What does it mean to forgive someone?

There is a lot of confusion about forgiveness, especially when it comes to child abuse. Sometimes a well-intended friend will tell us, “You just need to forgive and move on.” Or a relative may encourage us to “forgive and forget.” Both of these statements confuse rather than clarify the matter of forgiveness.

First let us consider what forgiveness is not. It is not saying what the person did was okay. It was not. It was wrong and it hurt us deeply. Nor does forgiveness mean we have to forget and act as though it never happen. That is not helpful either. If we know someone is an abuser, we need to remember that and do what we can to prevent that person from abusing us or others in the future. That was difficult to do as a child because of our vulnerable situation.

A simple definition of forgiveness is “giving up my self-perceived right to get even.” Romans 12 tells us, “’It is mine to avenge, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Giving up the desire to get even does not usually happen quickly. The person hurt us deeply, to our very heart and soul. Some days we may be ready to leave it in God’s hands. Other days we are filled with anger and hurt.  

The more we let go of this perceived right, the more we free ourselves from the captivity of the abuse. So we see that giving up the right is not something that benefits the abuser, but something that helps us in our journey of healing.  

Because forgiveness can be difficult and complex, it is helpful to seek out a pastor or Christian counselor to help us with this process.