I’ve had several conversations this past week about forgiveness. Honestly, it’s something I’m struggling with so I want to share. There are some misconceptions about forgiveness that are taught and that I believed for a long time. So first, I want to clear that up!
Misconceptions about Forgiveness
When we forgive someone we are still allowed to hold them accountable for their actions! It doesn’t mean that we are letting them off the hook and giving them the permission to do it again. Anyone who wants your continual forgiveness and grace but is unwilling to acknowledge and change their own behaviors fits the definition of ‘unhealthy’ at minimum.
For anyone who has been in a cycle of unhealthy relationships, forgiveness is often used by the abuser to say something along the lines of ‘if you loved me, you would forgive me’. In this case, “forgiveness” starts another cycle of abuse. However, this isn’t really what forgiveness means. If possible, address the issue in hopes of reconciliation. In the case of someone who is truly dangerous or unable or unwilling to hear: Leave the relationship and then work on forgiveness in your heart. Do not allow the person who wounded you to continue.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean we stop seeking justice in the world with issues we know are wrong. It is right to set boundaries and defend the powerless. “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed” (Psalm 82:3). That’s what my book is all about! I’m writing this to advocate for those who are broken and hurting. Jesus has not forgotten about you! Now that we know what forgiveness is not, let’s talk about what it actually is.
Forgiveness in the Bible
Forgiveness is mentioned at the end of the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6 and emphasized again right after it. Jesus repeats the forgiveness part twice because it is so important. We must forgive those who have hurt us in order to have freedom in Christ.
“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:9-14)
The Picture of Forgiveness
It helps me to picture this in my mind. I imagine holding what the person owes me in my hand and then placing it in Jesus’ outstretched hand. I have to trust that He is a God of justice. He will take care of it in the best way. “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
For anyone going through this process with someone who has done something unthinkable against you or your family, I am not making light of this process. God will help you and show you His love for you in the process. It is a continual journey and just because you haven’t done it quickly doesn’t mean God is angry with you. He allows us time to grieve and process hurt. He wants us to have relief from the pain, not condemn us in the midst of it.
We were never meant to carry the burdens of other people’s sins or of our own. That’s God’s job and when we take it on ourselves we only destroy ourselves from the inside out. It doesn’t make what the person has done less wrong, it just means we are placing it in God’s hands.
Part of gaining freedom in Christ is learning to set boundaries around the people who have held us captive. We can say no to a relationship or a request from anyone. We should always say no to anyone who has caused us to go into further sin or brokenness and takes us away from God.
I would highly recommend a book called Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. This book helped me understand my pattern of feeling the need to take on too much. I learned that it’s okay to say “No” to certain things and people. Keeping good boundaries protects my energy which prevents resentfulness and helps me continue the process of forgiveness.
I’ve had an especially difficult time forgiving myself for some things. When I make a mistake or return to an old pattern I am my harshest critic and beat myself up mercilessly. I remember unkind things people have said to me and start to believe that they are true. This isn’t who God is or how He wants us to treat ourselves. He loves us and forgives us no matter what we do. I need so much grace and thankfully this is exactly what He offers me! I have to accept and lift the burden from myself and hand it over to God.
As a mama bear I know that sometimes I fail. All parents fail because we are human. Beating myself up about it isn’t going to help. When I let Rachel down, I apologize to her and take accountability. Especially as she gets older the best thing I can do is be honest about being human. She will have to forgive her mommy at times and I will have to forgive her too.
Forgiveness is so difficult but the reward is our freedom and joy. It will make our lives so much better and give us the ability to have freedom in other areas. It opens our hearts to love others more and reminds us of the grace we’ve been given.