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



How “Sunday School” Answers Isolate Wounded Hearts

We of the conservative right rail against political correctness.

We chafe at the constraints imposed from government, media and society that make us feel strangled when we share our faith, our opinion and our life values.

“Free speech!” we cry.

Yet the church has its own form of political correctness that often silences and isolates the very ones we should be serving.

It comes in the form of quick Scriptural replies to heart cries of “Where is God?” (“He’s right here beside you, faithful and good.”)

“Why did this happen?” (“All things work together for good for those that love the Lord.”)

“I don’t think I can take it anymore!” (“I can do all things through Christ.” Or “We are more than conquerors through Jesus.”)

Where is the compassion in that?

I firmly believe that:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

2 Timothy 3:16

Yet, wisdom isn’t only knowing WHAT to say, it’s also discerning WHEN to say it.

wisdomSunday School answers only serve to widen the gap between hurting hearts and the hallelujah crowd.

What wounded hearts need first is understanding, not correction.  They need to know that church is a safe place to speak the pain they carry.  They need to be welcomed into a community of grace and mercy where healing can begin.

in every encounter pretty


Wounded Healers

I’ve come to believe that my wounds and the grace God has provided in my woundedness are not my personal possession.

God did not cause my pain, but He is redeeming it.  He is molding me into a different person than I would have been if Dominic hadn’t run ahead to heaven.  And that person has more compassion and grace and mercy and patience than the person I was before.

If I hide my wounds then I am hiding the hope He has hidden in my heart.  

I won’t do that.  

“Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.”

Hebrews 4:14-16 MSG

Nobody escapes being wounded.  We all ar wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.  The main question is not ‘How can we hide our wounds?’ so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but ‘How can we  put our woundedness in the service of others?’  When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.

Jesus is God’s wounded healer:  through his wounds we are healed.  Jesus’suffering and death brought joy and life.  His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love.  As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.  ~ Henri Nouwen

brennan manning share our wounds

Thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he is our Father and the source of all mercy and comfort. For he gives us comfort in our trials so that we in turn may be able to give the same sort of strong sympathy to others in theirs. Indeed, experience shows that the more we share Christ’s suffering the more we are able to give of his encouragement. This means that if we experience trouble we can pass on to you comfort and spiritual help; for if we ourselves have been comforted we know how to encourage you to endure patiently the same sort of troubles that we have ourselves endured. We are quite confident that if you have to suffer troubles as we have done, then, like us, you will find the comfort and encouragement of God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 PHILLIPS

Sharing our wounds makes us vulnerable.

When we allow ourselves to become vulnerable, we invite others to do the same.

But  in this community of mutual vulnerability, healing is possible.

Love First, Always and Forever

Usually I write about how child loss has impacted my life and the lives of my family.

Part of the reason I do that is to offer encouragement to other bereaved parents and guidance for people walking with and ministering to them.

Sometimes I address my writing to a broader audience that may include people who do not follow Jesus because some topics have more to do with general situations and less to do with faith-although my faith informs my life in every way.

But today I want to say something directly to the Body of Christ in the world whether or not you have personally suffered tragedy:

If we are gathering in the name of our Blessed Saviour and pushing the wounded to the fringe of our fellowships,

we have got it all wrong.

Jesus came for the broken,

the wounded,

the limping,

the very ones who were unwelcome in the “upstanding community”

of synagogues and the Temple.

He had no where to lay His head, carried no purse full of gold and walked everywhere He went.

He died between two thieves, mocked and naked, bleeding and helpless (in the human sense).

When He met people, He spoke directly to their HEART, regardless of their outward appearance.

He met REAL needs.

He LOVED in ways that made a difference.

We are calledI AM CALLEDto be like Jesus.

If I memorize the entire New Testament and miss this truth, I have missed Him.

We read I Corinthians 13 at weddings and treat it like a marriage survival guide.

But that passage wasn’t written to two young people joining lives and “in love”, it was written to the CHURCH as a guideline for how Christ in us should be present in the world.

I don’t want to be a clanging gong!

I want to sing hope to those I meet by reflecting the love of Jesus everywhere I go.

I’m starting this morning at my own church door.

1Corinthians.13.2_lg have not love am nothing

Death Is Awful

I have friends who have not only buried a child (some have buried more than one) but have also buried parents, siblings, in-laws and other people close to their hearts in a very short span of time.

And I am appalled when they recite the trite comments doled out by others meant to patch broken hearts and sweep the leftover pieces under the rug of social propriety.

Let me just say this:  Death.  Is.  Awful.

Full stop.  No easy change of subject or laughter allowed to make the hearing of it softer.

It should be hard.

It should make us pause.

We should stop in our tracks to acknowledge the passing of the breath of God from a person’s body.

Death is an unavoidable reminder that the world is not as God intended it to be.  It’s a reminder of the cost of sin.  It’s a reminder that our time is short.  And it’s a reminder that we are NOT in control.

Those are very uncomfortable truths.

My hope in Christ makes those truths bearable but it does not make facing the death of those I love hurt less.

A broken heart is a perfectly natural and reasonable response to the awfulness of death and to the absence of the presence of one I love. Great grief is the price of great love.  

There’s a scene in The Magician’s Nephew where a little boy named Digory meets Aslan. His mother is sick, and he wants to ask for Aslan’s help, but he’s afraid. Lewis writes:

Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great front feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself. “My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.”

For those outside this great grief, it seems helpful to toss words like bandaids but it’s not.

I’m sure you mean well when you try to circumscribe my grief-to give limits to its expression and duration.

But unrealistic expectations make it more difficult to bear the burden I’m already carrying. Your words add to this weight of sorrow and pain that I cannot untie from my bent back.


Presence-often SILENT presence-is the balm for my wounded soul.

But please: Don’t say it’s not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, demonic. If you think your task as comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it’s not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.

~Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son


Loving the Wounded

God bless the inventor of Band Aids!

That little tacky plaster has soothed more fears and tears than almost any other invention in the world.

Skinned knee?  Put a BandAid on it.

Bee sting?  BandAid.

Tiny bump that no one can even see?  Oh, sweetie, let me give you a BandAid.

Simply acknowledging pain and woundedness is so often all that is needed to encourage a heart and point it toward healing.

It’s the same in the world of emotional, psychological and spiritual wounds.

But we have yet to invent the BandAid for those.

band aid and heart

Instead, frequently we ignore, refute, minimize and pass over the one in our midst who holds out a hand or a heart saying, “I have a boo boo.”

Believe me, I understand-so many of these wounds are incurable, they are uncomfortable to think about, hard to look at.compassion and stay with you

But often the only thing the hurting heart wants is acknowledgement, a moment of time, a face turned full into theirs, eye-to-eye and unafraid to remain alongside through the pain.

Just as a BandAid bears witness to the wound underneath, our compassionate presence can bear witness to the deeper wounds no one can see.

When we choose to lean in and love, to listen and learn, to walk with the wounded we give a great gift.

compassion is a choice


Beautiful Broken

We try so hard to hide our scars.

We work diligently to cover signs of aging.  We spend billions on face lifts, tummy tucks and hair implants in an effort to fool ourselves and others that time and trials can be erased like chalk on a blackboard.

We aim for smooth perfection, though few of us achieve it.

But there is no escaping or covering the deep wound of losing a child. All the make up in the world couldn’t return my “after” face to the carefree expression of “before”.

Photo filters and special effects will never recreate the light of eyes that did not know the sorrow of burying my son.

I am broken.  This life has made cracks in my body and pierced my soul.

My wounds can be offensive to others–a reminder that they, too, may receive a blow that can’t be concealed.

The truth is that none of us escape hardship in life.  All of us have hidden heartache.  We all have cracks in our polished persona.

Dominic could be brutally honest.

A promise I made to myself, in honor of him, was that I would not hide my heart behind a false front or a fake smile.  I would allow others to see both the brokenness and the usefulness of a life lived with pain.

Recently I was introduced to a Japanese art form called “kintsugi”. Artists repair broken pottery with lacquer dust mixed with precious metals, joining the cracked pieces and highlighting the imperfection.

According to one source, “As a philosophy it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.”

What a beautiful tribute to truth!

My brokenness is part of me, but so also is the healing.

Revealing my wounds, I invite others to reveal their own. Sharing my pain, I encourage others to share theirs.  Opening my heart, I welcome you to open yours.

Displaying my scars, I uncover the glory of the God Who is healing them.  

This priceless treasure we hold, so to speak, in a common earthenware jar—to show that the splendid power of it belongs to God and not to us.

2 Corinthians 4:7 Phillips