Home Menu

Forgiving and Forgiveness

I have two new buddies and don’t know what to do with either one of them. Lauren and Holly rode up on their bikes one evening as I was sweeping the driveway. We exchanged greetings, as well as introductions, and began defining the parameters of our new friendship.

The boys in the neighborhood come over with regularity and we talk some, but mostly we communicate about headsets, caliper brakes, wheel bearings, tools, ball games, garage doors, and mowing the grass. I’m cool with this. Having grown up with three brothers, these conversations are routine. When the guys are over, we stuff our hands in our pockets and stand around looking at the pegboard of wrenches. But these little girls rolled in talking and giggling—and their bikes were pink.

Nevertheless, being a cyclist myself, I opened with the subject I felt comfortable discussing: "Nice bikes, and I like the color. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a pink bike with white tires, and here there are two of them right in front of my eyes. I use skinwalls on my road bike and run Panaracer blackwalls on my mountain bike."

Uh-oh. It was obvious that I had either dived in too deep on this subject or that Lauren and Holly didn’t care that my road bike had Continental, gumwall tires. So, I regrouped. "How old are you all?"

Lauren did most of the talking. "I’m eight and a half and so’s Holly. Her birthday’s in six days. Mine’s May 11th." I opted to not worry about the math as Lauren continued: "We’re best friends. We do everything together, don’t we?" Holly concurred, nodding in agreement.

I tried the bike angle one more time. "Do you enjoy riding your bikes?"

"Yessir. I’m riding hers and she’s riding mine. We share everything." And just to be sure I understood what the priority subject was, Holly brought the conversation back into focus. "We’ve been best friends since first grade."

"Really. And you’re going into the fourth grade this fall?"

"Yessir. At J.T. Stevens. We’re in the same class." (More nods and giggles.) "Allison Jenkins is, too." (I have no clue who Allison is, and decided not to ask).

"That’s great. It’s not very often you make friends like you all have. Just think: One of these days, you’ll be as old as I am and can say, "We’ve been friends since first grade. We grew up on the same block, sharing everything.’ Won’t that be cool?"

Now that the girls had gotten me focused on the important matters in life, Lauren continued. "What makes friends break up? I thought to myself, I’m out here minding my own business, sweeping the driveway—and now look at the mess I’m in. This is really different from the kinds of things the boys talk about. The closest they ever get to a question like this is, "What happened?"

I leaned hard on my broom and thought a minute more, not about the question, but how I’d gotten into this conversation. Then I said, "Friends break up because one of them does something wrong and offends the other one, whose feelings get hurt, but she withdraws a little to protect herself. Little things that the friends used to ignore begin to irritate them, and eventually they may even forget what caused the hurt in the first place. But before you know it, they are talking less, and caring less, and sharing less. They forget that they have been friends for a long time and let their piddly hurts ruin their friendship. Instead of being friends with each other, they are friends with hurt and anger. And that’s how friends break up."

"If friends do that, how do they get back together?"

"Yeah?" Lauren chimed in with Holly.

"They have to forgive each other, hug, and apologize, and work hard to protect their special relationship as friends." It was getting dark, but even I recognized that this was a magical moment. I could get up early before work and finish sweeping the drive.

"But what if one friend won’t forgive?" Lauren asked.

"Then the other one forgives anyway because that’s what’s best. Hanging onto hurt and anger only hurts you and causes you to feel crummy. It’s like eating a cold supper that’s supposed to be eaten hot; it tastes lousy and doesn’t settle well in your stomach."

"Does the reflector work on my bicycle?" I did a mental scramble, first to switch gears from forgiveness back to bikes, and second to remember who was riding whose bike. I bent the reflector down a little and pronounced it would now reflect like a reflector should. Lauren and Holly seemed happy about our talk, their friendship, and the reflector. They waved big and yelled, "Goodbye, Preston," several times as they pedaled down the drive and up the hill toward home.

I swept a little more, thinking about forgiving and forgiveness. It’s always hard for me to know whether interchanges like the one above are for their benefit of mine. They seemed satisfied and I’m still thinking about it, so maybe it was for all of us—including you.

Friendship is a two-way street, but not forgiveness. One person can decide to forgive regardless of what the other person decides to do. As a matter of fact, the other person can be dead, but even that shouldn’t incapacitate the choice to forgive. While you can’t stop someone from offending you, you can stop how far the offense goes before forgiveness occurs. Every one of us has the ability—and power—to forgive despite the attitude of the one who hurt us.

Ordinarily, we think of forgiveness as sitting dead in the water until the one who offended us says, "I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?" But this attitude leaves us feeling powerless and allows the hurt to fester and infect our whole outlook on life. If this continues very long, the wound begins to scar, turning into bitterness, resentment, frustration and hostility. With insidious parasites like these, we begin to behave in ways that are disappointing to us and painful to those around us: depression, harshness, volatile outbursts, blame, etc.

Allowing an offense to drop anchor in the harbor of your soul is a bad plan.

God implemented the same principle we are talking about when He was offended. In Isaiah 43 the Father is recounting His disappointments with Israel—which were significant, by the way—and finally states, "I am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake" (v. 25). Did you catch that? He forgives for His own sake. God knew that even though Israel had fallen woefully short of what He intended, flagrantly and brazenly offending Him, it was in His best interest to forgive. God set an example for us, knowing perfectly that harboring anger and hurt would only be a self-inflicting wound.

Savoring anger and clinging to hurt, believing that in so doing you are getting even is a deception perpetuated by the enemy. He would like for us to believe that revenge is sweet, and if held onto long enough, justice will be served, we will be vindicated, and our rights reestablished. But that’s baloney! Festering anger eats at your soul, consuming your thoughts, clouding your dreams, and skewing your vision. And revenge is a cold supper.

Preston Gillham

About the Author

As a co-founder, Preston Gillham led Lifetime for 30 years. Preston is a writer, speaker, and leadership guide. He has authored numerous articles and several books including No Mercy and Battle for the Round Tower. He blogs on “Life and Leadership”. More about Preston, his writings, speaking, and his consulting practice can be located at PrestonGillham.com.