Forgive Them? Really?!


For years I struggled with forgiving two different men in my life. One who was designed to nurture, to shape me for healthy relationships, and another who had vowed to love, honor, and protect. Both men failed. Miserably. And I held onto that for a very long time.

Grudges are so much easier than grace.

These relationships had a profoundly negative impact on my ability to love and trust.  Can I just say it out loud: it’s hard not to harbor bitterness when you’ve been hurt.

My friend Laura Hyers understands this.

Laura is a beautiful young newlywed who recently graduated with a bachelor’s in Psychology. She used to be one of our columnists for Write Where It Hurts.

Like me,  Laura tends to close herself off when she’s been hurt—the silence choking her heart, pleasantries and small talk pushing away depth and intimacy with others. It’s also hard to open your heart to new relationships when the pain of the old ones threaten like a river about to burst the banks.

On our site one day, Laura blogged about a forgivingness that cuts a path beyond this bitterness, above these lingering hurts.

Circumstances and perspective can make forgiveness seem impossible. Sometimes we think forgiveness is another word for “deciding all is okay and going back to the way things were before (insert thing being forgiven here) happened.

I know I’m supposed to forgive, but I find myself pleading, Can’t I just leave them alone? Can’t they just leave me alone?

Yet here’s what the Lord revealed to me, through time and pain and healing and (you guessed it) forgiveness: forgiveness does not necessarily mean things return to the way they were.

Forgiveness does not mean the people who have proven themselves untrustworthy are welcomed back with open arms, told the family secrets, given privileged information. The gossip will likely continue to run her mouth, and the abuser may still attempt to raise his hand against you.

Forgiveness does not mean a willingness to put ourselves into dangerous positions. Protect yourself, use good sense, and go to the Lord in prayer about what your relationship with the person you need to forgive will look like—or if there will be a real relationship at all.

The Lord is righteous and pursues justice for his children, but his version of justice rarely looks like ours. Throwing away the scorecard of hurts done to you can be the beginning of a beautiful healing process.

 A lack of forgiveness robs us of the trust God wants us to have in Him.

I don’t discount this forgiving is hard; some wrongs feel simply too much, the sadness spilling into these waves of hypersensitivity that reverberate far and wide. The suggested offering hovers, senseless, in the air. Seeming such a gross injustice to reduce making peace with our brokenness to one simple statement: I forgive you.

Yet the words hold an unexpected blessing. Back in July, Donald Miller tweeted about this: “From an honest understanding of your wounds, and a heart of forgiveness, will come your greatest voice.”

Consider that: forgiveness as the gateway to our true voices, as the pathway to freedom. It’s a hard path, but a traceable one in my own life. There came a day I was willing to press beyond these hurts, not to say, “what you’ve done is okay,” because it wasn’t, but rather to release a {Divine} power that healed an otherwise unhealable pain.

Being honest about my hurts was an important first step towards forgiveness. We’re linking up today around the topic of forgiveness, and I wonder if you have an experience or memory that makes you feel as if you’ve been drenched in an acid bath, still? Or a story about how you came to let go? Share with us by linking up below, or if you aren’t a blogger simply leave us a comment.


26 thoughts on “Forgive Them? Really?!

  1. Forgiveness versus Unforgiveness!
    It is like a bile, creeping from the depths of my soul up to my throat. It took me years to learn how to forgive, but then all of a sudden, there it was again.
    The day, in January 2011 when I, as a mother, gave the eulogy at my daughter’s funeral.
    Oh, it did not start out that way.
    I had only meant to read a poem and say a few words, sit down and let someone else speak. But, some of the things that flowed out of me came from the Holy Spirit.
    Then, after that message, I turned towards my former son-in-law, and I pointed to him, my two grandchildren, and my daughter’s live in boyfriend and I let them know that I held them responsible for her death.
    They emotionally and physically and verbally used her and abused her, and abandoned her.
    They were not there to support her in her grieving the death of her brother, her kids only came to see her when it was time to pick up the child support money, or to pick up a birthday or Christmas present.
    The boyfriend was also responsible because he did not lock up her pain medications that day and he knew she had been drinking on the day before her death.
    Yes, I made it very clear that I held them accountable for her death.
    Oh, but they are not the only ones that I held accountable.
    It was God! I could not believe that He would allow my beloved Margie die in this way, nine months after I lost my son.
    I blamed Him also.
    Oh, how I hurt! You see, I could not believe that God would not intervene in some way.
    Yes, this was disbelief, doubt, and finally unforgiveness.
    Have I worked through all of these yet?
    I thought I had.
    Until I read Jo Ann’s blog.
    I still need to get completely set free.

    • Oh my friend, my heart cries out with yours. I simply cannot fathom this pain. I pray God pulls you into his loving hope, where you are safe to hurt, safe to grieve this incomprehensible loss. You are precious and beautiful, and I am praying. <3

  2. To push people to forgive is cruel. Forgiveness is a gift from God. You can’t cook it up yourself. It is given to us in His time not ours or when someone else thinks we should. I have seen to many people hid behind I forgave and refuse to deal with the damage of their abuse. Forgiveness does not mean that you will not seek justice. Seeking justice is not seeking revenge. Justice says stop my abuser so he/she will never be able to abuse again. Forgiveness will not heal you of the damage done by the abuse. Learning what lies you believe and are part of your emotions goes much farther in your healing as you apply the truth. God says we are only forgiven when we confess. Most abusers never admit anything is their fault so can’t be forgiven. To demand the abused forgive when the abuser doesn’t confess is to ask them to be greater than God who waits for a confession 1 John 1:9. I can come to the place that I don’t want to get even with my abusers but I don’t think that is what you mean by forgiveness. I believe when we put so much emphasis on forgiveness we are playing the game the abusers want us to play. Pedophiles have stated that they like to go to churches because it doesn’t matter who they abuse they will be forgiven, meaning they did nothing wrong.

    • Shary, thanks for sharing your heart. I’m afraid the premise of my post must somehow not have carried forward to you through my words. My heart’s cry is that an “emotion-driven vengeance is a poor substitute for a God-directed justice.” By no means am I saying that those who have harmed others should not be held accountable for I have personally been a party to bringing an abuser to justice. But is it my individual responsibility to hunt the abuser down and bring justice by my own hands because that’s what my emotions crave? Also, is it God’s desire for me to carry a poisonous unforgiveness in my heart that filters into all of life? To not forgive only poisons, serving not justice on the pedophiles or the abusers but rather entrapping us in the painful experiences we have already endured. Forgiveness is indeed a Divine work of God, as only He can do the work in our hearts. This forgiveness is for US, for our tender hearts that remain imprisoned, not necessarily the ones who have brought harm. One of these men I reference in this post is completely unaware that I have forgiven him. But I live a more liberated life because of a choice I made. A willingness to show up, to let God work in my heart as only He can. You are right, we cannot simply say, “I forgive,” and move on, we must sincerely be willing to extend this forgiveness made possible by the love of God and the cross of Jesus. But are we ourselves called to forgive? Yes, that is my interpretation. We are commanded to forgive as we are commanded to love, but once again, it is not something we can do on our own. And if a sister is willing to come alongside of me in the process and encourage me to this path of waiting freedom, I see no cruelty in that; I rather like to see hope and love. {Scriptures that come to mind: Matthew 6:15, Matthew 18:23-25, James 1:20.}

      • Just some more questions and some thoughts.

        If forgiveness is for us, then when God forgives it is for him not us. What does God’s forgiveness do for God? Does forgiveness stop him from being bitter and angry as some have said above that it will do for us?

        What does it mean to forgive as Christ forgave us? O wait a minute jumping back to forgiveness is not for us but the offender. So forgiveness is not about us it is about the other person. How does Christ forgive? Is it his attitude that when I confess my wrong and see it as the terrible sin he sees then he is ready to say I don’t have to pay for it? How do I apply this to my offender? Wouldn’t that mean I am ready to forgive when a true confession of the wrong he/she has done is given?

        Forgiveness to be received requires confession on the part of the abuser. If you forgive your offender before confession you have just approved of the evil he/she has done. I don’t care how you try to get around this by saying they are still accountable. This is what the offenders want us to do and tell us we must forgive them for us to claim we are Christian. I have heard this from offenders and those who cover up their abuse. Offenders want us to dwell on them and be miserable. They tell us if we have have bad thoughts about them we are not forgiving. Stop talking about forgiveness it is giving attention to the abuser just what he/she wants.

        OK let’s drop the word “forgiveness” and talk about what our problem really is. Our problem is us. We were abused. Abuse has long term negative results. We try to work through these negative results this is called healing. 1st we need to learn it was not our fault we are not to blame for the abuse. 2nd We are not worthless, bad, a loser, a slut, a temptress, or any other thing our abuser has caused us to believe. We are a valuable human being our worth is priceless. 3rd We learn there are lies that have become so much part of us we will have to fight them all our lives. I could go on and on about the lies I have believed all my life. It is exciting to find these lies and learn the truth. I have been learning them for the last 50 years and new ones still come up. Emerging From Broken has helped me identify many lies.

        Forgiveness has to do with the offender. If I try to spend my time and energy on forgiving someone who just wants me to approve of the wrong they have done to me I will be miserable. I will become bitter and angry all the time. Yes I know there is a stage in our healing when we should be angry because what was done to us is evil. But we don’t continue to dwell on trying to make everything right by forgiving them. If the offender comes and confesses to the horrible acts he has committed that is the time to think about forgiveness. By the way very few abusers will admit to doing anything wrong. So yes there may be a time when I will forgive upon a true confession. Most people try to put forgiveness first and land up not healing at all. O sure people say they forgive yet they believe all the lies their abuser taught them by word or action. To be healing means to live in truth of both good and evil and there is freedom. Freedom means to be living at peace with myself. Freedom means being able to love anybody, yes even the offender.

    • If I know one thing about Jo Ann Fore’s heart, it is that she doesn’t demand anything from her readers. As Jesus did by His own example, I have only seen Jo Ann hold out biblical principles and encourage us all to emulate them, since by doing so we live out His purpose in our lives to the fullest. We each have the choice to allow the bitterness of past offenses to weigh us down, rob us of life, and continue to cause hurt IN us and THROUGH us. Who among us wants to live like that? It isn’t about shrugging off wrongdoing; it’s about not allowing one offense–even as horrific as it may have been–to continue to grow like a mad melanoma and steal the abundance God intends for us.

      My heart aches for you, Shary, and I get what you are saying. Forgiving my abusers hasn’t been a walk in the park. Forgiveness costs us something, and it’s natural to see cruelty in the act of forgiving when we’ve paid such a high price already. Grace cost Jesus everything and yet He was willing. Are we? I think the heart of this post is that the price we pay for refusing to forgive is far higher, and besides closing off the pathway to our own forgiveness, can rob us and others in our lives of everything beautiful our lives can–and should–be. I pray that your wounds are healed and that grace fills your heart and mind as you forgive and are forgiven throughout your life. May He draw you close to His side and whisper His love to you above all, His love that makes all things new.

        • I would define it as a letting go of the anger and bitterness that eats you alive, that doesn’t allow you to offer grace to the offender. It is a relinquishing of the constant reliving of the offense, a letting go of any hate toward the offender. The offer of grace and forgiveness does not remove natural consequences of the offense, and it doesn’t mean you want to be buddies. You just allow grace to fill the place where the anger was.

    • Forgiveness my not make you ‘forget’ what the abuser did, but true forgiveness absolutely can heal your emotions of what the abuser did. God tells us to forgive. “Forgive as you have been forgiven.” paraphrased here: “If you have forgiven 7 times then forgive 7 more times.” That’s from Jesus. I really had a very hard time with forgiving – that’s actually kind of what my post will be about – if I ever get it done. lol

      The thing is – forgiveness is the key that Unlocks the bitterness ‘prison’ we get trapped in when we don’t forgive. It’s not an out or an excuse for the abuser by any means. No way…! Forgiveness is freeing for US.
      When we don’t forgive we are allowing the abuser to continue to control us. The enemy and the abuser owns our emotions when we don’t forgive and it can eat it at us until we completely die inside, if not physically as well. Forgiveness is very healing and no excuse… It’s a decision. It’s an act. NOT a feeling. 🙂 We decide to forgive, give their act upon us to Christ, and leave it with HIM to deal with. Then we LIVE.

        • Hi Shary, I don’t really have a definition per say. I go with what the Bible states. I also ask the Holy Spirit to lead me. It’s not always the way I want to go or what I want to do, but it’s God’s way. Here are some verses I go by in reference to forgiving others. Oh – really only Christ can forgive a sinner. Our part of forgiving is letting it go and leaving it in Gods hands.

          For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
          Matthew 6:13-15

          But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
          Matthew 6:14-16
          Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
          Luke 6:36-38
          I really like the for different versions.
          I was molested when I was a kid and I was raped in my own bed when I was 17. I wasn’t forced to forgive them, but I tell you what – when I did I felt so free and happy again…! 🙂 He forgives our sins – when we forgive others it is for us – to FREE us from what they did. It’s hard, but it helps…

    • Shary – forgiveness is for us. It frees us to let God deal with our abusers and those who hurt us. It does not require a relationship, nor does it assume we need anything from them. We can forgive them, and free ourselves. They will answer for what they have done, not perhaps as we would imagine but our God is a just God. And while He pursues us seeking reconciliation He also dispenses justice. Being forgiven is not any more a free pass than living under grace is.

      I hear your hurt and your anger – and I’m praying for you. And sending you love.

  3. My now ex-husband I met when he was married to a woman carrying their 3rd child. I engaged in a relationship with him that I should not have. He ended up leaving his wife for me after their 3rd child, a son (John), was born. We married 3 years later and had one son together. About 15 months after John was born, he died unexpectedly of an acute infection (the anniversary of John’s death is tomorrow). John’s mom, demonstrated grace to me by allowing me to hold him both at the hospital after he died and at the funeral home to say my goodbyes. 12 years later my husband cheated on me…we divorced…he remarried again. I have been divorced now for 8 years and remain single, but in that time it has been weighing heavy on my heart to apologize to my ex-husband’s first ex-wife…the woman who showed me grace when I didn’t deserve it. I reached out to her to apologize and ask her forgiveness. Once again she showed me grace and accepted my apology and forgave me. She joined us at my son’s graduation from high school this past June. My son’s middle name is John in remembrance of his half-brother.
    What was also weighing heavy on my heart was the need to apologize to my ex-husband for something I said to him during our marriage in an argument when our marriage was deteriorating. Even though he was unfaithful to me with 2 different women and never once apologized much less even admitted to it, my words in this argument all these years later troubled me. I reached out to my ex-husband and offered that apology and asked for forgiveness. He appreciated my letter and accepted my apology and said all was forgiven. I can’t describe how amazing it feels to be free of those chains from my past! It was my responsibility to acknowledge my failures (my horrible choices), repent of them and repair the damage where I could. I felt I needed to be obedient in the call to do this and trust God for the outcome.
    The call to obedience and trusting God is something that doesn’t always come easy for me. I’m being challenged in that area in a different aspect of my life and I am truly struggling. I keep asking “why” and “what am I to do now” and those answers aren’t so obvious to me yet. So now I am in the wilderness of waiting, but God is good. All of this forgiveness unfolding now is part of my journey to healing…finding my voice. Perhaps some day I can share, “the rest of the story”.

    • “This call to obedience and trusting God is something that doesn’t always come easy …”

      Oh Jill, you just spoke it for all of us. It isn’t easy. But such a rich blessing comes in the obedience. Thank you for sharing so vulnerably. You are an encouragement to others watching. And I thank God for your freedom!

  4. Jill, how wonderful that you listened to God’s voice and obeyed!
    Sometime I will share a slice of my life with you. Right now, will you
    pray for healing in my relationships with my daughters? Thanks. (And I
    think you are a great writer yourself!) Mary

    • Mary…praying that there will be healing in your relationships with your daughters. This is a scripture verse I keep on my refrigerator to pray for my son and me. “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” Genesis 31:49. May the Lord keep watch between you and your daughters. (Thanks for your kind words and for sharing!)

  5. Jo Ann – I got caught up in reading the posts for the link-up that I neglected to leave you some love. A total oversight as I love your voice and your words. You inspire and encourage me.

    I have a question for you, and the lovely ladies who comment here: how do we pursue forgiveness as a parent or spouse or child when our dear ones are less forgiving, and see our forgiving as a weakness or as a way that we will be vulnerable to further abuse or people taking advantage of us?

    Some friends of mine today spoke of intergenerational grudge holding and revenge seeking as part of bullying and I wonder about your thoughts on that as well – how do we avoid those who would bully us into forgiving when we are not ready, or those who would advocate for revenge and grudge holding?

  6. Before this week’s topic on forgiveness gets away from me, I
    need to write my voice. I have forgiven my uncle and the paperboy for the long
    ago molestation in my childhood. But what shocked me, in this reading, was my harboring resentment against my mother. What had she done wrong? She had been the one to protect me. She had put a stop to it. Why was I resenting her?
    My resentment does not stem from what happened back then, but what is happening now. I resent my mother, because she keeps revisiting that time. My mother, my siblings and I have come to realize, likes to dwell in the past. Only, I don’t want to talk about the past; I want to talk about the present or the future. When I leave from visiting Mom or talking to her on the phone, I become depressed. And it is to the point, where I avoid calling her or don’t visit her without someone being along. Without sounding psychoanalytical, I can only surmise, the resentment stems from her using me, to get over her childhood hurts, as she was molested too. I can understand this, but I can’t keep being a part of it. I need to set boundaries. And, I need to forgive my Mom, for overstepping the mother/daughter boundaries (Just, as she needs to forgive her Mother too). Hugs

  7. Hi Joann, I’m not sure if you saw my post on the FB page but I had really been struggling with forgiveness during a difficult time. I really didn’t want to ‘forgive’ because I felt that I was right and didn’t understand why God would want me to do such a thing. i began to pray for Him to help me understand and He really opened my eyes and heart and led me to do a whole teaching on this topic.

    The video is on YouTube

  8. I left my boyfriend of 2 years, 6 months ago. He was abusing emotionally and verbally throughout the relationship. I loved him dearly and since we both are born again Christians, I stood by through thin and thick, all the way keep praying that God will one day soften his heart and change his behaviour.

    He had a lot of problems with his family, work and colleagues. And I was always there to comfort him. And when he decided to finally continue education, I was there to support him in every ways I could. Once he got accepted in the university,he dumped me because he wanted to concentrate in his study and had no time for relationship.

    I was hurt. This is the man that professed to love me and wanted to marry me and have babies with me. He trashed my dreams and threw them in the gutter. I endured mental and verbal abuse because I saw the best of him and believe that love will prevail and we will live happily ever after. Such a naive thoughts!

    And the most hurting part is because he never offer any apology for the abuse, no regret that things didn’t work out for us and no remorse for the way he was treating me. On the contrary, he seems to be happier than ever. He even told me that the relationship was a mistake anyway and the breakup has put him in the right path.

    I have long since given up on the hope for reconciliation, because the last time i saw him, I could see that he is still the same arrogant, selfish and abusive person and I knew that he will never change. I have finally forgiven him in my heart and even prayed for his happiness but I still can bring myself to talk to him or even look at him. Part of it is because in the past he always used any interaction as a mean to hurt me (through his words, actions and attitudes), even after we broke up. The other part is because I don’t want to be sucked back into his charms (he can be very charming when he wants) and get entangle in an abusive relationship once more. Is being unable to interact with him means that I haven’t forgiven him?

  9. I escaped my functioning alcoholic/abuser a month ago. I get the concept of forgiving him, and understand that I need to for me, I just don’t think I can. I don’t even want to think about him, but I do. I think about him and I hate him for me having to start my life over again, without his financial support.I hate him every time I go on a date because I’m always questioning a mans motives. Every time I hit a roadblock in all the new and rearranging of plans for my financial future, I hate him. Every time I cry, I hate him for it.I hate him that I now have to live with my hoarding mother. I hate him for causing me to find my comfort in food. I hate him for forcing me to leave my bestfriend and my cat behind. I hate him for everything I have gone through and everything I am going through. So, forgiveness just seems impossible.If I forgive him, I would probably take my own life. That is how sick he has made me. Even though I know nothing bad he ever said to me was true, but I often seconed guesed myself. I know my self worth, I know I deserve better, but to look at the bigger picture of the world, it make me hate men in general. I hate him that I’m always on guard, always having to be smarter because I can’t win physically against a man. I could go on and on, but forgiveness? Man! I just don’t know if I can. Everything I do triggers that anger and feeling of hate.

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