Forgiving Sets Us Free


As children, we are taught to apologize to others when we do something wrong.

You smacked your little sister? Broke your best friend’s favorite toy? Told a classmate he was ugly or she was stupid? You are told to apologize. This is supposed to make the person you’ve hurt feel better and ease your guilt.

These childhood lessons make it seem like forgiveness is all about redemption. I hurt you, you forgive me, we both feel better.

As an adult, I’ve learned there’s more to it than that. Sometimes people hurt us and they don’t apologize. They seem indifferent or oblivious. Or they are so angry that it doesn’t stop with the hurt — they walk out on us forever. There’s no desire and possibly no need to make our angry friend feel better about what she’s done, so we don’t worry about forgiving.

When we fail to forgive, however, we give ourselves a new burden. Our resentment at our ex-friend stays with us. Whenever we hear her name, we grind our teeth and our gut clenches. We remember the words she said or relive the painful moment when she betrayed us. We add our anger and hurt to the invisible pack we carry with us everywhere, one more thing to weigh us down.

Forgiving those who seem least to deserve is the hardest form of forgiveness there is —and the most rewarding one to achieve.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and to discover that the prisoner was you. — L.B. Smedes

Sometimes, forgiving releases the guilt of a person who has done the wrong, and sometimes it doesn’t. But forgiveness frees the forgiver every single time.

Today, members of 1000 Voices of Compassion are blogging about forgiveness. To see a list of other posts on forgiveness and compassion, click here.

18 thoughts on “Forgiving Sets Us Free”

  1. Very well written. I think there is a lot of truth in this. It is often very hard to forgive, it is so much easier to just hold that grudge, and yet it is liberating to forgive. Forgiving does lessen that load and helps with the closure.

    1. Thank you. Being angry has it’s advantages (it’s a great excuse for behaving badly), but in the end I think forgiveness, even if the recipient isn’t remorseful, is the better choice.

  2. I don’t know really what to add as a comment here. I hear everything you are saying in your post. I still don’t know how to let things go and I’d hoped reading so many people’s thoughts on this topic might help. I will read posts like yours over and over again, if that’s what it takes to get through to my stubborn self.
    Thank you.

    1. The best way I have learned to let go and forgive: pray for the person you are angry at to get everything you want for yourself. Health, love, success, whatever it is you want for yourself, ask for all of it for the other person. Do it daily. Don’t worry about whether or not you actually mean it. Just do it until you are no longer angry and have forgiven them. This has worked well for me, though I don’t pretend that I have achieved perfect forgivenenss. It has definitely reduced my resentment towards people who have hurt me.

  3. I agree wholehearted with your last paragraph in particular. I stored resentment towards a few people for decades and when I began to forgive it freed me completely. It wasn’t a once-and-done-with-it thing, but rather a process – noticing the anger, sometimes learning to have empathy and choosing to let go. Self-forgiveness is a huge part of it too, we need to forgive ourselves to truly forgive others I think, we need to see our own and another’s innocent core.
    Thanks for this lovely post.

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment! I was torn between writing about this and writing about self-forgiveness because I sometimes think the person I am hardest on is myself. As you say, we need both, badly.

  4. Great post and what I’m also enjoying is going through the contributing posts, reading the comments and feeling this accumulating warmth, wisdom, love. It’s beautiful. The complete antithesis of unforgiveness.
    We had a playdate which turned out extremely badly and the mother of the other girl ended up being engulfed by hate. I was terrified of her and contacted the Police. She took her daughter out of the school. Whenever I see her now, it looks like that hate has changed her face just like my grandmother used to tell me when I was little. I think she used to tell me that if the wind changed my face might get stuck like that. I believed her too!
    xx Rowena

  5. I have had, like many people, a very complicated relationship with my parents. I read a mantra recently in a book ‘I forgive
    You for not being who I want you to be, I forgive you and set you free’. I am not AT ALL someone who uses mantras in general but I found this one stuck in my head and went a long way to reconciling loving them as they are.

    1. I think it must be hard for parents, because when we’re little, we idolize them, and then we grow up to find out they are just human beings like everyone else. Forgiving their shortcomings can be difficult. They are in a place of power and their children are helpless for a long time. For me, it all revolves on acceptance. I have to accept them as they are instead of as I want them to be. Tricky, but worth the effort.

  6. Exactly, the forgiveness is, like your post says, more about realising that it is me that has the issues and trying to release them from whatever ideals I wanted to hold them to, they have always been who they are. My siblings look for apologies for the past but that will only get you so far, in the end you have to forgive.

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