What Forgiveness Is–And What Forgiveness Isn’t

Today guest poster Angi Schneider tells her story about forgiveness–what it means and what it doesn’t mean. 

What Forgiveness Is: And what it isn't!One of the hardest things to do is to ask for forgiveness.  It’s easy to say “sorry”… but forgiveness, well, that’s something else entirely.

Neither my husband nor I grew up in homes where forgiveness was asked for or granted.  We really didn’t know what forgiveness is. In my home, we’d have a knock down, drag out fight (literally) and when it was over we’d either say “sorry” or just walk away. Then, we’d carry on with our lives like nothing ever happened.  Not the healthiest of situations.  (In my parent’s defense, they did not know Christ, and my Mom grew up in an orphanage which doesn’t lend itself to good parenting training.)

When I became a christian as a young adult, I became intrigued with this idea of forgiveness.  You see, when I asked for forgiveness from Christ, I not only received forgiveness but I also received peace. Peace was something that just saying “sorry” never gave me… and neither did acting like nothing ever happened.

When our oldest son was a preschooler and would need to apologize to someone, we were amazed at the number of times people would say, “It’s okay.”

Hmmmm, if it were “okay” he wouldn’t need to apologize.

And so we began a quest to instill Biblical forgiveness in our home. And let me tell you, it’s hard. It’s humbling. And it’s so worth it.

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Colossians 3:12-13

Saying “sorry” is not the same as asking for forgiveness.

“Sorry” can mean a lot of different things.  It can mean, “Will you please forgive me?” but it can also mean, “I’m sorry I got caught” or “I’m sorry you got your feelings hurt” or as one of my son’s said one time, “I’m sorry you made me so mad I had to hit you.”

Forgiveness starts with repentance. And repentance starts with a realization of wrong doing.  When I realize that I have mistreated someone, I have a choice to make. I can either pretend that nothing really happened or I can repent and apologize for what I have done.  In our family, it starts something like this:  “Husband (or children), I am really sorry I got frustrated (angry, short, etc.) with you.  I was not being kind (gentle, patient, compassionate, etc.) to you, the way God wants me to be.”  

We need to ask to be forgiven. Of course, forgiveness can be granted without the offender asking for it.  But, how will I know forgiveness has been granted?  How will I receive the peace that comes from knowing that I’ve been forgiven, if I don’t ask?  In our family, we say, “Will you please forgive me?”

We need to grant forgiveness when asked. I know, I know, sometimes you just don’t want to forgive… neither do I… some people just don’t deserve forgiveness.  BUT, I didn’t deserve God’s forgiveness and He granted it.  I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is important – and it brings peace.  For our family, the person who was wronged says something like, “I forgive you because Christ has forgiven me.”

For some of you, this may sound forced and insincere.  Let me assure you that it’s not.  Some of us who didn’t learn about giving and receiving forgiveness from our families need a little structure.

What forgiveness doesn’t mean.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what was done was okay – if it were, you wouldn’t need to ask for forgiveness.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that there are no consequences to the sin.  There are always consequences to sin and sometimes receiving forgiveness does not take those consequences away.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that the relationship will be just like it was.  Hopefully, the relationship will be better and healthier but that’s because both parties are working on it.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you’re a wimp.  On the contrary, it takes a strong person to do something as hard as granting, or seeking forgiveness.

We live in a culture that really doesn’t understand or practice forgiveness, even in the church.  Yet, forgiveness is vitally important in order to have healthy relationships.

 

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Angi Schneider is minister’s wife and homeschooling mom to 6 children.  She journals their homesteading and homeschooling adventures on her blog, SchneiderPeeps.  Angi is also the author of The Gardening Notebook which she wrote to help gardeners keep track of all their gardening information and dreams and The Busy Mom’s Guide ebook series to help other women discover their uniqueness, instead of continually comparing themselves to others –in real life and online.

Comments

  1. I love this. My husband and I always say “Don’t say ‘it’s ok’, say ‘I forgive you’”.

  2. I love this, too! Question, though. I have heard that you should not teach your children to say “I’m sorry” after every infraction, but not for the reasons you are suggesting: it’s more because you are often teaching them to lie. And also, if you have to FORCE them to say I’m sorry, the words lose a lot of their meaning. I’m just wondering what you do in your household to ensure that the requests for forgiveness stay genuine. Would you tell a toddler, “ask for forgiveness?” (I have a toddler in the house right now) or wait until they are maybe a little older and understand the concept of forgiveness before you even suggest that as a course of action? Just wondering what your thoughts are on this! I hear parents all the time at the playground tell their children, “say you’re sorry!” and I feel weird sometimes being the one who just keeps silent.

    • Hi Karen! Great question.

      I think what I’d do is to wait until you see that the child really is sorry, and then teach them what to do. We can tell when our kids are genuinely sorry. When they are, then you can tell them to “ask for forgiveness”, and explain what it is. Take them through the steps. But I think you have to judge whether the repentance is genuine or not first, and you usually can tell.

      And then also really model it to them. EVERYTIME you do anything wrong to them, apologize and ask for their forgiveness. Let them see you doing that with your husband, too. If they see it modelled they’ll get it. But I wouldn’t force it.

    • Karen, I think all parents struggle with this. Forgiveness is a hard concept, especially for young children who are so literal in their thinking. I’m of the opinion that just because they don’t understand it, doesn’t mean they don’t have to do it. In our household we start early but go gently. So, when our toddlers would hit or take something from someone we would talk to them about what they did wrong and then tell them that they need to say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

      As our children grow and the offenses are greater then we deal more with the heart. We let them delay asking for or granting forgiveness until they are ready. But here’s the deal at some point they have to be ready because unforgiveness is sin. I have a couple of children who have a hard time granting forgiveness and one who has a hard time thinking he ever needs to apologize – these are all teens. So, we give them space but we also hold them accountable to God’s word which says we must forgive.

      Remember, it’s a journey, not a sprint.
      Angi Schneider recently posted…In the Kitchen ~ the spring break editionMy Profile

  3. With all due respect, Sheila, I think I’d focus more on truth than feelings.

    As Angi wrote, forgiveness starts with repentance. To repent means I have to admit (and believe) that what I did was wrong. Repentance involves turning from that wrong to the right. It may look like, “It was wrong of me to speak harshly to you, and I’m sorry. God wants me to speak gently. Will you forgive me?”

    My boys are older now, but I do remember the toddler years :o) It requires more of us as parents to help them work through conflict than just “Say you’re sorry”. You might try asking your toddler, “Were you being kind to ____?” or “Were you showing love to _____?”

    It’s a tough thing with kids because we don’t want them just mouthing some words to get us off their backs! At the same time, right feelings follow right behavior. I need to train myself as well as my children to do the right thing whether or not I feel like it. That’s not being hypocritical, that’s being obedient.

    I’m not discounting the feelings entirely, I just think they need to be secondary.
    Julie
    Julie recently posted…A Day At Whidbey NASMy Profile

    • I would agree, but I don’t think that until they have really repented and made that decision that we can then have them work towards asking for forgiveness. Repentance needs to reflect the heart AND the actions, and I think that asking kids to do something when they’re not feeling it can instill a bad precedent in their understanding of God or the Christian life.

      At the same time, I do think that they can be shown that true reconciliation can’t happen until there is also true repentance, so they do bear the consequences. I’m not sure what that would look like; you’d have to take it on a case by case basis. But we always raised our girls to own their feelings and be true to them. Sometimes those feelings ARE wrong (out of the heart comes all kinds of wickedness; the heart is deceitful above all else, etc.) But to ask them to say the words of asking for forgiveness when they don’t mean it also sets a precedent where their relationship with God is based on what they do and not a truly repentant heart. It’s a tough thing.

      I always found, though, that when you explained things to kids, they apologized and repented right away! It wasn’t a tough sell usually!

      • Yep. Maybe that’s the key – helping them see/feel/bear the cost of the broken relationship. Although, as stubborn as my boys are, they might not CARE about breaking the relationship with their brothers (in the heat of the moment) so I’d probably stress their relationship with God – how their sin separates them from HIM, as well as from others.

        Now you’ve got me thinking about an old story I was going to post, that pertains to this. I’ll try to do that later today!

        Julie
        Julie recently posted…A Day At Whidbey NASMy Profile

  4. Thank you for this post. Gary Chapman and I have just come out with a book called, “When Sorry Isn’t Enough.” We talk about thorny questions like this: “Do I have to forgive someone who has not or will not apologize?” I’d be interested in hearing what you and your readers see in the Bible about this.

    • Sounds like a good (and much needed!) book! I’ve heard differing opinions on that forgiveness issue.

      We see forgiveness linked to confession (1 John 1:9 and Luke 17:3), and we also see that love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8), so we certainly CAN forgive those who haven’t repented or asked for it. But are we commanded to? I can’t find grounds for that.

      I asked a pastor about that once and his advice was great. We aren’t to be bitter or hold grudges. So on our end, we have to let it go. As pertains to the other person, he said, we should be right there on the threshold, ready to grant forgiveness if they ask.

      I think the harder part, really, is in the forgiving. That when we grant forgiveness, we have to LET IT GO. We’re not to bring it up again. I don’t know that it’s possible to completely forget, but we don’t dwell on it – we don’t rehearse it over and over. That’s why I think it’s kind of a tricky situation to forgive someone who hasn’t repented. Are we really letting it go? Should we? Sometimes YES, DEFINITELY. But that might not always be in their best interest. In fact, a verse just came up recently that I’d never noticed before. Leviticus 19:17-18 say, “Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

      We’ve all heard the “don’t seek revenge” and “don’t hold grudges” part, but I’d never noticed the “rebuke your brother frankly so you will not share in his guilt” part before. Not sure if that simply means that if we rebuke him badly, we’re just as guilty, or if it means by NOT rebuking him we share the guilt. Interesting, though, yah?

      Anyway, I’m very curious how you handle this in the book!

      Julie G
      Julie recently posted…Friends, Forgiveness, and ConsequencesMy Profile

    • Jennifer, thanks for mentioning your new book. I look forward to reading it. I really think biblical forgiveness is something that is very misunderstood in our culture today.
      Angi Schneider recently posted…In the Kitchen ~ the spring break editionMy Profile

  5. Stanley says:

    Good article Sheila! Can I ask you for forgiveness for being impatient with you?

  6. God said that when he forgives it is as if it never happened. We are suppose to forgive as God forgives. To me that means that when we forgive someone it is as if it never happened. And they are free to offend again.

    • In most cases, forgiveness does not erase the fault from a human perspective. God sets the “gold standard” that we are to aim for but nobody honestly expects to achieve that standard. (Those who talk like they do are, in my experience, often worst those who recognize they will not reach the target.)
      Minor faults can be “forgiven and forgotten” but repetitive offenses or more significant offenses can be forgiven – but there should be consequences.

      • … but repetitive offenses or more significant offenses can be forgiven – but there should be consequences. Yes consequences for the offender. That still does not relieve us (the offended) from the “gold standard” of if you forgive the offense it is as if it never happened.

        • Stanley says:

          Rob, I will add one last point. Both offended and offender should strive to be perfect (even if they know they know they will not be completely successful).
          If, however, the offender is “pressuring” the offended to be more like God (and clear the slate) that should raise all sorts of flags!

  7. When our kids were growing up we never just let them say, “sorry”….especially if it was snarky! They had to name what it was they did and ask for forgiveness. We continue practicing this as empty nesters…although hubs and I are pretty sensitive to not hurting one another…but still…name your sin, own it and ask for forgiveness! I had to do this most recently to a complete stranger…..talk about humbling! I’d been rude and hurtful and I asked for his forgiveness before we parted. He smiled and said, “sure, I love Jesus too!” Great post Angi!!!!!
    Diane@Peaceful Acres Farm recently posted…Yarn Along~Yarn FarmingMy Profile

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