Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Challenge of Forgiveness

Forgiveness was the topic of the message at church this morning, and the outline in the bulletin was full of so many quotes I liked that I just had to come talk about it a little this afternoon.

Forgiveness is one of those issues that I find myself struggling with often. Who do I have to forgive? What things do I have to forgive? Why do I have to forgive? Do I really have to forgive that too? And, possibly the ones I actually grapple with the most.. what even is forgiveness and what does it look like and how do I walk it out?

It's Not About Them

Probably the most game-changing thing I ever heard about forgiveness, and which has helped me a lot in my own understanding and ability to put it into action, is that forgiveness is not about the person you're forgiving. It's not about saying that what they did to you is okay, and it's not about lying yourself down in front of them so they can kick you again. But, it's about you. It's about you and your own heart.

Our pastor told a story about a culture where, if someone wrongs them, then they would put a token in their living room, prominently, so that every time they saw that token, they would be reminded of the wrong that was done to them. Can you imagine living that way? Never being able to move on, always keeping the anger and the pain at the very forefront of your mind and heart and passion.

And yet, we do. Don't we? We return to the pain over and over.

"Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life."-- Proverbs 4:23

If we keep our hearts constantly reminded of the pain it felt when we were hurt, how can our hearts ever heal? And so, in many ways, I have found strength in understanding that forgiveness is not about making the other person feel better about the pain they caused you.  But, it's about healing the bitterness in your own heart. How can goodness grow in a place that's kept filled with pain and hatred?

It's Not Easy

This is hard. Forgiveness is hard. I struggle with it all the time... sometimes it's because I don't want to let the pain and the anger go. Sometimes it's because I want them to pay for what they did. Sometimes it's because I feel like I'm being weak for letting it go... like if I was a stronger person, I'd fight it out to the death and make them pay.  But, that's wrong.  Forgiveness takes a lot more strength than hanging onto the pain ever will.

"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." -- Mahatma Gandhi

But, it's important to remember that forgiveness and creating an atmosphere so the same offense can happen again aren't the same thing. Forgiving someone doesn't mean that you keep letting them hurt you.

"If someone tracks mud into your beautiful home night after night, forgiving him means the next time he knocks, you go to the door. But if he is still muddy and still willing to track it in, you do not let him in. There has been no repentance, thus there can be no reconciliation. Only repentance (taking off his muddy shoes in respect for your home) can result in an invitation to come in. Forgiveness is simply the willingness to keep going to the door in hopes that repentance may have occurred." -- Dr. Dan Allender

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean an automatic extension of trust.  That's something that has to be built up, and that takes time and willingness on both parties' parts to change, to do what is necessary to work together to heal each other's hurts, and to rebuild the relationship and the trust.

They aren't the same thing, forgiveness and building trust.  But, I think that the latter can't happen without the former, so you have to start there... at the forgiveness... together.


This Week's Series on Forgiveness and Trust

Sunday............. The Challenge of Forgiveness
Monday............ Trust is Like a Vase
Tuesday............ Safe in the Castle Tower
Wednesday....... Trusting Again
Thursday........... Thursday Tales: I Can't Trust You
Friday................ I'm Trusting You


  1. "Forgiveness is simply the willingness to keep going to the door in hopes that repentance may have occurred." That quote from Dr. Allender... wow.

    1. Lots of different things that people can take away from this today, depending on their own lives and experiences, but that's my thought to take away :)

    2. I really liked that one too... a lot. There was another in the outline that kind of touched on the same subject that I really liked as well; I'll send it to you later. I just couldn't figure out how to work them both in! :)

  2. I came here from the long, long list on A to Z Blogging Challenge for April. I came on the right day. I read this post and I need to go away and digest it. Forgiveness really IS hard. Thanks for sharing Hope to see you in April

    1. I'm so glad you did!... I hope the digesting was positive and I'm looking forward to the whole A to Z deal! :)

  3. hey there, joanne,

    thx so much for this piece. i found you by googling that (awesome!) allender quote. i'm trying to figure out where he said it. mind telling me? and if it's in bold love, mind sharing what chapter & section it's in (b/c i own the book)?

    thx again,