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Podcast: What Forgiveness Is and Isn’t

Josh and Dan continue their conversation around Forgiveness. They dive into what Forgiveness is and what it isn’t.

Click for Full Podcast Transcription

Josh 0:07
Alright, Dan, so we’re gonna jump back into what forgiveness is and what it isn’t. We said last time that a lot of people have hang ups about coming to a place of forgiveness, because on some level, they, they misunderstand what it means. And so they almost feel like God’s asked him to do something that is going to be counterproductive, and they have an instinct that this is not going to help me like this is a bad idea. So we’re continuing conversation this week on forgiveness, and Dan, like, why don’t you start us off, like, give us something that forgiveness is not and then later in the podcast, we’ll come back to what forgiveness is.

Dan Keefer 1:02
So one of the one of the common things that I’ll hear from people and that, you know, honestly, something I’ve probably wrestled with myself is that if I’m forgiving someone, I’m saying that you know what they did? Really, it’s okay, it, maybe they didn’t mean to do it. So you kind of give them a pass. And so forgiveness almost feels like in school trying to get the hall pass saying, Okay, I got permission to be here. And that’s that’s just not the case. Forgiveness is not about approving. It’s not about excusing, there’s serious, they’re serious consequences to to, to what was done.

Josh 1:35
So so like, you’re saying that there are times where people almost kind of look back on what was done, whether it was you know, today on the drive home, or something my spouse or brother or sister said today or something happened a long time ago. And people are kind of framing up through a lens of not just facing the reality there was a sin against them, but like almost trying to find reasons why it shouldn’t matter, or why they really don’t need to forgive. I mean, even though they may think it’s forgiveness, it’s actually just kind of like, like moving around forgiveness, not really giving it

Dan Keefer 2:07
well, it could be moving around forgiveness and not really giving it but maybe even more than that. It’s saying if I forgive, I am actually giving tacit approval to what that person did. I’m excusing what they did. I’m I’m giving them a pass. I’m not, I’m not bypassing forgiveness. I’m saying, here’s the cost of forgiveness. This this false belief about forgiveness is is that if I offer it, I’m saying I excuse what this person did.

Josh 2:37
Okay, yeah, so I missed I was actually going to a different place. So. So let’s start with what you were saying, though. So you’re, you’re really talking about like, I’m not gonna forgive because somewhere inside I believe that that means I’m giving approval to what they did. I’m saying it’s okay. When it’s really not. Okay. That’s right. I’m glad to ask. Okay. So I was actually thinking of something a corollary to that, but maybe on the lighter end of things where we’re like, I think this can happen, especially when when somebody is looking back, something happened a long time ago. And they say, Well, my parents did the best they could, you know, like, you know, I know, my, you know, my dad was never there for me emotionally, and didn’t show up for my baseball games. But his father was never present for him. So. So in other words, like, it’s not like a refusal to forgive. Because, because because it’s a it’s an approval, it’s not approving of behavior. But it’s almost like kind of like just walking away from the conversation about forgiveness, because there’s this kind of this this voice of like, reason kind of reasoning away, why it’s really not that bad of an offense, or why that person I shouldn’t hold against them. And those things might be true. But that’s not the same as forgiveness.

Dan Keefer 3:44
And actually, that reminds me of another thing that forgiveness is not, and move on to another one. That’s denying it’s denying. So in the example that you used, it’s denying that my parent, my father, mother, someone else in my life, actually did something wrong. Yeah. Or did something that was hurtful

Josh 4:02
to so. So I remember when I was in high school, there was this, it was a it was a volunteer youth leader in our youth group. And he I think he was only there for about a year, but I still remember this conference. And he I don’t even think I had very much direct interaction with him. But I still run this conversation we had in a hallway in our church. I was share with him just a little bit about my history, and I really just rolling through it. Yeah, my parents divorced when I was three, my mom moved us out here. So I’ve gotten you know, to, you know, be out in Colorado and enjoy that most of the year and then also go back to East Coast enjoy the the oceans, and it was you know, it was all great. And this guy looked at me, he said, Man, that must have been really painful for you. And I was like, Oh, no, like, you know, I really, you know, my parents are great, like, and I just kind of rolled through it. And I was mistaking there that what was normal for me growing up with what was actually good for me growing up and I and it wasn’t till years later that I actually really appreciated his his comment because I was like, man, he was really I wouldn’t maybe I wasn’t ready for but he was really pointing out the reality that there was a little real wounds associated with that. I was just living in denial about. So yeah, your your points will take in there.

Dan Keefer 5:03
Yeah. And that’s, that’s something very common that I’ll encounter is I’m coaching folks talking about their past talking about their pain as they’re sharing their story, I’m providing some feedback and say, Wow, that must have been difficult and, and it kind of creates this space for them to recognize that, you know, I’ve been denying the weight of what happened for so long. And to actually, you know, this is the other side of what forgiveness is, it is acknowledging that there’s, there’s, there’s pain here, there’s hurt, there’s loss. And so it’s interesting with a story that you shared from your own experience, how that, that might have just, like, cracked open the door a bit in your own heart, right. And it’s so you know, years later, you could look back and say, Man, that guy was tapping into something that I was not aware of. And in fact, it could be that at that moment in time, you may not have been able to handle the reality of that pain and loss. So that so there’s even another aspect of forgiveness and looking at our life experiences and, and realizing that it is this, it is this journey, and it’s not a all at one time kind of thing.

Josh 6:10
Yeah. So, but I think a teaching moment, we can just pause here in a teaching moment, everybody listening, like, if you if you are around people who love you, and who’ve heard some of your story, and they respond with things like, gosh, that must have really been hard or, or you know, just a look of concern on their face, and you’re kind of just blowing it off. It might be that you actually as an invitation from the Holy Spirit for you to take a look at some ways that you might have some some wounds and things against you, that would be beneficial for you to forgive. If you’re another side of things. Sometimes somebody sharing their story, it can actually be beneficial. Sometimes when you reflect back to somebody your sense of like, you know, what that must have been like for them as an invitation for them to look for the why because the stuff we talked about last week about just the benefits of forgiveness, the real reasons that we that God wants us to be free from those things. So yeah, Dan, so what else? What other things? forgiveness is not?

Dan Keefer 7:01
Yeah, I got a couple twos. Yeah, forgiveness is not reconciling. Because so often we think, if I forgive this person, it means that part of forgiveness is I will have a relationship with this person again, right. And forgiveness can be done one way, it’s, it’s choosing to no longer hold a debt or hold someone as though they owe something to us. But for there to be reconciliation, the other person must acknowledge what they’ve done, what was hurtful how what the impact was on on the individual. If they’re not able to do that, not willing to do that, or there’s some instances in which the the sin, the harm has been so egregious that it may not even be safe for that individual to go to the person and say, hey, I want to forgive you for what you did.

Josh 7:51
Yeah, it may be best to keep to keep that, to keep that distance in place. When we’re talking about things like chronic sexual abuse, or some type of emotional or physical abuse. And we’re talking about someone hurting one of your children, for example, like it like, yes, if somebody is abused, when your kids are abused you like, yes, forgive them, please, for your sake, walk through the process of forgiving them. But But that does not mean that now you need to trust them and be in relationship with them again, and whether that would even be a wise or smart thing to do. Like, if you work a terrible job. And your boss is miserable, like, you know, find a new job, forgive your boss, but don’t don’t keep working there, if you can help it, you know that? Yeah. And I think I think that forgiveness is not reconciliation. One, I think, I think that’s one of the biggest misunderstandings about forgiveness, because we usually hear about it in relationships that are, you know, that are at least relatively healthy. So like, you know, if I’m going to forgive my spouse, there is a component reconciliation is going to come with that if I’m going to forgive my best friend. Yeah, there is some reconciliation is going to be a part of that. But there are situations where reconciliation either isn’t possible or isn’t wise. A friend who years ago, was walking through some really, really difficult stuff in forgiving his father, his father was dead, you know. So if reconciliation is the same as forgiveness, then he would never be able to forgive his father. wasn’t wasn’t true. He took some visits to the graveyard to work through forgiveness. But his dad wasn’t actually a part of it in the relationship that he had with his dad. This side of the grave was never different. So

Dan Keefer 9:21
yeah, and there’s even a word in that as well. Because, you know, for those of you for our listeners, depending on how you’ve heard forgiveness talked about, you may have heard it talked about in a way that either directly stated or implied reconciliation. And if that’s the case, that that’s that’s something maybe you’ve been carrying around for a while. And, like Josh and I would both say that, that’s just not an accurate picture of forgiveness and any shame you possibly you’ve been carrying, because you recognize that I can’t be in a relationship with that person. So therefore, I can’t forgive them. That that’s just simply not true. You can forgive.

Josh 9:57
I think another piece of it is if you’re if you are in a relationship where you want reconciliation, where that’s actually an important component of it. I think sometimes what we do as Christians, or maybe just people in general, but like we, we pursue the reconciliation as a precursor to the forgiveness. So if we can reconcile, if we can understand each other, if we can kind of get on the same page about who was wrong about what, then I’ll forgive. And that’s fine. I mean, that you know, that there’s reasonable, that helps a lot when you can do that. But there are also situations where it’s really beneficial to work through what you need to, to come to forgiveness first, that actually can loosen the gears to be able to reconcile more thoroughly. So it’s, there’s not a, you know, one before the other all the time, but they are different, they are different things. So let me throw out another one. Forgiveness is not the mere passage of time, I think, you know, like, I think sometimes when people, something happened a long time ago, or you know, was last week or whatever, and, and, you know, the person remembers this story when they were a kid, and somebody’s like, oh, you’re figuring that stuff out a long time ago, you know, that was a long time ago is not the same thing as actual forgiveness. And, and I just say this, from my experience, personally, but also here in ministry, that there are things that you that people remember about their childhood or a years and years ago, that they’re not feeling the same type of emotional pain about today. They assume it’s forgiven. But actually, when they walk through a process of really forgiving that person of just in a in a simple but but almost semi formal way of saying, you know what, before the Lord, I forgive that person, we’ll talk about what that is in a minute. They actually find some new freedom, maybe in other areas of life, they didn’t even know were connected, that they didn’t have by just the mere passage of time. So that’s, that’s another one I throw in there.

Dan Keefer 11:43
Another big one. Forgiveness is not forgetting. Oh, yeah. Cuz that’s again, so often, it’s sometimes that’s taught directly. And other times it’s implied that if I forgive, I will forget, because we we have this picture, or we we interpret scripture, certain passages that that God forgives, and he forgets, right? Well, no, I believe the statement is that he chooses to remember our sins no more. And so deliberately choosing to remember our sins. No more is a very different thing from someone slapping themselves on the forehead and saying, oh, wow, I forgot. It’s very intentional. It’s very purposeful. And so for us as humans, to forgive is not to forget, and actually, in some instances, and you’d cited some earlier about significant experiences of abuse or trauma or neglect. Forgiveness can actually mean remembering, remembering that, apart from a significant change in someone’s life, that person may no longer be safe to be around. Right.

Josh 12:41
Right. Yeah. I think that is really important. And I, I think that there are people who have really worked hard at forgiveness, who find themselves still remembering and sometimes even experiencing the pain again, when they remember. And, and they get worried, you know, I haven’t forgiven it yet. Like, well know what happened, you was really hard, it really hurt. There may be another layer of forgiveness and other angle that you hadn’t considered that it’s important for you to kind of be specific about, you know, you, you forgave your dad for, quote, unquote, you know, never being there or criticizing you, but you remembered a specific incident that’s bringing up a lot of pain. So maybe it’s forgiving that your father for that specific incident, or your spouse, or your mother, or your brother, or the kid on the playground, whatever. But but it’s it’s a different thing than just forgetting what happened a long time ago, the converse of that, or the flip side of that is also true. Just because you don’t remember it, or you’re not kind of paying attention to today doesn’t mean it’s forgiven. I think there were times where, you know, I was actually in conversation with somebody recently, who was kind of remembering stuff that they hadn’t thought about in a long, long time. And it didn’t mean they forgave. And when they did actively forgive, he made a world of difference for them. Yeah, any other things that we kind of think or people think forgiveness is they assume it is that it really is not.

Dan Keefer 14:00
There’s nothing else that’s specifically coming to mind.

Josh 14:03
Yeah. All right. So let’s, let’s shift gears, and we like what is forgiveness? Those things are not forgiveness. What is it? And we want to get clear about it. So that we can kind of wrap our brains, our hearts, our, our mouths, our ears around what this is, so we can do it. So we can be free from some of the stuff that held us back. So what are what are some of the ways you would define or think about what forgiveness is?

Dan Keefer 14:26
Yeah, one of the ways is think about is letting go of what’s owed. So if you imagine, like, we don’t have ledger books anymore, we have Excel spreadsheets. But if you imagine a ledger book where you’ve kept a record of individuals, you have their name, you have the date and time that they offended you and what the offense was, and, and it’s letting go of that. It’s it’s choosing to say that this debt is canceled, it’s erased, it’s gone. And so it’s no longer I mean, imagine carrying around like 50 pound ledger of everybody that’s ever harmed you it’s no longer carrying that. saying I am making a deliberate choice to let go of what I believe you owe me as a result of what you did to me. No longer that debt is canceled. Yeah.

Josh 15:10
So let’s get let’s get to get a little more practical and specific with that, Dan. So, first of all, we’re not talking about like, okay, I remember these 50 people who all treated me like cried in my elementary school, and I forgive them or, you know, I forgive the church for being so insensitive. Well, okay, wait, like, Who are we talking about? And what are we talking about, and that we don’t mean by that you have to like go through every single offense, I find that it’s often that God, like, has almost like left certain experiences that serve as somewhat of an archetype of the offenses. So you know, it may not be going through every single thing that your spouse did for the last 20 years. But it might be, there are a few key memories of these patterns that have been going on, and that you can name. And so it’s not kind of this all or nothing, just, you know, throw the whole ledger book away thing, but it’s, it’s getting a little bit more specific and saying, I forgive so and so for this specifically. And, and practically speaking, I think we’re like, we’re talking about an interaction between you and the Lord. Like where you’re, you’re saying, and I think it can be helpful to have somebody else in the room who’s praying with you, and agreeing with you in prayer about it. But it’s saying, Lord, I’ve been holding on to this, this debt that is owed. And I choose now, Lord, to release it to you. And for and I forgive this person, I forgive them for this, that it’s a powerful prayer to pray, it’s a powerful thing to walk through,

Dan Keefer 16:39
you’re saying something really significant, the whole piece of naming it, because when we do forgive in generalities, it’s like this broad brushstroke. And, on the other side of the other side of this is people that asked that apologize. And it’s the I call it the non apology apology, where a person says, Hey, you know, if I offended anyone, please forgive me. Well, that means nothing. It’s when you’re, you know, you’re able to articulate what it was. And so in the same way, when when extending forgiveness to someone and not asking for it, but when extending it, being able to name it being able to name the hurt as well, and how it impacted. Is, is so, so powerful. Again, it may not be stated to the individual that did the harm, but being able to state it to another person to another witness to someone that can help bear that up. So you’ve really been able to

Josh 17:31
give us like, what’s an example of when you say like, also including or acknowledging the pain that goes with it? How does that look if I’m walking through the process,

Dan Keefer 17:38
okay, so if there’s something that’s family related, it’s being able to say, Okay, my parent, my mom, my dad, when they responded, when I came home from school and had had my report card, and I had pretty much all really, really good grades, except there was one grade one class, I really struggled and I got a C minus. And they looked at it and said, you know, we got to find some way to pull up that c minus, and Okay, did that that wasn’t overtly hurtful, but it was still wounding. And so being able to say, you know, when I was eight years old, that was impactful, because it really led me to believe that nothing I could do was good enough. Or it’s as though there’s always something that was going to be picked out that I could improve on. And I never, I just didn’t feel as though I was blessed. I didn’t feel as though you could celebrate and rejoice with me with the things I was doing? Well, I think

Josh 18:35
I think what you’re drawing out here, Dan, is, when we talk about this ledger book, it’s it’s not just an intellectual ledger, there is an emotional relational ledger, that’s a part of it. And it’s just including more of the broad scope of the damage that was done if the hurt that was caused. And so I think here of Jesus on the cross, when he, as he hung there refused the wine that was typically given to criminals who are being crucified as a way to at least numb a little bit of the pain, the excruciating pain they were dealing with, and you refuse that and from that place, was able to say, Father, forgive them. So if there’s a soberness to it, it’s not like this is just in my head. I’m not reliving all of the pain necessarily, but I but I am aware of it, I

Dan Keefer 19:15
am, I am tapped into it. And I may even be feeling it as part of this forgiveness process. So we’re recording this prior to Good Friday. And so that Father forgive them. And I think what he said after that is powerful as well, for they don’t know what they’re doing. they know not what they do. And in the same way, we can extend forgiveness because in all likelihood, in a moment, like I was sharing about parents and a report card, at the moment, they they probably don’t know what they’re doing. Their hearts were in all likelihood, not malicious. And yet, that’s still a place to extend forgiveness to not excuse it, to not deny it as we talked about earlier, but to acknowledge the hurt that was there and to extend forgiveness.

Josh 19:56
I think the other piece that goes with that, for they know not what they do is it That that is that is an answer to us when we wrestle to forgive because they just don’t get it like I can’t really they don’t, they don’t know what they did like, when we kind of find ourselves scratching that itch. And just like really wanting someone to understand to get the pain they cost understand the full scope of the damage they did before we forgive. That’s not the model that Jesus gives us. He’s pretty clear, like, you know, they, you don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know what you did. And from this place, I forgive you like, yeah, it’s, it’s tough. So one of the definition of forgiveness I really like and I think I don’t remember where this comes from. But if we can figure it out, put in the show notes is simply this. Giving up the right to hurt someone back for the way they hurt me, give me the right to hurt someone back to the way they hurt me. That was one of the things that a Christian therapist I saw was the definition he gave me. And even though I didn’t, I wasn’t like volitionally walking around thinking I wanted to hurt other people. I think that was really helpful kind of immediate way for me to think about what I was trying to do. So any other things you would say about what forgiveness is dead?

Dan Keefer 20:58
Yeah, another one could be also giving God consent to lovingly deal with your offender. And so there’s that there’s that piece to it, where you’re actually saying, God, I surrender this person to you? I’m not you know, it’s asking God to lovingly deal with your offender not to, you know, God, if you could let this person get hit by a truck, that’d be great. No, that’s not it, lovingly deal with your offender. And so you’re, you’re really surrendering that person to God.

Josh 21:25
Yeah, yeah. So whatever you say about that, if you’re walking in a place where you’re wrestling with forgiveness, and we can help you more regenerations here to help you. Again, it’s so meaningful, so helpful for just a whole living and it’s it’s not so much about? Well, it what it is about is really you being more free to receive and give love as God designed you to so bless you and we’ll continue this conversation next week.

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Original music by Shannon Smith. Audio engineering by Gabriel @ DelMar Sound Recording.

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