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



Forgive Us Our Trespasses, As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

There are lots of opportunities for offense surrounding the death of a child.

Once your heart is broken open wide with great sorrow, there’s no defense against the bumps and bruises that are a natural product of human relationship and interaction.

  • Friends and family that didn’t show up.
  • Friends and family that showed up but said or did the wrong thing.
  • Friends and family that abandoned me as soon as the casket closed.
  • People that make me feel guilty for grieving or question my sanity or my “progress”.

But I’m learning to let go of offense.

Not only because it is too heavy to carry in addition to my grief, but because the Lord has commanded it.

I grew up reciting what’s commonly called, “The Lord’s Prayer” without much thought to the individual phrases or their meaning. It wasn’t until adulthood that I read it in context and continued on to the rest of the chapter.

What I found there was chilling.  

These are some of the hard words of Christ that most lay persons and many theologians prefer to gloss over.

“For if you forgive other people their failures, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you will not forgive other people, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive you your failures.”

~Jesus (Matthew 6:14-15 PHILLIPS)

WOW!  The plain reading of this text tells me that if I refuse to forgive others, I place myself outside the forgiveness of my Father.

It makes sense though-if my sins were borne by Christ on the cross, then so were yours.  

If His grace covers me, it covers you.  

If I want to be seen through the eyes of mercy, then I must be willing to look through those same eyes at my fellow man.

At first this feels like bondage instead of freedom.  

But the truth is, forgiveness is liberating.  

It sets me free to operate in the fullness of who I am in Christ.  It forces me to trust Him with my pain, with my sorrows, with my offenses and with balancing the scales of justice.


Forgiveness opens the path to relationship and community.  It testifies to the mercy and grace of God.  

It shines like a beacon of light in a dark world.  

It is the power of Christ in me.

To forgive another person from the heart is an act of liberation. We set that person free from the negative bonds that exist between us. We say, “I no longer hold your offense against you” But there is more. We also free ourselves from the burden of being the “offended one.” As long as we do not forgive those who have wounded us, we carry them with us or, worse, pull them as a heavy load. The great temptation is to cling in anger to our enemies and then define ourselves as being offended and wounded by them. Forgiveness, therefore, liberates not only the other but also ourselves. It is the way to the freedom of the children of God.

~Henri Nouwen