As a counselor and a student of the Bible over the years, I recognized that there are three kinds of forgiveness:
- From God
- From a person you have offended
- To another person when you have felt offended
In this chapter we will share verses about these three distinctives of forgiveness and give you specific language you can use to experience all three kinds of forgiveness. We will also look at what we can do when we get it wrong (which is hard to swallow but it does happen) and give you words to repair damage. We want to equip you for every conversation you have.
The first level of forgiveness we experience is when we become believers and ask God’s forgiveness for the things we’ve done—past, present, and future. We thank Him for His forgiveness and recognize that we need it. We believe in the One who can grant forgiveness that no other god or religious spirit could touch. And it’s this primary need to find forgiveness in God that enables us to go on to the next steps. Without it, we don’t have the capability or the heart to forgive others or ask for forgiveness ourselves.
The second kind of forgiveness is when we have offended someone and take the steps to clear our offense by a three-step process. This is what I taught Blythe and her brother when they were children. Even children can follow this because of how practical it is. It doesn’t need to be a long, drawn-out process. But clearly and simply articulating these words will be so helpful.
- “I was wrong. I am sorry. Will you forgive me?”
- “I have offended you by (lack of love, my bitterness, and the like). I am sorry. Will you forgive me?”
Asking the person you have wronged this final question brings closure even if they say no, they won’t forgive you. You’ve asked the question, and that completes it for you regardless of their reasons. Sometimes we don’t get the forgiveness we ask for, and it’s hard to understand why someone would want to hold on to their anger or resentment for months, years, or even a lifetime. We have all heard stories about those who hold on to unforgiveness, and we can see the negative spiral their life takes. I’ve known people who have harbored unforgiveness in their hearts for years, and sometimes they are very sick and are still unwilling to forgive. I’ve seen people in their last days extend forgiveness, and I have witnessed what an impact it’s had on a family member.
We don’t want to wait until we’re in a desperate situation to extend forgiveness. Not only does forgiveness restore the relationship between you, but it points to the forgiveness we have experienced with God. And it’s another way to follow God and practice obedience by giving the forgiveness He has extended to us.
Unforgiveness is toxic for both you and those around you, in addition to the one(s) you aren’t forgiving. The poison goes deep and wide and impacts future generations if you don’t take care of it in your heart. In the very difficult times with my mother, I remember knowing I needed to forgive her—whether she ever asked my forgiveness or not.
I can think of other numerous situations in which some mothers and daughters have refused to forgive, therefore resisting the grace that comes when we forgive someone who may or may not deserve it. They won’t let go for various reasons. One reason is that the toxins fuel their fire, and if they let go, it will be necessary to live without their scapegoat. Many people want to blame someone else for all the things that are wrong in their life. Not to forgive another is a lot about power and control as well. Unforgiveness is a huge red flag in our mental, social, and emotional health. It’s unhealthy and damaging to those around us, but especially to our own hearts. A healthy stream of water becomes toxic when toxic materials run through it. So we encourage you to process any unforgiveness and ask the Lord to bring light and understanding for what is beneath it—and the courage to choose to set someone free.
The third area of forgiveness is the most subtle and difficult: when we are the victim. This is when we need to forgive someone who has hurt and offended us. They may never even apologize or make amends. They may be deceased or in jail or another place you can’t reach them or oblivious to their offense. But we remain their prisoner until we let the offense go. There are so many women with “mother wounds” because of the unfinished work of forgiveness.
The good news here is that even if your mother or daughter has wounded you and they never ask your forgiveness, you can be set free. You can forgive them. You don’t have control over them or their choices, but you do have control over what you do. Your ability to forgive your mother or daughter determines how you experience life, walking around free rather than with an enslaved mentality. There will be a lightness to your walk when you aren’t carrying around the weight of your thoughts about her and why she won’t initiate asking forgiveness.
We have to remember that sometimes people become blind to their own faults. If they have hurt you and probably others, they may have blinders on when it comes to their actions. You could tell them (and maybe you have) all day long that they have hurt you. But there is something in their spirit that isn’t hearing you or accepting their participation in hurting you, and that will not change no matter how many times you bring it up. There is a spirit in their heart that is rejecting any responsibility for hurting you. However, you aren’t stuck there. They may be, but you aren’t.
Then there are some who are oblivious to hurting you because they have done it for so long that it’s no different from getting up and getting ready for work that day. It’s part of their life. So you will want to point out to them in a time when you have a settled spirit and in a kind and loving way something along these lines: “Mom, I know you may not recognize how you hurt me with your words, but it does hurt. I choose to let them fall away, and I don’t hold on to them in my life. I forgive you.” Your choosing to forgive her is not contingent upon her asking you for forgiveness. You don’t have to receive the words “Will you forgive me?” in order to issue them yourself, and this is what is powerful about this exercise.
Or you can say, “As your mother, you know I love you and want you to be happy and to have the very best in your life. But there have been times that your willingness to say or do whatever it takes to get there has hurt me. When you said _________________ or when you left the house without explanation, it hurt me deeply. You aren’t responsible for my emotions, but I’ve held back from you the hurt I’ve felt, and what I want for you is to have good relationships in your life and that nothing is missing in ours. I forgive you and ask you to forgive me for any hurt I’ve caused you.”