Forgiveness: It’s Not What You Think

what forgiveness is not

So, let’s say that you’ve been wronged…wronged by your spouse, child, close friend or coworker. You thought you could count on them. You thought you could trust them. They let you down. It hurts. The pain runs deep inside you. What makes things worse, you didn’t deserve it. You didn’t deserve the deed. It wasn’t your fault. Every day the painful video plays inside your head. You cannot erase it from your mental hard drive. Bitterness, resentment, and anger all start to flood your emotions.

How can you be released from this hurt? What can be done?

Well, you’ve got a couple of choices. And only one is the right choice. You can choose to hold onto the hurt and spend the rest of your life with the pain, bitterness, and anger. Or you can choose to be released from it, healed and freed. It’s a decision to forgive the person who has hurt you.

There are a lot of misunderstandings and misconceptions about forgiveness. So before I share with you what forgiveness really is, let me bullet point what forgiveness is not.

What Forgiveness is Not

  • Forgiveness is not a feeling. If it were, we would rarely forgive others because we would not “feel” like it.
  • Forgiveness is not a weakness. A lot of strength is required to acknowledge pain, declare it, and forgive it.
  • Forgiveness does not mean pretending it didn’t happen or hiding from it.
  • Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. The phrase “forgive and forget” is not reality.
  • Forgiveness does not mean condoning or excusing a wrong. And it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. We can forgive the person without excusing the act.
  • Forgiveness is not the same as reconciling. Reconciliation may follow forgiveness, but we can forgive an offender without reestablishing the relationship.
  • Forgiveness is not based on the wrongdoer’s actions. Even if the other person never apologizes and asks for forgiveness, we should forgive.
  • Forgiveness is not conditional. It’s not an If you do this…this…and this, then, and only then, I will forgive you.
  • Forgiveness is not justice. Justice usually involves an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, an apology, and some form of reward or punishment. Forgiveness should occur whether justice is withheld or not.
  • Forgiveness is not about changing the other person, their actions, or their behavior.
  • Forgiveness does not mean trust. Forgiveness should be freely given, trust must be earned. [Tweet This] As I shared in How to Rebuild Trust in a Relationship, trust must be built with consistent truth-telling over a period of time.

Forgiveness is not about changing the past, it’s about changing the future. [Tweet This] Forgiveness accepts and addresses the past but focuses on the future. It looks toward a future of healing and hope.

What Forgiveness Is

So let’s talk about what forgiveness really is. It is a decision. When you really forgive someone, you are making a decision to release, embrace, pardon, and grow.

A Decision to Release

In the process of forgiving, the first barrier you have to remove is within your own mind. You must make the decision: I will not dwell on this incident. Don’t replay the incident in your mind. I realize that is easy to say but hard to do. When that reel begins to play in your mind, intentionally push the Stop button. Realize that it will not make things better, dwell on what is good, and ask God to give you the strength to withstand the onslaught of those attacks on your mind.

When you forgive, you are also proactively choosing to release your bitterness, resentment, vengeance, and anger toward the person who has hurt you. How to be Set Free from Bitterness in Marriage and 3 Ways to Get to the Root of Anger are blogs I’ve written that may help you to release these emotions.

A Decision to Embrace

When you truly forgive, you are intentionally embracing mercy and grace. Putting it simply, mercy is not giving someone what they deserve. Grace is giving someone what they don’t deserve. Why show this person who has deeply hurt you mercy and grace? For two reasons. First, because God extends his perfect mercy and grace to you. And He showers His perfect love upon you…every time, all the time. Second, remember the Golden Rule? It basically says: Treat others as you want to be treated. So when you make a bad mistake, when you hurt someone, when you wrong someone, how do you want to be treated?

A Decision to Pardon

Webster’s Dictionary defines pardon as “an act of officially saying that someone who was judged to be guilty of a crime will be allowed to go free and will not be punished.” I remember from my days of practicing law that once someone is pardoned or acquitted in a court of law, they cannot be tried again for the same offense. That’s called double jeopardy. So when you choose to pardon your offender by forgiving them, you are letting go of your right to punish them for the offense in the future. You are basically saying, I will not bring this incident up again and use it against you. In so doing, you are choosing to hold onto the person, not the offense.

In our 26 years of marriage, Susan and I have forgiven each other for various offenses and hurts in our relationship—or at least we thought we did. There have been occasions where one of us has brought up a past offense the other thought was pardoned only to find that court was still in session on the issue. Real forgiveness must involve a complete pardon.

A Decision to Grow

When you forgive, you are taking away the power the wrongdoing wields over you and using that power toward your growth, perhaps the growth of your relationships. You are making the statement: I will not allow this matter to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship. Think of forgiveness as something that will change your life — by bringing you peace, emotional and spiritual healing, and hope—and, hopefully, the life of the one you have forgiven.

Have you been hurt by one you’ve loved? Have you forgiven him or her? Please share your story below.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Chris Chaffin

    There is a huge difference in judging and presenting truth in love…..

  • Amy, I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I appreciate you sharing your story. It was very courageous of you.

  • LCas

    I am really struggling with forgiving my husband while I don’t trust him. Don’t the 2 go hand in hand? Can you explain this to me?

  • Kimberly Guse

    Scott, your daughter is 14, that means what is important to her are friends right now. Don’t give up, just keep trying, once she gets a little older she will see what her Mom was doing and realize you hung in there for her. Don’t get ducked into the blame game and bad talk your ex. Be the bigger person and let her dig her own grave. Maybe you could have your daughter bring a friend with her to your house during visits.
    Does she do sports or other activities you could go to, and / or does visiting you cut into her ability to do those things? For a child that can be an issue why they don’t want to go to another parents house for visitation.
    Just keep plugging along – NEVER give up on your kids, that is what they will remember!!! Good luck

  • Jeremy

    Marie, I’ll be praying for you. Also you should read this resource from iMOM:

  • Layla

    Verlinda – Your “stop” button idea is a good one! Isn’t it amazing how even a little unforgiveness can just choke the life out of us if we let it! But the Bible tells us that if we don’t forgive others, our Father won’t forgive us (Matthew 6:14-15). So really, it’s a choice; do you want to hold on to the unforgiveness or do you want to hold on to God’s forgiveness for you? Besides, God saw what happened, and you can trust that He’ll take care of it. Oh, that we could even get to the point where we are able to treat them as if the offense never happened! I am lifting you up for strength!

  • Candice

    Hi Marie. Please know that I prayed for you today. Trust that God will give you strength and put all of these problems in his hands. Psalm 143:8.

  • Libby


    I am so sorry for what you went through recently. I am praying for your marriage.

  • Amy

    Verlinda – I hope and pray that you have found some peace in your thoughts and in your heart! Here is another source/story that may be helpful. Praying for full restoration.

  • Layla

    dja – I can’t imagine being blindsided like this. I’m sorry for you, and the multitude of people who share these hardships. The good news is that God is still on His throne, and changing hearts is one of His specialties! I am praying for a changed heart for her, and that He would turn your hearts back to each other.

  • Kaleigh

    dja, I know it’s been a few months since your post but I just wanted to let you know that I’m praying for you today. Praying that the God of miracles would work and restore the places in your heart and marriage that are broken and hurting.

  • Andrew Mayer

    Hey Marie,

    I read your post this morning, and I’ve prayed for you. It sounds like you’re in a really rough place. I know your post was from a few months ago. Has there been any progress or healing in your relationship?

  • Lovelyleo66

    My husband was unfaithful to me 20 years ago. The act(s) resulted in two children. I have been struggling with forgiving him but I think I’ve never forgiven him because I always bring it up. I can’t believe that it still hurts after all these years. I’m angry and bitter at times. I’ve never learned to trust him and feel like he’s still unfaithful to me, even though he denies it. I think he lies to me at times and have found circumstantial evidence that leads me to believe he’s cheating on me. He always explains it away by saying I have some issues, that it’s all in my head, and that he does not sleep around because he’s trying to get to Heaven. I want to believe him, but I can’t seem to trust him or believe anything he says. I’m having a hard time in this marriage.

  • Mendy Cust

    My Husband lives in a nursing home.

    When he first moved into the nursing home he asked for Our Pastor to come visit. Each Sunday at Church I would ask our Pastor to visit my husband and each time our Pastor would tell me that he would visit. But he never did. This went on for several weeks, then one Sunday, after Pastor told me he would visit, he looked at me and said “You don’t believe me anymore do you?” Truth is, I didn’t, but I wanted too for my husband really needed his Pastor to Minister to him.

    I became very disappointed and stopped attending church. After being away from the Church about 6 months I sent an email to The Pastor to let him know why I was no longer attending services and to tell him that I am letting go of the disappointment and resentment I held for him. He never responded.

    As far as My Husband, He now has a form of Dementia. He eventually received a visit from a Pastor. But I’m not sure he realized that this was not OUR Pastor. That’s Ok.

    I am reminded of the passage of scripture that speaks of The Shepherd who would leave his flock to go after the 1 who was lost. This Pastor (The Shephard) had a lost and hurting sheep (my husband) and he chose to ignore him.

    I have forgiven and let go, but no, not forgotten

  • Kelly Overstreet

    Forgiveness is the best display of Christlikeness, although so difficult. My husband recently sexually abused my oldest daughter from my previous marriage, and it has devastated me and my family. We have several children together as well. Forgiving him is a hard thing, due to the fear of reoccurrence. Although, I have learned that forgiving does not mean I have stay or reconcile the marriage, but I am to treat him with respect and love like Christ, and pray for him. Forgiveness is a daily choice! The admission of wrong and repentance is a necessary element for the relationship to grow and/or heal completely. These times are as scripture says “perilous”, and we have to remember that how we choose to respond and react is a direct representation of our heart condition with God. May I have the humiliation of Joseph, and the heart of David to seek after Christ even when……………………………

  • CB

    I am praying for you, your family, and for your husband Kelly. I am also diligently going to be praying for peace for your daughter.

  • Ann

    Hi, I am having problems with bitterness and in forgiveness. I have been divorced over a year now, according to him the last straw was that I betrayed him by taking out a protective order on him. he lost he lost his temper, yelled and scared our autistic children because one of them Supposedly lost the other’s new toy, I ran in the room fearing things would get worse. He yelled at me, I yelled back, he then hit me and started pushing out of the room and I fell. He yelled at me and Told me I did it on purpose. I tried to get away from him, he followed and we continued to argue till he shoved me against a wall and choked me. I don’t know why he stopped, I truly believed that was it, I could see my son Crying hysterically through a window and thought this would be the last image I’d see. I believe God caused him to stop, I broke free and ran frantically to find any phone to call 911. I was in my room crying hysterically and searching for my cell and he shoved the door open and proceeded to hit me and slam me into the dresser and the bed till fell to the ground and curled up into a ball, I couldn’t find my cell. He then went outside and started yelling again one of our autistic sons telling him this was his fault that he started all of this, I ran outside to stop him and try to protect my son again and another son tried to calm things down too and my ex started in on this child too, by yelling at him and getting in his face saying you want to cowboy up to me, you want to take me on….he lunged at my son three times, three times I pulled him away, three times he slammed me against the wall so I would release him all the while calling out for help hoping and praying someone would call the police. He finally broke away and said he washed his hand of us we were all crazy, through his cell at me, I tried to call 911 but I couldnt unlock his cell to call, he laughed at me and he left the house for a bit and then came back and acted as if nothing happened, then later that night he left and never came back. After he left, I called my counselor not the police, he told me I had two choices either I file the protective order or he would have to notify the authorities and that choice A was best. I don’t understand he wasn’t always physically abusive, verbally and emotionally yes, I don’t know what happened but he started to become more abusive, especially physical, after my oldest left for the military. Bounce to more current, I dropped the protective order because he threatened to file for divorce, after the order was dropped I was served with divorce papers anyway. I am sad, hurt, and angry that because I dropped the order, no one in the courts seemed to care or take any of the domestic violence into consideration during the divorce process, I was made to be the villain and a fool. No one cared that my children don’t trust him and they are still anxious/fearful that he will lose it again with them, as he has lost his temper with them several times since the divorce. I am fearful because I feel I can’t protect them from him, he still denies anything happened. We have to go to court again to modify custody because we moved out of state to be closer to family and he wants to lower his child support, I need prayers that God’s will be done, that I will stop feeling guilty for dropping the protective order, I would like the court to acknowledge the domestic violence and allow my ex to see our children but in a setting/environment where they feel safe and secure. Truth is I’m angry, my children are victims too, why should they be forced to continue in a relationship with the person who an abused them any who the witnessed abuse me, where is the justice in this. I have been praying that God would help me to forgive him and help me with this root of bitterness. I don’t want ill for my ex, I just don’t trust him to not hurt my children emotionally or physically, I don’t want my children exposed to his or his family’s lifestyle which goes against the basic tennants our faith which he once believed as well. Why is it that in all this, he has seemingly come out winning. Sorry for venting, yet I’m still hurting, I want to do the right thing but I don’t know what it is. Thanx

  • Layla

    Ann – God saw everything that happened, and everything that continues to happen. He will protect them. I am praying for you and your family today, that God’s will is done. Trust that He is working things out ahead of what you can see.

  • BJ_Foster

    I’m so sorry Ann. No one should have to go through something like that, especially a kid with special needs. Prayed for you, your kids, and your ex-husband. Thank you for taking the time to vent. Prayed that God would give you what you need in order to forgive and fully heal.

  • Candice Butner

    We are praying for you Ann!

  • Leeds

    I agree with Kimberly. I’ve raised sons (ages 19, 21, 23) and daughters (15, 15, 16) and in my experience, when they hit the early teens, all bets are off – especially with the girls. They go from being strongly inclined to see you in a positive light, to being inclined to see you in a negative light. This is regardless of whether someone else is bad-mouthing you, although that can obviously be a factor. But when they get to be 20 or so, they turn start to turn the corner, and begin to want a better/closer relationship with you. So hang in there, and I’ll do the same with my girls. And forgive. Always, always forgive. What helps me – is thinking about the many wrongs I’ve done, finding context/reasons to see the offender in a more positive light, thinking about the grace I’ve been shown, and finding ways to see them as a person with fears and anxieties, as almost all of us are – which helps me feel compassion for them.

  • Su Si

    Can u forgive but still want separation? I have tried for 5 yrs but still feel resentful been emotionally neglected for 20+ yrs. My husband has tried too. I can see he tries hard tho not always comforting to me. Somehow it feels less genuine & more patronising as if trying to save the marriage for our kids (21 & 11) even tho he says for my sake.
    Due to an event he allowed happen 5 yrs ago which i felt was my breaking point i havent been able to move on. Its not infidelity. But it feels really bad being blamed solely for all that never went right in our marriage from the beginning which entails many past events big/small that he let happen & then let go without bothering to confront the people involved. Incidentally the people involved are the same ones who did this. His parents & siblings in front of everyone else including my son while he juz sat there quietly leaving me to defend myself. He had apologised but only 1-2mths later when he saw my behaviour turn erratic.
    I would really like to forget & move on but instead find it not meaningful to continue with him anymore? Feel the only way i can really forgive is by letting go my marriage. He says i m being unreasonable & unobjective & havent really done my best to move on. But i really dont know how given i m always reminded we had many times in the past sacrificed even our own needs in bids to please his family yet this happened. It also doesnt help his family not willing to make matters right.
    Can u tell me if i m being unreasonable or is what i m feeling justified?

  • Val

    I live in a marriage that takes advantage of grace and forgiveness. He is still doing the same things he did 15 years ago that he has spent 15 years being “sorry” for. He is a passive aggressive narcissist. He skirts the lines that allow for separation and knows just how far he can go. Don’t go there with any comments on how I allow him to act that way. I am a strong woman who loves Christ. He doesn’t get away with anything but he sure sees fit to use my christian morals to his advantage. He has ruined and stained our family and made having family a miserable experience. He is hateful, demeaning, aggressive, mean, selfish….lost. The perfect epitomy of a good testimony, if only he would allow himself to get that far. Scripture states to separate yourself from negative, quick tempered peopl that can lead you away from Christ, yet none of it addresses when that terrible person is your spouse. I can’t just divorce him because he is mean. I also can hear the…no one should be able to take you from Christ…but I tell you what, the closer I get to Christ, the meaner this man gets. The constant grate of negative and hate tends to wear on your soul, especially when it involves children you are trying to bring up Christian. I’ve heard every advice, used every technique, and prayed every prayer. If I am submissive, he stomps all over my softness. He is a horrible, lost soul. I have forgiven and forgiven. 70×7 has an ending number. How exactly does forgiveness work when it doesn’t work? Nobody has an answer. The answers all trail off into silence….

  • dorothy ramos

    October of 2014 I found out that my husband of 31 years was unfaithful to our vows mentally, physically and emotionally. When my husband confessed the final part of his affair – that he slept with her – through pain, screaming, anger and shock..I heard God say to me in an incredibly gentle and firm voice – “Go and embrace your husband and forgive him the same way I forgave you”. In that very instant, even without wanting to, I stopped yelling and turned to my husband and said that I was forgiving him because God told me to. At that very moment my husband broke down and cried and confessed to me that he was praying that God would help me to forgive him.

    You see, I was starting my journey in the prayer ministry at our church and my husband chose to come to the cross, where I was standing waiting for someone to pray for them or with them, to confess to me the last thing he did not dare tell me because He felt God would help me to forgive him. With tears and pain in his eyes he confessed it all and prayed from there that I would have the heart to forgive him. Feeling like someone just knocked the wind out of me and not wanting to react in church we left…but when we got into the car I exploded on my way home and when we went inside. It was during that explosion that God spoke to me and with open palms I let go and let Him. Things came out of my mouth that did not even resemble my faith in God nor my salvation. I was so angry and hurt that he had lied to me again – as I asked him days before if he slept with her and to tell me the truth so that we can get it all out and deal with it. I couldn’t tell if I was more angry that he waited until we were in church for him to tell me or that he confessed that he did sleep with her. All I remember was anger, bitterness, hate and wanting to hurt him back. But God…but God was already working together with us on this for our good and was assuring and has been assuring us that He will bring glory to Himself out of it.

    17 months later we are still working through it all but I can tell you that God has been the One and Only source to repair this marriage. Books – yes. Advice – yes. But commitment, forgiveness (every time it comes to mind), encouragement, peace, joy – has all come from God and God alone.

    Thank you for sharing this as I needed to read this to help remind me that what happened in the past was left at the cross and that the future holds victory for us, for the marriages in our children’s lives and for our future legacies. We have a powerful testimony and look forward to God using it for His glory. it was by His incredible grace and mercy that I can say…we are going to make it.

    I heard the following quote on a christian station the other day and couldn’t help but quote it.

    “It takes an extraordinary woman and an extraordinary man to forgive each other the way God forgives us.”

    Thank you…God bless

    Dorothy & Luis

  • Zush

    I know that when I forgive it will make my life easier first of all and the the lives of two of us, but i cannot let go of things. one thing that hurts me most is the fact that my husband (we have been married for one year) did not mention to his ex that he has been married to me nor that we had been in a relationship for 6 years. when I confronted him he said he did not know why he did not mention it. There is a big distance between them (geographically) and it seems occasionally they email each other (he was hiding it i came to know about it by chance) but what i cannot understand why and no matter how many times i confront him with the same issue, the answer is the same ‘i dont know’. I just feel hurt and i imagine so many things in my head, and cannot let it go. We have been fighting for such issues, i think precisely because I cannot let it go. How is that possible, I dont know. I dont know also if its worth to continue trying. I think letting go and forging is much easier when you are no longer together. That way you accept and forgive and continue your life.

  • Breitbart InOhio

    What you left out…..
    Forgiveness also does not mean that we allow individuals to assume leaderhsip roles within our community/society or churches. Having a pastor that has had an affair with a church secretary does not mean he should maintain a leadership role within the church …or ANY church for that matter.

    It is the same with ‘forgiveness’ of other individuals with a criminal element whether violent, corrupt, lying or thieving. Forgiveness is a heart issue, but our common sense must be used in dictating whether someone should be given a leadership or honorary status over us. Too many messages on ‘forgiveness’ neglect this important aspect.