Have you ever wondered if you have truly forgiven someone? Or perhaps you have with held forgiveness because you know the other person really meant to hurt you and deserves to not be forgiven. Or maybe you fall into the category of “I don’t even know what it means to forgive”. Forgiveness is something we all struggle with in one way or another at some point in our lives. I have compiled this list to help explain what forgiveness is and what it is not.
Forgiveness is not forgetting. We are not called to forget a offenses against us. In fact, sometimes it would be dangerous to ignore all the aspects of something that happened and continue repeating behaviors and relational patterns that created the original hurt. However, there is a difference between remembering what happened and learning from it, and repeatedly rehearsing the offenses and building bitterness and resentment.
Forgiveness is not reconciliation. To reconcile with someone means to restore friendly relations with them, or to bring an account to balance. We can 100% forgive someone and not be reconciled to them. Reconciliation can be stopped on their end because they choose to not reconcile with you. Once you have offered your forgiveness that is all you can do, you can not make the other person accept your offer. You have done your part in trying to reconcile the relationship and there is nothing more you can do.
Forgiveness is not restoration. Restoration means to restore to a former condition. You can forgive a person and choose not to continue to engage in relationship with them. Especially in abusive relationships you may need to work through forgiveness and set boundaries regarding contact or interactions with the other person. These boundaries act as a protective factor for you and for them so the relationship, and the individuals will not be further damaged.
Forgiveness is not letting go of consequences. You can forgive someone and still they may have to face the consequences of their actions. You may even be the enforcer of some of the consequences. For example if your child steals a piece of candy, you can forgive them, but still make them return the candy and make restitution. Enforcing the consequences does not nullify the forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not minimizing or denying what happened. When you forgive someone you fully acknowledge the pain and hurt of the offense. Minimizing or denying what happened makes it impossible to forgive.
Forgiveness is not no longer feeling the hurt and pain that resulted from the offense. You can forgive someone and still feel pain from their offense. An obvious example would be if you broke my leg, I could forgive you, but my leg could still hurt. Another example would be if you were in a relationship where there was an affair you could still feel mistrust even though you had forgiven your spouse. Forgiving someone does not absolve you from all feelings related to the offense.
Forgiveness is not healing. Forgiveness and healing are two very different things. Forgiveness may be a part of healing, but it is not the whole process of healing. Healing may involve many other aspects including counseling, spiritual guidance, time, distance, learning of new habits, setting boundaries, etc. You can forgive someone and still need to seek further help to heal from the offense.
Forgiveness is not usually a “one and done” event. Typically forgiveness comes in layers as you remember different offenses or different aspects of an offense. As you remember new things or different details you can continue in the process of forgiving with the assurance that you had previously forgiven other aspects of the offense.
So you may be asking yourself “if these are all the things that forgiveness is not, then what is forgiveness?” Here is what forgiveness is…..
Forgiveness is costly. To forgive someone will cost you a high price. You will need to experience and acknowledge the pain that someone has caused you. You cannot forgive what you cannot acknowledge. When Jesus died for our sins he did not pretend that it was easy, nor did he deny that we had done anything wrong. He fully acknowledged the pain, the cost, and our error.
Forgiveness is a choice. We have a choice to forgive or not to forgive. In scripture we are told to “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” Colossians 3:13. If we choose not to forgive we run the risk of becoming bitter, spiteful, angry and resentful.
Forgiveness is releasing the other person from our vengeance. When we forgive we will no longer try to get back at the other person or retaliate against them. We will no longer ruminate on all that was done to hurt us. This is different from not holding them to a standard of justice. They still may need to face consequences of their actions, however we will not seek out additional vengeance out of our spite.
Forgiveness is a decision before it is a feeling. We choose to forgive, then we eventually will feel like we have forgiven. Typically there is some time between the decision and the feeling. The length of time may depend on the depth of the hurt and the time that has passed since the offense happened. You can make the decision to forgive, act on the forgiveness and then continue to work through the emotions. This would not be denying the emotions, it would simply mean letting them pass through the filter of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a process. When you first forgive someone you may not be fully aware of all the varying aspects of an offense. With time new offenses may occur and may reveal areas of old hurts that are still needing forgiveness. This is not uncommon and does not mean you didn’t forgive the person. It simply means that you have more forgiveness you can work through.
Forgiveness is freeing. Through the process of forgiveness you can become free from the bondage of anger and resentment. You are able to release the one who has hurt you and in doing you are free to experience your own healing.
1.) What information is new or surprising to you about forgiveness?
2.) How can you use this information to make your relationships healthier or to promote your own healing?