Six Guidelines for Forgiveness

Practicing forgiveness is one of the most powerful ways a person can stay emotionally healthy.  This is the most effective way to release negative emotions like anger, resentment, hurt and unloved.  Because this is such an important part of healthy relationships I want to give some guidelines on forgiveness:

  1. Forgiveness is a choice – We seldom feel like forgiving someone that offended us or hurt us.  It is an act of our will to let go of the the offense.
  2. Forgiveness is a matter of stewardship – Colossians 3:13 says “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  Because we have been forgiven, we should forgive others.  We often choose not to forgive because the person that hurt us does not deserve to be forgiven.  The truth is that no one deserves to be forgiven.  When we remember the grace that God gave us it can help us to extend that kind of grace and forgivenees to others.
  3. We should forgive whether or not our offender asks for forgiveness – Jesus forgave the people that abused him and nailed him to a cross.  Forgiveness is not based on whether our offender deserves our forgiveness or whether or not they ask for it.  We are to forgive because we have been forgiven.  Forgiveness releases negative emotions and when we wait for someone to ask for forgiveness those negative emotions can cause much damage to our emotional state and relationships.
  4. We should not make our forgiveness conditional – God forgave us with no strings attached, we should do the same.  We should not say:
    • I’ll forgive you if you promise to never do it again
    • I’ll forgive you if you clean the house.
    • I’ll forgive you but I’m going to sulk for days
    • I’ll forgive you but only after I tell you everyone what you did
    • I’ll forgive you this time but not if you do it again.

Genuine forgiveness never involves an if or but.

5.  It is OK to share with our offender how deeply we were hurt by what happened – We shouldn’t put conditions on forgiveness, but it is healthy to share with the offender how much you were hurt.  It is also healthy to set boundaries with people that have hurt us, so that it does not happen again. If someone has been beating you physically there needs to be clear boundaries so that does not happen again, and if it does there are clear consequences.

6.  Forgiving does not mean forgetting – Just because you forgive, does not mean you forget.  It is the first step toward forgetting.  Usually there needs to be a time of rebuilding trust with the person that hurt us.  This can take time and require clear boundaries.  Forgiving means I am choosing to release the offense or cancel the debt.  The person does not owe me anything anymore.  There is great freedom when you practice genuine forgiveness.