out.  Better to stand outside and hope I emerge safe and sound without risking themselves.
  • My situation is messy and they don’t want to get involved.  I will need ongoing, intense investments of emotional energy and time. Who knows where it might lead?  Who knows how many hours might have to be given to come alongside and support someone whose journey looks more like slogging through a swamp than a walk in the park?  These folks are just not going to risk entanglement.
  • Some friends and family are genuinely afraid of doing harm.  They feel my pain so deeply that they are frozen, unable to do or say anything because they fear they will make things worse.  These are the hearts most easy to forgive and the ones most likely to jump back in when I assure them they cannot make it worse but their support can make it better.
  • Some people were going to disappear anyway.  We don’t like to admit it but many friendships are only for a season-we go to the same church, live in the same neighborhood, our kids go to the same school-and as soon as circumstances change these people fade away.  Well, circumstances certainly changed!  They leave because our differences outweigh our similarities and it requires too much effort to maintain the friendship.

Understanding why people run away has helped my heart. 

It doesn’t undo the pain inflicted by abandonment of those I felt sure would stay close by my side, but it puts it in perspective.

Truth is, I’m not sure how many people I would have stalwartly supported for the long haul either before Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  

None of us possess infinite emotional, mental, physical and relational resources.  It’s only natural that we portion them out according to our own priorities-even when that means abandoning friends who really need us.

Rehearsing offense only ties me in knots. 

It changes nothing.

I have limits as well. 

Forgiving those that chose to walk away frees me to use my resources in more fruitful ways that help me heal.  


Love in Action: Just Say His Name

I’m convinced that many of our friends and family DO want to talk about our missing child but they need permission to do so.

They just aren’t sure if it will make things better or worse.

And if we cry, they feel responsible.  They don’t realize that many times they are tears of joy that our precious child is still remembered. ❤

I know you are afraid.

You think that speaking his name or sharing a memory or sending me a photo will add to my sorrow.

I understand.

But even when it costs me a split second of sharp pain, it is truly a gift to know that Dominic lives on in the hearts and minds of others.  It gives me courage to speak too.  It creates space where I can honor my son.

It helps keep him alive.

Read the rest here:  Loving Well: Just Say His Name


Love in Action: Understanding the Grieving Heart

A bereaved parent’s grief doesn’t fit an easy-to-understand narrative. And it flies in the face of the American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality.

You can’t beat it–it’s not a football game-there is no winning team.

You can’t lose it–it’s not the extra 10 pounds you’ve been carrying since last Christmas.

You can’t get over it–it’s not a teenage love affair that will pale in comparison when the real thing comes along.

You can only survive it.

Read the rest here:  Loving Well: Understanding the Grieving Heart

Where Are All the Pieces?

If you’ve ever dropped a treasured china cup, you will know exactly what I’m talking about.

broken china

Finding the bigger chunks is easy.  But as you begin to put them in place thinking, “Oh, I can glue this back good as new”, you realize that tiny slivers necessary to make it whole are missing.

And you can look as hard as you want to, but you’ll never, ever find them.

Hearts are like that.


When a heart breaks, the pieces are scattered everywhere.

It’s pretty simple to locate the larger bits-although putting them back in place is much harder than gluing together a fractured cup.

But those tiny bits elude me.

At almost four years I’ve had lots and lots of time to sort through what happened-at least in an intellectual way.

But what surprises me every time, no matter how often I pick through the debris like an archaeologist, is that I cannot find all the pieces.  

I have hunted hardest for the pieces to the faith I knew before my world was torn asunder.

I can’t find even a vague semblance of that old feeling that used to be my bosom buddy-that the blessing and favor of the Lord was resting on my family’s shoulders.  I can’t reclaim the confidence that I had at least a rough idea of how God works in the world.

I don’t feel as if God has abandoned me-but I do feel as if He’s pushed me in a corner.

And what I have to do now (have had to do all along) is decide: 

Do I trust even when I cannot see how it all fits together or do I abandon my faith?

I have decided to hold on. 

I have decided that it was foolish for me to think I could comprehend God in the first place.  My experience hasn’t changed HIM, it’s changed ME.

lord to whom shall we go

It revealed a flaw in my logic.  It gave me a glimpse into the vast chasm between what I thought I knew and what I actually knew.

There are so many things that cannot be known.  I have no idea why I once thought that number small.

Is this frightening?  Yes. 

But it is also helpful. 

As long as I’m looking for answers to every question, I will remain unsatisfied and unsettled until I find them. Understanding that I CANNOT “know it all” frees me to lean into my faith.

When Jesus was about to leave His disciples, He gave them this assurance: 

“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

John 16:33 MSG

Unshakable and assured. 

Wounded yet walking. 

Fearful but faith-filled.  

hard pressed but not destroyed