The Give and Take of Forgiveness By Elisa Morgan
Forgiveness – whether getting it or giving it – was not terribly hard in the first seasons of my faith.
In my less-formed faith I leaned into a kind of simple obedience. If God said to forgive, then I forgave. My boyfriend when he disappointed me. A teacher when she mispronounced my name over and over, again and again. My brother when he forgot to give me an important message. But in my adult years, I’ve faltered in forgiveness. Maybe it’s because adult sins – both committed and incurred – have the potential of bigger consequences? I’m not sure. Hard-to-forgive moments have left me splayed out in the dirt. Even when I’ve thought wounds past were forgiven and forgotten, they have influenced and infected my relationships and choices.
I’ve had to return to the basics of forgiveness again in my grown woman years. My remedial course (taken just about every “semester” in my grown-up life) underlined what forgiveness isn’t – and what it is.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean overlooking a wrong. That’s dishonest. It can also be damaging. Denial and rationalization don’t heal hurts. They just bandage infection. You can’t erase a wound by pretending you weren’t injured. Neither is forgiveness excusing a wrong. That’s removing blame. We don’t have that power.
Forgiveness is looking square at an offense and seeing it for what it is. In his book, This Business of Heaven, C.S. Lewis writes: “Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the (person) who has done it.”
Hard stuff. For sure.
Applying forgiveness – truly using it in my daily relationships has taught me there are two dimensions of forgiveness – getting it and giving it. These dimensions come in a one, two order. First one. Then the other. You can’t give what you don’t have. So, in order to give forgiveness, you have to first get it.
It’s oh-so-easy to hold on to our “rights” and overlook our “wrongs.” At least I didn’t yell in that last argument. My choices may have been bad, but they weren’t as off-base as hers. But in holding on to our “rightness” what might we miss?
Jesus was clear in Luke 7:47, "He who has been forgiven little loves little." He shared this truth with those he was dining with after a "sinful" woman had lavished him with perfume and love. Might we bend our postures toward the “sinful woman” in Luke 7? There’s a connection between our understanding of our need to be forgiven and our ability to love others. Who loves God and others the most? Potentially, it’s the biggest sinner! Who is best able to forgive others? The forgiven biggest sinner! Recognizing our sin doesn’t disqualify us from loving and life – it actually equips us.
Real forgiveness – whether of someone who has wounded us or of our own sins - comes from God. He cracks open his very heart and carves forgiveness into existence through the death of his Son on a cross. Then he welcomes us into the very center of his heart creation.
I can’t give what I haven’t received. I have to get in order to give. I need to be forgiven much in order to love much. In every season of faith.
Elisa Morgan is the author of You Are Not Alone. She is the cohost of the podcast, God Hears Her. She is also the cohost of Discover the Word and contributor to Our Daily Bread. Her other books include Christmas Changes Everything, When We Pray Like Jesus, The Beauty of Broken, and Hello, Beauty Full. Connect with Elisa @elisa_morgan on Twitter, and @elisamorganauthor on Facebook and Instagram.