We make forgiveness complicated. We want to put conditions on it. We hesitate to forgive because we imagine the consequences. It’s costly; that is certain.
Forgiveness is both a choice and a process. It’s a discipline. Anything we are disciplined about is a process of ongoing choices. It’s not just a habit we’re able to complete and check off our to do lists. Discipline requires engagement. Forgiveness can be difficult, When we keep it in the context of our relationship with God and his character, we attempt to keep our perspective as pure as possible. But it’s easy to get distracted.
I included the following in Fractured Into Wholeness:
We often want to highlight the personal benefits forgiveness has for us:
- To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that prisoner is you.
- The first to forgive is the strongest.
- Forgive not because the other person deserves forgiveness but because you deserve peace.
- Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
- Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
- Forgiveness doesn’t excuse the other person’s behavior but prevents their behavior from destroying your heart.
True forgiveness cannot be conditional. My forgiveness does not depend on my ex’s apology, behavior, or response. If it did, I would still be waiting, hanging onto burdensome weight and bitterness. The choice of forgiveness is deeply personal and generously sacrificial. Forgiveness is an ongoing attitude, like kindness, compassion, and patience. As the attitude invades our thoughts, it seeps out through our actions. Forgiveness in its purest form—and as God intends and models—is something we carry into each moment not simply something we grant after an offense.
The Bible says God will forgive us as we forgive others, but forgiving with the goal of getting God’s forgiveness in return is narrow-minded. It is similar to doing good with the primary goal of storing up treasures in heaven, to which the Bible also refers but does not set as the ultimate goal for doing good.
Forgiveness is a gift—an underserved gift—that has far-reaching blessings among people and within our hearts, minds, and souls. Forgiveness is like wind—difficult to see but impossible not to feel.
Forgiveness is redemptive love. It is grace in practice. Forgiveness doesn’t change the past but it does broaden the future. Forgiveness helps us move forward and grow, looping back to heal and reconcile what will be valued in our future while also letting go of what needs to stay in the past. Forgiveness doesn’t forget everything but, as we trust God to filter, we remember the truths that challenge and refine us, and we lay aside what God declares as out-of-season. When we keep what wasn’t intended for a new season, we invite rot to infect even the most beautiful things in our lives.
I watched the effects of this very thing. I was a casualty. When my ex allowed what was rotting in his life to sit in the darkness for too long without attending to it, the stench became too much. The only response seemed to be to throw out much more than the core culprits. And he lost some beautiful people and relationships in the purging process.
Reflecting on the journey up to this point, I cannot separate forgiveness and redemption. God has used every step of forgiveness as redemption. He challenged me to forgive when I wanted to hang on a little longer. He spurred me to put out feelers of repair and reconciliation and blessed me with clear answers in return. He revealed bits and pieces of what small things I was clenching in my fist. Most importantly, he taught me how to trust him for forgiveness, and he took me deeper in our relationship. Forgiveness, healing, and redemption revealed God’s character to me and made me more authentic—because the more completely we know God, the more authentically we become who he created us to become.
Forgiveness doesn’t change the need for safety and health, for boundaries and guidelines, but it loosens the binding on our hearts. It gives us freedom and peace, the ability to not return to a situation of hurt but to move forward into healing, and a vulnerability not to the person who harmed us but to God who will prune, mold, comfort, and challenge us.
The discipline of forgiveness is not about the content of what must be forgiven. It is about our relationship with God and trusting him through a process of healing, redemption, compassion, sacrifice, humility, strength, courage, and faithfulness. We don’t forgive because it makes us feel better. We forgive because we want to honor God’s example.
Forgiveness is God’s thing. He alone defines forgiveness, and he forgives in a broad yet pointed approach. Forgiveness is always redemptive, because God is redemptive. We forgive because God forgave, and he did it big. He does it big.
We tend to take a narrow-minded view of forgiveness. We primarily think of the difficulty of our forgiveness of others. When we start with our own perspective, we will always find the limitations of forgiveness. But when we start with God’s forgiveness, he widens our perspective. He reveals the scope of his forgiveness and how it directly impacts our lives. He positions forgiveness within his character, and we can’t ignore or separate it. God is forgiving. He is forgiveness.
He forgives us, and when we stand on the receiving side of forgiveness, it aligns our perspective with truth. We can’t deny the power of and access to forgiveness when we acknowledge God’s forgiveness. Like so many other disciplines, when we start with God and determine his character, we align our response. How could we not see the provision of his forgiveness and respond well?
But we still struggle with forgiveness, because we are human, and experiences hurt, and people hurt us, and it’s all a lot. Do not shame yourself because of the struggle with forgiveness. That struggle is likely an important part of the process. That struggle is part of the discipline. When we discipline ourselves in faith, it doesn’t mean we gladly embrace what we know God intends and invites. We have to get there with him. We need to wrestle. We need to doubt and question. That process strengthens our relationship.
Forgiveness is more about our relationship with God than our relationship with the one we must forgive. If we’re relying on him each step of the way, while it won’t be easy, he will guide us to forgive with healthy boundaries and healing. Because the interaction of forgiveness is more between us and God than us and another person. If we extend forgiveness well on God’s terms and honor him, we have his peace even in the middle of some tough seasons.
But always remember forgiveness is a discipline. It’s something you can embrace and extend every day of this life and still not completely master it. There is always room to grow. You can choose to forgive and you can process forgiveness in a series of choices. Both honor God.