Have You Really Forgiven Someone?

True ForgivenessI often hear people say, “Oh, I forgave him/her.” But sometimes I doubt the truth or reality of their words. It’s not that I don’t think they’re being sincere. It’s just that I think many people believe that forgiveness is simply a decision and nothing more. 

Here’s why I think there’s more forgiveness work to be done . . .

I hear these same people talk about:

  • How angry this person they have forgiven makes them feel … or
  • How frustrated they are in getting this person to change … or
  • Both!

Although forgiveness is initiated and held by a decision …

[Tweet “True forgiveness is a process—and often a lengthy one at that!”]

Forgiveness is like driving your car. You get behind the wheel and start the engine (the decision to forgive). But you don’t want to just sit there with your engine running, going nowhere. In order to really drive, you must also put your car in gear, put your foot on the accelerator, turn the steering wheel, as well as a hundred other choices. In other words, driving a car, like forgiveness, is not just a decision—it is also a process.

Now I’m not saying that you won’t feel anger toward the person you’re forgiving nor want the person to change while you’re still in process. But I am saying that once you’ve completed the process of forgiveness, you will feel an acceptance of that person and your situation that is not fueled by anger or frustration. Instead, it is driven by your faith in God to protect and provide for you.

So if you’re continuing to feel anger or frustration, then you probably need to put your “car” in reverse and do some more forgiveness work (especially if you’ve just gotten broad-sided by your offender again).

Most importantly, we need to remember that forgiveness is facilitated and empowered by God. He is like the gas in our engine.

  1. Without God doing a work in our hearts (filling us with mercy, compassion, insight into our offender and our own capacity for sin), we will constantly take offense at this person’s actions.
  2. Without God inspiring us to change the things we have power over (like setting boundaries, seeking perspective, grieving our losses, humbling ourselves, responding rather than reacting), we will feel like a victim.

One more thing, forgiveness in marriage—especially messy marriage—is an ongoing, daily process. Just as we are committed to love our spouses for a lifetime, we need to commit to the task of forgiveness for a lifetime.

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13 (NIV)

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