How Can I Forgive?

A few days ago I received an email with just one question on it. “How can I forgive?” It was a great question to be asked and I have written a lengthy response in this post which I hope will benefit those who may struggle with the same challenge — forgiving those who have wounded us.Sun Feb 01 2015 01-31-08 GMT 0800More than any other relationship I have, marriage has been the context for some of my greatest forgiveness “challenges.” I suppose this is because I am most vulnerable to Edric. I love him so much that I hurt worst when he makes choices or speaks in ways that are unloving. He has said the same about me. Both of us are prone to selfishness and pride. Sometimes it isn’t big offenses but the little ones, piled up together over time that are injurious — the ones that need to be forgiven over and over again.

(Early years of marriage. We look like kids!)

Last month was a particularly rough time for us. Edric was very busy and caught up with work and responsibilities. He was easily irritated with me when I didn’t meet his “standards” for wifely duties or running our home. Normally, he is gracious and looks past my inefficiencies, choosing to highlight the positive. But since his spirit was unsettled by concerns over our finances and business decisions, he was easily jostled by things I would say and do that inconvenienced him.

My problem was I put up my own version of selfishness. When he was abrasive towards me, I retaliated with my magic force field, the one that placed a safe, emotional distance between us so I would not get hurt. My methods were things like curt, unaffectionate replies, silence, retreating to my hobbies and the children, and communicating disinterest in physical intimacy.

Edric recognized my methods as feminine forms of hostility and he felt like I wasn’t supportive of him. In fact he expressed this by saying, “It’s like you only love me when I am okay, when I am lovable. But you won’t cut me slack for my reactions when you know that I am struggling with an issue.” I have paraphrased what he said but that was the essence.

His statements were justifiable. Of course, I do love him. But the reality is I intended my responses to manipulate and pressure him. I forced upon him the expectation that he should ALWAYS be a spiritual leader, that he should be better than this, that he should pull himself together. I bailed out on him emotionally when I should have applied extra grace to attend to him, minister to him, and encourage him.

One of the things I appreciate about Edric is he won’t let us spiral downward. He will take action and drop every activity to make sure our marriage is where it ought to be — with Jesus Christ at its center. And that’s exactly what happened. First, he spent time in God’s Word to renew his spirit, and then he approached me, requesting that we discuss the state of our marriage and how to improve it.

Naturally, forgiveness was part of this interchange. I was blessed by Edric’s humility as he asked for my forgiveness. It convicted me to do the same. And then we made proposals on how to avoid falling into the same predicament.

This scene has been repeated many times in our marriage. We often come to a point where we must give forgiveness and receive it. There’s no way to move forward in our marriage if we don’t do so.

In John Piper’s book, This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence, he writes “Before a man and woman can live out the unique roles of headship and submission in a biblical and gracious way, they must experience what it means to build their lives on the vertical experience of God’s forgiveness and justification and promised help, and then bend it out horizontally to their spouse.” (Pg.44)

I like how he puts it. In marriage, we need to vertically experience God’s forgiveness, justification and help before we can bend these out horizontally towards our spouse. This actually makes the shape of a cross!

This past month I was tired of trying to be a “good wife.” I wanted a break. My focus was on myself and my capacities. However I was reminded that looking at myself can never be the answer. Apart from Christ, I am definitely NOT a good wife. “As it is written, ‘THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.'” (Romans 3:10-12 NASB)

Whether in the context of marriage or outside of it, the answer to the question how we can forgive is this: we can forgive because God first forgave us. Forgiveness is not a response to the degree of the offense so much as it is an acknowledgement of God’s forgiveness and mercy to us, then flowing that forgiveness and mercy outward, to others. Until we understand this it’s hard to forgive, especially when the offenses are serious and deeply painful.       (A few years after the rape)

Many of you who have followed this blog already know that I was once upon a time a victim of rape. Unlike a marriage where two people are of the same mind to repair it and right the wrongs suffered in it, there are forgiveness situations in life that do not involve the offending party apologizing for their sins against us. Instead we are left at a junction where we must make the choice to forgive regardless of whether the other person is sorry or not.

I knew that my rapists and abusers would not offer me their repentance. It is the same way for many of us who are betrayed, taken advantage of, deceived, or physically harmed by others. The likelihood of these persons returning to us in order to ask for an apology is slim to nil. To bank on this happening as the prerequisite to extending forgiveness only makes us a slave to a timetable of uncertainty.

Can we hope and pray that they will one day apologize, expressing deep remorse? Sure. But what are we going to do in the meantime? What is within our control?

What helped me make the choice to forgive was recognizing that I too was guilty, not of the same crimes committed against me, but of the same sinful disposition before God. Yet, God sent His Son to die for me. The Bible tells us “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”(Romans 5:8 NIV)

It also says, “In Him (Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us…” (Ephesians 1:7-8 NASB)

If God forgave me by giving his own Son to die for me, who was I not to forgive the hurt done against me? In Ephesians 4:32 it says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Therefore, I could take the same forgiveness bestowed upon me through Christ and turn it into the kindness and compassion needed to bestow the same forgiveness towards my offenders.

It’s hard to explain without sounding like a deranged person but my heart felt a miraculous compassion for my offenders when I realized that I was no better than they were before God. Anything that was righteous in me was due to Jesus Christ. However way I esteemed myself as better than they were wasn’t due to my own goodness. So I couldn’t elevate myself and think I was holier for not being a rapist, a murderer, a thief, an adulterer, etc.

I could understand the darkness that was in their hearts and how it held them captive to do what was wicked and ungodly. So this compassion I am referring to was about wanting them to come to know Jesus Christ. Why? So their lives could be transformed. So they would stop hurting others the way they hurt me. Just like them, I was once lost and dead in my sins until Jesus Christ saved me.

Ephesians 2:3-5 explains this very clearly. “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…”

We can punish people for the bad things they do to us by imposing external consequences like withholding forgiveness as a form of revenge, but this is a superficial fix to the real problem. First, people need Jesus Christ. Second, our unforgiveness is not the best form of justice if that is what we seek.

What do we hope to accomplish by clinging to unforgiveness? Is it to satisfy our sense of fairness? “You hurt me so I am not going to let you off that easily.” Or, “I want you to feel what it is like to be me.” Or, “I want you to pay for your sins before I forgive you.” We can require emotional or physical payment for the offenses done against us. But what if the persons we impose these upon are never reformed and never truly sorry for their crimes and wrong choices? Who is to know what the truthful condition of their hearts is in regards to repentance? The answer is we can’t guarantee either. This falls under the scope of God’s power and omniscience.

We need to consider, “Does UNforgiveness cause an offender to wake up to the reality of his or her wrong?” “Does UNforgiveness inspire them to pursue lasting change?” While our outcry for justice may demand penitence, might I suggest that we consider the ONE who has the power to effect change in the heart of a sinner and the capacity to execute real justice if the same sinner remains unrepentant.

“…Vindicate me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me. O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous; For the righteous God tries the hearts and minds. My shield is with God, Who saves the upright in heart. God is a righteous judge, And a God who has indignation every day. If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready…” (Psalms 7:8-12 NASB)

When several of my rapists were caught and put in jail, that was a good thing. Criminals need to be jailed to protect others from being victimized. But long before this happened, I chose to forgive them for what they did to me. I did my part to meet with the police and identify the gang members as best as I could, but if they were not caught, I believed God would deal with them. As for me, I didn’t want to remain a victim twice over — first as one who lost her innocence and virginity to cruel men, and second, as one who was defiled by her own bitterness.

Bitterness is so carcinogenic to the soul. “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15 NIV)

I recall attending a woman’s conference where the speaker talked about the characteristics of bitter people. They are like a cup of perpetually hot coffee, filled to the brim. Any circumstance, even the smallest ones cause a spill that hurts! No one likes to be around people like this! I’ve caught myself on several occasions “spilling” over with irritation towards my children when Edric and I have unresolved conflicts. My frustration and anger get channeled towards my kids. So the sooner I address what’s going on inside and arrest the anger, the quicker I can halt the defiling overspill.

When the root is bitterness, imagine what the fruit might be. Woodrow Kroll

I am not trying to make pain simplistic. Some of us have been through major trauma due to people’s betrayal, physical injury, thievery, immorality, etc. But I have also seen two sides of the same coin. I have been around people who refuse to forgive and observed how it aged them, turned them ugly, and paralyzed them from true healing. And I have been around people who have chosen to forgive the most hateful persons, people who deserved no less than total unforgiveness for their crimes and sins. Yet, the forgiveness extended transformed the hurting person into someone more beautiful inside and out. Furthermore, the choice to forgive advanced them towards healing. In the process of surrendering their anger, their hearts were opened up to love others. In certain instances, God allowed this grace-extended to cause repentance and change in the life of the offender, too (although this isn’t always the case).

Bitterness and love cannot be neighbors in our hearts. They cannot co-exist without fighting for occupancy of the entire space. We either let love win or bitterness will take over.  To say we can reserve a spot of anger for certain people or circumstances and still define ourselves as loving persons is to misunderstand the deceptiveness of anger. Sooner or later anger will conquer more ground and ease love out. Forgiveness, however, extracts the bitterness and makes room for love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 gives a definition of love, which includes a part that says, “love does not take into account a wrong suffered.”

What if an offense is repeated over and over again? Whenever Edric and I resolve our disputes, choosing to forgive one another and release the anger, we always hope that the same situations won’t happen again. But we don’t extend forgiveness by coupling it with an ultimatum that says, “You better not repeat the same mistake!”

After all, who can really make this demand without setting themselves up for greater hurt? We can’t control people’s mistakes, past, present, or future. We can’t control how remorseful they should be either. These are demands that make us more vulnerable to disappointment when we put conditions on forgiveness.

On the one hand, forgiveness is a decision “not to count one’s trespasses against us” as 1 Corinthians 13 puts it. It is extended in reference to a known offense. On the other hand, it is a state of being that extends forward, too. I have forgiven you and I will forgive you. It’s not saying I condone your sin or approve of your wrong choices. This isn’t about giving someone the license to keep hurting us either. (If a person is being battered or abused, they need to find a way to physically remove themselves from that situation and go somewhere safe or get help from someone who can effectively intervene.)

However, we can keep on forgiving because God continues to do so for us.

“For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.” (Psalms 86:5 NASB)

In summary…

  1. Forgiveness is possible because of what God has done for us. It is not contingent upon the degree of the offense done towards us or whether the offender asks for our forgiveness.
  1. The kindness and compassion to forgive comes when we recognize that ALL people, including ourselves, are lost in the darkness of sin apart from Jesus Christ.
  1. The option to withhold forgiveness does not accomplish the heart transformation of the offender or the justice we seek. Only God can cause a person to repent wholeheartedly and deal with someone who is unrepentant.
  1. Forgiveness liberates us from the bitterness which defiles us and those around us. We cannot say we are loving if we harbor resentment and anger – there is no room for both in our hearts.
  1. We can keep on forgiving just as God continues to offer his forgiveness to us.

In closing, let me end with a passage of Scripture that puts everything into perspective, and it centers around the personhood of Jesus Christ – what He went through for our sakes, His response to offenses done against him, how He surrendered Himself to God the Father, and what His death and resurrection accomplished for us.

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 2:21-24 NASB)

NOTE: If you are one who needs to ask for forgiveness, consider reading The Five Languages of Apology by authors Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas which explains that apologizing involves five aspects: expressing regret, accepting responsibility, making restitution, genuinely repenting, and requesting forgiveness.

34 thoughts on “How Can I Forgive?

  1. Hi Joy. Thank you for this article. It has really blessed me. May our hearts always be tender and forgiving, just as God in Christ has forgiven us.

  2. You are such a brave and humble soul, Joy. This is a subject that a lot of people can relate with, but not everyone would dare speak about the way you did here. You are such a blessing!

  3. I had lots of questions on why after following Christ . that I encounter fellow believers and hurt me physically and emotionally. Resulting to being hurt spiritually
    But every time I talk to God.He reminds me how I have hurt HIM over and over .yet HE forgives me

    1. Hi Joy, thank God for answering my questions through your article on how to forgive my husband every time he has done me wrong or he has uttered bad words to me. Now I do understand how to deal with it.

      You are really an instrument of God keep up the good work!

  4. Truly blessed by this article. I was reminded to forgive again and again those people who hurt me…just as Christ unconditionally love and has forgiven me.

  5. Hi Joy,

    When I first learned about the rape incident, I grieved and for a while, I cannot understand why God would allow His children to experience such hostility. But I want to thank you because you encourage me to forgive and continue to follow God!
    God bless you and your family!


  6. Hi Joy, thank you for this article. i really need it, i want to forgive and move on. May God bless you more :))

  7. thank you for blessing my life through your stories. They are inspiring and your transparency gives me encouragement and hope to continue looking unto our Lord Jesus Christ even if circumstances in my life are not okay.

    1. Thanks Matose! May God continue to enable you to make choices that honour him no matter what you are going through. We’re all in this together.

  8. Hi Joy,

    Your article is so refreshing. It reminds me of all the reasons why forgiving our offenders is really the will of the Lord. Sometimes our humanity can blind and deafen our decisions yet the love and mercy of God does not change at all. Please keep on inspiring more people, especially married women who are challenged with juggling so many responsibilities on a daily basis. God bless you more!

  9. Hi ,
    Beautifully written.
    I, too is undergoing the biggest battle of my life,
    And I am praying for God’s guidance on where he would lead me.
    I was diagnosed with cancer & my husband left me for my cousin that I have helped
    and was so close to me. There’s too many on my plate
    But I’m taking one day at a time .

    I still believe God is still God and will make all things beautiful in His Time.
    I still in process of forgiveness & letting go.
    Would appreciate to meet you one day .

    1. Dear Sister Mary,

      Please allow to comment co’z i can relate to your situation – it is really a big test for you, but I hope and pray that God will give you healing soonest. And remember whatever is taken from you didn’t belong to you and pray to your god that he will replace it with something better 🙂

    2. May God give you the grace to get through this time, Mary. I’m sorry to hear about your cancer and your husband. How devastating to go through all of that! But Im blessed by your belief that God can make everything beautiful in His Time, that thought in itself is a beautiful one to hear from you. May he also give you the grace and power to forgive.

  10. Thank you Joy for being an inspiration. ALL YOU have written here are true and precise . I have watched your husband handling topics on “On the Money” and i could tell that he is a very godly man. I have my own share of being betrayed by my parent, brother and the love if my life. I have forgiven my family but not forgotten. My x-partner i’ve forgotten but not forgiven even she’s thousand miles away with her new partner. She text me once in a while to greet me ” merry christmas” or “happy birthday” but i let her feel i do not exist in her life anymore. The reason behind this feeling is because she made a lot of promises for the future and i gave her all my 100% because of that promise. Then she broke all her promises. She was a chronic liar in all aspects. All the books that I’ve read and inspirational talks i’ve attended would tell me to stay away from these kind of people. So i think in my case will just let God take over because i have said my peace with her and told her to leave me alone.

    1. dear Mr. gigi

      Pls allow to share ideas and reading your comment i can assume you’re a man (gigi sounds like girls name :)) Nevertheless, you are right the easiest way to send msg that u do not want a relationship with someone is cut 0ff lines of communication. But willingness to keep the line of commuication open is a sign of mental strength and emotional maturity. It suggests a kind of security in yourself. An open line of communication provides better clarity as to where things stand if there is even remote chance of both of you getting back 2gether. Open line of comm can demonstrate that things can be different.. we are the MAN and we should be able to handle difficult situations. And that’s my advice to myself aswell. have a good day 🙂

    2. I’m sorry to hear about this Gigi, but by God’s grace, all of us can forgive. I pray you will be able too as well. It’s not easy to do so but the blessings are well worth it. May God’s hand be upon you as you move past this deeply painful event in your life…

      1. Thank you Joy. You are right. I even had psychiatric help before bec. of severe depression, but what really saved me was the GRACE of GOD. I think differently now and addicted to God’s word.

  11. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord. Our greatest example of love, hope and forgiveness.
    Thank you Joy, for this. You are indeed a blessing to many. May the Lord continue to bless your heart.
    God Bless you.

  12. Thank you Ms. Joy for this heartwarming and enlightening thoughts on forgiveness. Just this Monday, my husband and I had a big fight for a small thing. He confessed a sin he made and never will do it again. It’s kind of a vice I know that he is making. I gave up telling him to stop it because I was tired and I felt that I was already nagging. I was hoping for him that he himself will finally free that vice without me forcing him to stop. so finally he confessed it to me. My initial reaction was I not happy because he made a fool of me even though he knew I don’t like it. But then he keeps on doing it. He got mad at me because of that reaction I made. He was expecting me to be thankful instead to him for being honest because he promised he will not do it again ever. But I did the first reaction. I was actually disappointed because he made me feel nothing important, of my feelings for not liking that vice of him from the very start. I felt he just shrugged that of. In return, he was mad of my reaction and I feel that I don’t have the right to be mad about it. It’s like him saying I should feel happy to him not mad. he didn’t bother to listen to my feelings everytime we argue. it’s always like that. and he don;t want to talk about it and settle. everytime we argue like this, we just waited to let the steam die down and not talk about it like nothing happened. I feel that it’ll not be settled if we are not clear of our each others part. I don;t know but I hope my husband will realize that communication is very important. but he don;t want to communicate..

    1. Hi Cheekeegirl, I can understand how that is frustrating. I hope you will be encouraged by the power of prayer to effect change in the heart of your husband. It’s not our place to force change upon others because we can’t control people, especially our husbands. But as your husband sees your contagious love for the Lord and the peace and joy you have, he will be attracted to that in you and desire to change. So keep believing that he can change by the power of Christ. In the meantime, give your life to the Lord completely and surrender your husband to the Lord. He wants you both to have a happy marriage that is Christ-centered. But I can understand how that can be difficult when you are both on different pages, spiritually speaking. Don’t lose heart. Vices are very hard to get rid off when there’s no real desire to change and when the push comes externally (like when people are pressured to change). People need both the capacity and desire to change. The capacity comes from Jesus, who liberates us from our bondages, and then the desire comes when our hearts are transformed to want God’s will instead of our own bad habits and wrong perspectives. We all need to get to this point, so pray for your husband’s spiritual eyes to be opened. I’m sure he loves you and wants to do what is right but he has a very real struggle that is hard to overcome, and he needs Christ to help him do so.

  13. Very timely for what i am going through in the office…dealing with different personalities and back ground

  14. Worth reading! thank you for sharing about forgiveness. I can relate to your past experienced! I am happy to know you overcome and already forgave those people who have wronged and hurt you physically, emotionally and spiritually. Godbless you!

  15. Thank you Joy for sharing your life experiences without pretenses. You make me feel normal. My drgp leaders make me feel guilty because they project themselves as one living a life without sin which I could not follow. Sometimes, when I am in trouble, I would ask myself “if I were my leader, what would I do?” instead of asking what would Jesus do? That sets you apart.

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