3 Lies We Believe About Forgiveness

Forgiveness is one of the greatest struggles we experience as humans. When you’ve been deeply wounded by someone else, forgiveness can be a consuming battle. Maybe this is you today. Maybe you have a fresh wound that’s bleeding out. Maybe you have an old wound that is scarring over, but you feel the resentment and bitterness still festering under the surface.

You might be asking yourself, what does it even mean to forgive? Maybe you know you should forgive, maybe you even want to, but you cannot for the life of you make forgiveness happen in your heart. Saying the words, “I forgive” doesn’t magically make it happen.

There are many lies that can keep us stuck in the battle of forgiveness. Let’s look at three of them. Read through these slowly, inviting the Holy Spirit to touch your wounds.        

Lie #1: The person needs to acknowledge what they did wrong.

When you’ve been wounded by someone, you long to hear the simple words, “I’m sorry. What I did was wrong. Will you forgive me?” Those words feel necessary for the act of forgiveness to occur. But the truth is they are not, because the other person may never say them. The person may never acknowledge or view their actions towards you as sinful. Your forgiveness is not dependent on anything the other person does or does not do. Reconciliation is different from forgiveness and a topic for another blog post. Forgiveness is a release in your own heart that happens between you and God. 

Truth: Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Sit with that truth as long as you need. When you’re ready, let’s address another lie.

Lie #2: Forgiveness is something I have to figure out how to do.

Scripture makes it clear that forgiveness is a big deal to God. Immediately after Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, he said, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Yikes. That’s some motivation for you.

But what if you don’t know how to forgive? Here’s the good news. It’s not a choice between A.) Refusing to forgive and B.) Figuring out how to forgive.

Truth: Forgiveness is a work of the Holy Spirit that God does in us.

We choose to either refuse that work, or to open ourselves up to that work of the Holy Spirit in us. We don’t have to figure out forgiveness, because it is not a logical thing. We choose the path of forgiveness because we know it is right. Then we do two things:

1.    We wait on God. His timetable may be very different from ours. But we trust that he will do the work in us.

2.    We open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit by putting ourselves in environments that foster it. We read and meditate on forgiveness Scriptures. We meet with Christian counselors and spiritual directors. We read books and listen to sermons on forgiveness. We go on spiritual retreat to give space for God’s deep work in us. We do these things not to achieve the work of forgiveness but to open ourselves to God doing that work in us.   

Whew, doesn’t it feel lighter to see forgiveness that way?

When you’re ready, here’s one more lie for you today.

Lie #3: I can’t forgive, because I’m living in the effects of their sin.

It’s one thing to forgive something that’s over and done. It’s another thing to forgive sin that causes you current hardship or pain. That’s the perfect setting to keep resentment boiling.

Here’s the mysterious thing that happens when you’re a child of God. He invites you to trust this audacious truth:

Truth: “That every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Roman 8:28 

Can you dare to believe that God allowed this hardship and pain, not simply as the consequences for someone’s sin, but as an invitation for the transformation of your soul? Could the brokenness you feel be cracks letting in the love of God to the depths of your heart? Does the God you know take ugly things and bring about goodness? Can you cling to this truth without knowing the when or how? Can you hang in the waiting, knowing that God is with you, and that is enough?

This past weekend, the Velvet Ashes community did our annual Unplugged Retreat. In it, we explored the Lord’s Prayer and the meaning of “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If forgiveness is a struggle for you, this retreat is a perfect opportunity to open yourself to the work of the Holy Spirit. You can find this Unplugged Retreat called “Jesus and Prayer” here.

You’re invited to debrief with us in our Live Retreat Debrief Thursday Oct 14 at 9am Eastern as we process our experiences together. You’ll receive the link when you register. We’d also love to hear about your retreat experience in the comments below.

Which of these lies and truths resonate with your story?

What other lies do we believe about forgiveness?

What has God done in your life in the area of forgiveness?   

Photo by Xiaolong Wong on Unsplash

3 Comments

  1. Phyllis October 12, 2021

    Thank you. I needed this. Do you have any books about forgiveness that you recommend?

    1. Danielle Wheeler October 13, 2021

      1. Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall
      2. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun has a section on forgiveness that’s very helpful with further resources listed.
      3. Forgiving What You Can’t Forget by Lysa Terkeurst. I haven’t read this one yet, it’s on my list. But I’ve heard good things.

      Hope this is helpful. May the Lord’s presence guide and comfort you on your forgiveness journey.

  2. Danielle Wheeler October 13, 2021

    1. Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall
    2. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun has a section on forgiveness that’s very helpful with further resources listed.
    3. Forgiving What You Can’t Forget by Lysa Terkeurst. I haven’t read this one yet, it’s on my list. But I’ve heard good things.

    Hope this is helpful. May the Lord’s presence guide and comfort you on your forgiveness journey.

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