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What Does It Mean To Really Forgive?

Originally published Tuesday, 19 August 2014.

Are you still in contact with your mom?  What about your father?

I never know what the person who's asking thinks about my answer.  It ties my stomach up in knots and my head feels tight because I know people have certain expectations of what it means to forgive.

It's not just about my parents, you know.  It's the whole question of what to do about people who aren't "safe".  It could be a girlfriend, a parent at school, a co-worker, a friend at church, or your in-laws and relatives -- or even your grown-up adult-children and spouse.

What does it mean to really forgive?

What Does It Really Mean?

As I continue to do interviews about Finding Spiritual Whitespace (I've done 17 interviews now in 5 weeks since its release), one topic frequently comes up:  forgiveness. It's usually asked in different ways --

Have you forgiven your mother and father?

Have you forgiven those who have hurt you?

How has forgiveness played a role in your story?

The simple answer is this: Yes, I have forgiven them.

But, what does the word "forgiveness" mean when people use it?

Does forgiveness mean that the memory of what and who hurt you are obliterated from your story -- and you should never speak about it?

Or does it mean you perform some sort of spiritual lobotomy and you no longer suffer the pain of what was lost or the hurt and disappointment of what was broken?

How do you know if you've really forgiven someone?  Does it mean you need to reconcile and re-engage with them -- as if the offense never occurred?

In some cases, yes.  There can be reconciliation when the person who hurt you has understood the pain that was caused and wants to make amends and repair the trust that was broken.

In other cases, no.  Reconciliation may not be possible. For a season. Or longer.

Where Life Flows

Forgiveness does not mean trust is freely granted or automatically restored.

Forgiveness does not mean you don't have boundaries, if their actions are unhealthy or cause you emotional, spiritual, physical harm. Forgiveness does not mean giving someone who has hurt you license to hurt you again.

Forgiveness does not mean open borders to toxicity, fear or intimidation to manipulate you into being the friend, girlfriend, co-worker, daughter, ministry worker, wife, ... (fill in the blank), fashioned in someone else's image.

You and I were made with beauty, worth, love and kindness in mind.  We are God's sweet child, made with intention, with an eye to details that make us works of art.

We need to guard our hearts, because that is where God speaks to us and where life flows. Proverbs 4:23

What Jesus Meant

I've been asking Jesus what He meant when He taught in the Lord's prayer --

"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." Matt. 6:12

I think  about the word debt.  Forgiving someone's debt means taking the offense off the "this person owe's me an apology".  It means I cross it off as "paid in full".

Instead of waiting or expecting the offending person responsible to love me back, take me back, stop hurting me -- to give me acceptance or belonging I long for -- I am now looking to Jesus to restore what was lost to me.

I'm looking to Jesus to restore the love, acceptance, understanding and belonging I need as I create a new life with Him.  And Jesus is providing these soul needs from new friends, spiritual mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers, who offer me hands of friendship and family.

What I say in  interviews to questions about forgiveness is this --

Forgiveness is an act of the will.  Out of obedience.  To release the person from owing you anything.  To no longer want payment in some way for what others took from you, broke or hurt in you.
But, forgiveness does not mean you no longer hurt. Forgiveness does not mean we don't talk about it. Forgiveness does not mean we hide our stories.  And pretend it didn't happen.
We're all broken in some way.  We all have wounds. So, we still have to take the journey to heal, to grieve, and cry -- in order to find what's beautiful, to awaken our hearts to what's real. So, we can take better care of ourselves. To feed our souls. And begin to dream again.
People (listeners and readers) should not feel guilty for feeling sad, depressed or angry because of what has happened to them. Having these feelings doesn't mean they haven't forgiven. It means they're just human.

God's Place of Rest

What the world needs isn't a pain-free version of our stories. It longs to see beauty in the broken. It longs to know what's lost can be loved & found again.

What the world needs is an compassionate, open heart that makes space to share real stories. People are suspicious of someone who isn't touched by brokenness.

Jesus knew this. That is why Jesus lived and even resurrected with a broken body and a broken story of pain, suffering and betrayal. Every story we read in the Bible echoes brokenness as it sings the amazing song of a God who makes us His place of rest.

You and I are God's place of rest.

As is.

A More Beautiful Place

Maybe this world would become a more beautiful and safer place -- if we were more willing to take one step out into the open. And invite others to not be so afraid.

Because with a loving, tender God, intimate with our losses (our debt), we can bring every chapter of our stories to Him and each other. The broken ones as well as beautiful ones. Because you and I carry both.  The broken and the beautiful.

This is what was on my heart these last week, while living my everyday life with two boys home for the summer -- as we survive on Legos, goldfish, and popsicles that make them sugar-giggly.

Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness is a movement to remember.  We don't have to carry the burden of perfection.

We can create spiritual whitespace -- to make room to receive from God what we've lost. To feed our souls with what we need.  So we can live as God intended for us:  alive and guilt-free.

Say goodbye to the prison of waiting for reconciliation before you live a life of joy.

God honors your scars and your story.

Give yourself permission to be happy. Even if the current chapter of forgiveness may still be lined with tears.

 "Out of the depths I cry out to you, O Lord. Hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry...

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word, I put my hope.

My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, ..

Put your hope in the Lord, f
or with the Lord is unfailing love

and with him is full redemption."
~Psalm 130


How would forgiveness free up spiritual whitespace -- room to rest and nurture your soul?  

Pull up a chair. Share a comment below. Let's enjoy a quiet conversation.


 For inspiration to explore new ways to rejunvenate intimacy with God and find your voice, order a copy of Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul To Rest, has garnered starred review praise from Publisher’s Weekly, listing Bonnie Gray as one of the Top 6 notable new religion authors.  This memoir-driven guidebook book for rest is for anyone longing to create space to draw closer to God, for themselves, for rest. Learn how a life-long dream unexpectedly launched Bonnie into a debilitating anxiety and painful childhood memoires to discover a better story of rest. Visit TheBonnieGray.com to learn more. 

"Whitespace is soul grace. Bonnie Gray ushers weary women into the real possibility." - Ann Voskamp, NY Times bestsellng author of One Thousand Gifts

"If you want to hear Jesus speak more tenderly to your soul than ever befrore, this is the book for you." - Lysa TerKeurst, NY Times bestseller author of Unglued

Bonnie Gray is the soulful writer behind FaithBarista.com serving up shots of faith for the daily grind.  She is a contributor at DaySpring (in)courage, her work spotighted by Christianity Today and nationally syndicated through McClatchy-Tribune News Services. After graduating from UCLA, Bonnie served as a missionary, ministry entrepreneur, and Silicon Valley high-tech professional. She lives in Northern California with her husband, Eric, and their two sons.

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Today's post is part of a special Book Launch Series {21 Days of Rest: Finding Spiritual Whitespace}.  Click here to read Day 1 and the entire series on rest.