What Does It Mean to Forgive?

Forgiveness: the action or process of forgiving or being forgiven.

When someone you care about hurts you, or you hurt them, the wounded person has a choice:

  1. forgive,
  2. stay and punish the offender, or
  3. walk away.

If the relationship is worth keeping, then forgiveness is the only choice.

But what does it mean to forgive?

forgiveness_2The dictionary tells us that to forgive means to “stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake” or to “cancel a debt.”

Wikipedia says that “Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.”

Both of these definitions refer to a change in feelings–the giving up of anger and resentment. Not easy at all. Human emotions are powerful things.

It's a process.

It's a choice. Intentional and voluntary.

And once the heat of initial hurt and anger are past, the choice to forgive–which is the choice to preserve the relationship–is relatively easy. (That is, the choice to begin the process of forgiving is easy. Certainly it takes time, intention, and effort.)

The harder question, though, is whether the memory of the “forgiven” offense will change the nature of the relationship going forward.

How often have you heard someone say, “I've forgiven, but I haven't forgotten”? How often have you said it yourself? I know I have. Usually what we mean is we “forgive” the person who's hurt us, but we won't let ourselves forget, because we must protect ourselves against future hurt. We're not going to demand justice and we're going to stay in the relationship, but we'll make darned sure that person doesn't hurt us again. By definition, we are putting up walls intended to protect ourself against this person we care about enough to keep him or her in our life.

But what does that act of self-preservation do to the relationship? Is the relationship forever changed? Are we keeping that person at a distance in order to protect ourselves against pain?

When we say “I forgive, but I don’t forget,” are we really forgiving?

Does truly forgiving an offense really mean we don’t take it into account at all in our interactions with the “forgiven” person?

That’s how God forgives—when his holy nature is offended by my sin, he chooses to forgive and to forget.

Heb. 8:12: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”


Psalm 103:11-12: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

When God forgives, the offense no longer has any effect on the relationship between the forgiver (God) and the forgiven (us).

In Isaiah 43:25, God tells his people this: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sin no more.” He says he does this for his own sake (maybe because he values the relationship and wants to sustain it?)–he chooses to not just forgive, but to blot out the offenses and remember them no more.

Is there a difference between forgetting and “remembering no more”? Is it that forgetting is something that happens to you, an almost involuntary event that occurs as time passes, but to “remember no more” is a voluntary act, just like the act of forgiving? God chooses to remember no more. He chooses to put the memory of the offense away and never look at it again. That's so different from the way we act–we allow the memory to return, and we rehearse it, turn it over in our minds, actually relive it.

If our standard of behavior is God (rather than each other), it's reasonable to assume that his approach is how we should respond when someone wrongs us: forgive and forget. But are we humans even capable of this? Certainly we can make the choice to forgive, to do the hard, hard work of purposely surrendering our anger and resentment, to welcome the offender into our lives and to actually stop thinking of him/her as an offender. These things are an act of the will, and we can control our will. We can choose. It's a process, certainly. Because we are human, the wounds continue to hurt, and we must choose, over and over again, to forgive, to let the feelings of hurt go.

But even if we've done that, can we follow God's example and forgive to the extent that we no longer take the (forgiven) offense into account in our interactions with that person, that it no longer colors our perceptions of who this person is and where this person fits in our life and in our heart?

I don't know.

But what’s the alternative? If we can’t truly forgive, can the relationship survive? Or does it become something else, something less than it was before the offense occurred?

And if so, are we okay with that?

What do you think? How do you deal with the process of forgiving (and forgetting?) the offenses of the people you love? What happens to a relationship if we choose to forgive but not forget?

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Greenville, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . .
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Twitter: @LauraMcMom

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Only For the Weak

I've been thinking lately about what it means to be a Christian, and what it takes to be a “good” Christian. I've spent a lot of time in church from my childhood, been involved in ministry in one capacity or another for a lot of years, listened to a lot of sermons.

100_1458One of the things I've struggled with over the years is finding the right balance between “works” and grace. I believe we are saved by grace alone, “not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:9). But I've heard it taught, and I believe, that those who've accepted that grace have an obligation to “live a life worth of the calling . . .” (Ephesians 4:1). And sometimes–maybe not for you, but certainly for me–it's hard to live that worthy life.

When I struggle to be the kind of person that I long to be, I appreciate the lyrics of a song called “Only for the Weak,” recorded by Avalon (click on the title to hear it in YouTube):

“Some say it's rules and regulations, and trying to always be right,
No room for mistakes in the choices we make,
Only the strong survive.
But it's not about perfect performance or resolution of will,
It's all about surrender,
Giving up, being still.

It's only for the weak, for the faint of heart,
Those driven to their knees, those who live with scars.
There's power from beyond, we're certain where it's from,
And that's our source of strength.
Before we follow Christ, we need to be advised
It's only for the weak.”

I guess the point is that while what we do matters, Christianity is based on grace. And grace means that ultimately it's not about what we do, but what He's done.

I am grateful that I don't have to have it all together all the time.

How about you?
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Greenville, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . .
Legal Blog: Real Estate Law Blog
Twitter: @LauraMcMom
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Raising Ragpickers – Guest Post by Staci Stallings

I'm so pleased to welcome author Staci Stallings back to I Was Just Thinking . . . (see her first guest post here). I hope you enjoy her thoughts–leave a comment below to let her (and me) know what you think. Also, note the link near the bottom of the post for a chance to win great prizes!

The savior in Og Mandino’s The Greatest Miracle in the World is a mysterious old man with an affinity for what he calls human rags. In the story Og is the rag—an ambitious, successful magazine publisher who is burning out faster than a candle in water. The irony is that his magazine is about Success, but he’s become increasingly dissatisfied with everything in his life. And then his ragpicker shows up.

It’s not hard to see that our world does a good job of making millions upon millions feel like rags. We are washed up, tired, empty, and worn out. It is as if the human rag pile is ten miles high and getting higher by the moment. It would seem to be evident that the world needs more ragpickers—those people who are not only not on the rag heap, but who can help those who are on it to get off.

After reading The Greatest Miracle in the World, I determined for myself that I would be a ragpicker to the best of my ability. What I soon learned is that as a role model for my three kids, I am daily showing them how to be ragpickers as well. That was not my original intention, but it’s working.

My oldest daughter came home from school one day when she was in second grade, and we were talking about recess. She was telling me about the “groups” the kids had formed. One was the cheerleading group. One was the acting group, one was the sports group, and on and on. She was telling me how she had been playing with one little girl who had gotten thrown out of her group for not following all the rules.

I asked her what the two of them did, and she said, “Oh, we just sat under the tree and dug for worms.”

I, feeling my parental concern for her well-being, said, “Well, Stef, what group are you in?”

To which she replied, “Oh, I’m not in a group. I just play with whoever the others don’t want to play with.”

Of course, I want my child to feel a part of things, and so I said, “Don’t you want to be in a group?”

She just shrugged. “Not really. There’s always someone to play with because the groups are always mad at somebody.”

It was then that I realized she was a ragpicker! She wasn’t desperately trying to be a part of what the world said she had to be. No, she was content to be herself and to pick up the rags until they felt loved enough to go back to the group.

Since then, I have seen on more than one occasion the respect her peers have for her. One little boy at a birthday party told my husband that “Stefani must have never been around any mean person because it doesn’t matter what happens, she has never been mean to me.” (This was a little boy with severe ADHD that the teachers were in complete exasperation how to handle. One teacher told me she had put Stefani by him because Stef could deal with him when no one else could.)

Then there was another little boy in her class who was a bit slow with learning. That year the teacher told me that she had put Stefani by this little boy because Stef just naturally helped him when he got lost on the instructions. The teacher said, “She is just so patient with him. It amazes me.”

The other night we were at the school for an open house, and we were hanging out talking. One little boy said to Stefani, “You were saying the other day how much you were screaming about something. That’s weird. I just can’t picture you screaming about anything. Stefani. Screaming. They just don’t even go together.”

I can’t say that I did it, but I’d like to give some credit to Mr. Mandino for helping me to decide to be a ragpicker myself. I think it was the key to teaching me to raise ragpickers, and I will forever be grateful for that lesson.


Staci Stallings, the author of this article, is a #1 Best Selling author and the co-founder of, a new website that gives Christian readers and authors a place to meet and fellowship. With a newsletter, a blog, a forum, and other exciting, inspiring areas to visit, CrossReads visitors can find fabulous Christian books they never knew existed. Come over on Feb. 12-14, and enter to win one of 169 virtual baskets of ebooks, gift cards, and other prizes!


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Staci's article made me think about my own attitude–is it more important to me to belong to a “group,” or to be the person who sees those around me in need of love and understanding? What about you?


Greenville, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . . 
Legal Blog: Real Estate Law Blog
Twitter: @LauraMcMom
Email me