The subject of forgiveness keeps coming up for me lately.
I wrote here about one important lesson I’ve been learning (and practising) recently – that as a Christian I’m commanded to forgive simply because God has forgiven me, not because what the other person has done is understandable or excusable or not so bad really. Forgiving isn’t about looking for ways of excusing the wrong behaviour – it’s about saying: you’ve done me wrong but I choose to write it off.
Yesterday I was involved in a conversation online where someone said he doesn’t ask people to forgive him because he doesn’t want to ask them to lie and say what he’d done was okay.
And we say that, don’t we? Someone says “sorry” and we answer: “it’s okay.”
I’d like to suggest that this is not a good answer.
Let me tell you about a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago. I was dealing with some stuff from my past that was coming up to the surface, there was a lot of emotional yuk that was suddenly coming out and here was someone I knew would be able to cope with hearing about it, so I shared it with her, I told her what these people had done to me when I was a vulnerable young teenager, and how angry I was feeling now.
She said: it’s ok. Everything that happened then has been part of forming you as you are now, and you’re a beautiful person. So it’s ok.
I was angry – angry with her, because how dare she take stuff that I was hurting about and say it’s ok. It’s up to me to say if it’s ok or not. It was my boundaries which were broken, trodden on – it wasn’t hers, and she had no right to pronounce it ok.
But more than that – I don’t agree that it’s ok, I have had to forgive these people and the reason forgiveness was required was because what they did was not ok. What they did was wrong, and it affected me badly. Forgiving and moving on was necessary (for my sake, not theirs), but forgiving and moving on doesn’t mean saying: it’s ok, it doesn’t matter – it’s saying: it was wrong, your actions had a negative effect on me, you shouldn’t have done that; but despite all that, I choose not to hold that against you any more.
Let’s not give people meaningless platitudes when what they need to hear is truth. Let’s not say “it’s ok” when it isn’t. When someone sincerely apologises, how about this answer:
I forgive you.
Or, if you don’t feel able to forgive just yet, maybe:
Thank you. I appreciate your apology.
Because words have meanings.