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Forgiveness With a Much-Needed Backbone

Forgiveness may be free. It may even be required. But it doesn’t come cheap, and was never meant to. So if anyone ever tells you to forgive no matter what or (worse) “There’s nothing to forgive,” you might want to smile and say "Wow!"

Smiling is optional.

Opportunities to forgive are all around us: The bossy co-worker. The abusive boss. The unrepentant relative who enjoys bringing you down. The borrower who doesn’t repay and then gets mad at you—as in, "When are you going to quit asking for that fifty bucks I owe you?" (shout-out to my former roommate)

How Do You Define Forgiveness?

The best definition of forgiveness I’ve heard, which I’m paraphrasing, came from a Catholic convert named Jimmy Akin: “willing the good of every soul.” (“The Limits of Forgiveness”). I think it also means letting go of the need to keep punishing someone for the same offense.

When someone has hurt you badly, getting to that place of willing their good can be long and difficult. In my own experience, forgiveness comes in its own way, on its own timetable. When it happens, the world and the relationship look different. They are different.

What Forgiveness is Not

Forgiving is easier when we acknowledge what it doesn't mean. For example, forgiveness does not mean ...

  • Minimizing
  • Denying
  • Enabling
  • Ignoring consequences
  • Suffering in silence
  • Tolerating the intolerable
  • Inviting the other person to go camping
  • Restoration
Restoration may be part of it. But even when we’re called to forgive, we’re not called to mend the trust that someone else has broken. In his book The Art of Forgiving, Lewis Smedes quoted a businessman as saying, not with malice but with peace and confidence, “We will forgive but we will not rehire.”

One Secret to Forgiving More Freely ...

A deep, abiding acceptance of your own boundaries and limitations. Not grim. Not rigid. Just a good, clear eye on what's in your control, what's not in your control, what you're willing to put up with, and what you're not.

On the humorous side, a former co-worker of mine used to say, "I don't want to say grace over a plate of nachos." What about you? What is it you're willing to do—or not willing to do?

When you're confident in the boundaries you've set, it's easier to be kind to those who would step on them. It's also easier to discern next steps, based on the response you get.

You may be called to restore the relationship and take it to a higher level. Or you may find a more solid middle ground—maybe the relationship isn't what it used to be, but it's still good. Or you may need to do what's known as "Bless and release."

These are discernments only you can make. So don't let someone else browbeat you into forgiving; it just doesn't work that way.

Why Forgive?

Forgiveness sets us free. It sets the stage for the best possible outcome for you and the person you're forgiving. I learned this again last week, when I bench-pressed more weight than I had since June.

Forgiveness is the ultimate show of strength, even when it requires a strength beyond our own. Where is Life calling you to forgive and be set free?

Don't let someone browbeat you into forgiving; it just doesn't work that way.

Gina DeLapa

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Gina DeLapa is America's Ultimate Reminders® Coach, a sought-after speaker, and the proud creator of the Ultimate Reminders® book series. Her wise and witty reminders ("Beware the organization whose response to a burning building is to form a committee") will make you laugh, stir your soul, and inspire your best. If you're not already getting her free Monday-Morning Pep Talk, be sure to sign up now at