The Heart of the Matter: Forgivness (you know you're singing that song now).

What if Don Henley was right, all along? What if the heart of the matter really is forgiveness?

In the last few months, I’ve been praying about this topic. Specifically, I’ve been trying to come to a place of forgiveness for the multitude of people who have hurt me over the years. That probably sounds like I’m a miserable, scowling curmudgeon, muttering cynicisms under my breath and telling kids to get off my lawn. I can assure you, that’s not the case.

On the outside, I mean.

I had been doing a pretty good job of (rather magnanimously) offering forgiveness to people on the periphery of my emotional attachments. You know, like the person who was loafing in the left lane of the highway when I was in a hurry, or the person du mois who continually tries to provoke me on Facebook.

But when it came to people closer to my heart, and therefore more capable of hurting me, forgiveness became a lot harder to offer. When I’d try to offer forgiveness, I’d mentally hem and haw, struggling to even form the words to describe what I was trying to forgive.

I persisted, determined to unburden myself and be as Christ-like as a broken woman could manage. There was one person who has really been pretty awful and manipulative to me most of my adult life. That was a tough one, so I set aside that prayer until the next day, telling myself that it wasn’t procrastination…it was planning ahead for a really devoted and fresh prayer session. Ha. I may have even put it off a couple of days. Or a few days. Whatever. Don't nit-pick.

Finally, it was time to deliver a hum-dinger of a prayer. I knelt. I gave thanks. And then I launched into the catalogue of things for which I wanted to offer forgiveness, explaining to God that sometimes I am so impatient with this person as a defense mechanism, because they make me so nuts with their antics. Of course, I generously added that this person has some mental issues to contend with, and deserved forgiveness all the more

And that’s when God stopped me right in my sanctimonious little tracks.

“So, you know this person has unsolved problems, you’re justifying your impatience with them, and now you think you’re the one to offer forgiveness? Maybe you should be asking My forgiveness about this. You have barely a clue about what it’s like to walk around in this person’s shoes; you are blessed beyond measure.” That rebuke stung, but God was right, so I asked forgiveness of Him for being such an unfeeling jerk.

Well, that was the last person on my list, so I tried to keep it clear almost daily in a spit-spot Mary Poppins way. But the mind is a funny, funny thing, dear readers. 

As I went about my daily tasks, my mind would wander to some really significant situations and words that have hurt me, caused by two of the people I had already offered forgiveness to in prayer. I won’t go into the situations, but it’s utter and persistent betrayal in close relationships, by people who happen to believe they’re simply better people. They’re actually pretty heartless, and not in a small way, and are quite adept at gas-lighting.

Clearly, I had some more work to do. I tried brushing aside those pesky thoughts by offering quick prayers on the spot, as each hurt would come up. But the thoughts kept coming. In fact, sometimes I'd fantasize about giving those people a good old-fashioned butt chewing, hoping it might be cathartic and make me feel better. Nope.

Fast forward to last evening when a sister in Christ shared a video of a guy talking about a vision of Judgement Day he says he was given by God. The video was a little too dramatic for my taste; it felt staged. But he made such a great plea for offering forgiveness to each other, describing each incident of un-forgiveness as a seed taking root within us, that it really made an impression on me. He said that God pointed out ti him the people he hadn’t yet forgiven, and the guy argued back, assuring God that he really had offered it. God countered, “If you’ve forgiven them, then why each time you talk on the phone with them, do you treat them as if the hurt had happened all over again, at that moment?”

You see, the guy was offering lip-service forgiveness, not heart-driven forgiveness. He may have said it, but he wasn’t living it. And that’s exactly what I was doing each time those hurts, caused by a couple of folks in my life, came up in my mind. In fact, I haven’t spoken to one of them in a few years, just so I won’t get into an argument with the person. Pro tip: writing the person off completely isn't actual forgiveness.

Well, back to prayer! This time, I asked God to show me how I’m supposed to do this. I mean, those last two people have really been awful. I’d genuinely like to exit their bitter, selfish lives and just move on. Here’s how the rest of that conversation went:

God: Try to see them for how broken they are. Something makes them this way. Part of it is your interactions with them, but most of it was there before you ever arrived on scene.

Me: But HOW? They keep doing the same things to me over, and over, and over. It’s such a long history of rotten behavior. Not outright dangerous, or abusive, but just rotten – and I can’t take it anymore!

God: Think about all the times you’ve disappointed me. You’ve sinned repeatedly, even after you professed your love to me. What you’ve done with me is way worse than anything these people have done to you. And I FORGAVE YOU. 

It was gently, but firmly, delivered. It made me squirm, but I know I'm on the right track. Last night I woke up a few times, and someone else would pop into mind. The hurts were minor, but I really feel God wants me to address these things. 

Here are a handful of tips that you may find useful, should you decide to embark on a forgiveness journey. If you have some advice of your own, please take a moment to share them below. I'm still working on it, and I wouldn't mind some help.
  • If someone or some event keeps popping into your mind, you haven’t fully forgiven. Those conversations you may have in your head, where you come up with the perfect zinger to use the next time you talk with them, are an indication of your heart. Even if you think you’ve forgiven, there’s a strong chance there’s more work to do.
  • Everyone is a hot mess, trying to get through life and feel loved. We all want affection, attention, acceptance, and affirmation. We all want unconditional love, even though none of us have managed to actually give that to anyone else.
  • Remember, that their spirit might be horribly broken, long before you ever arrived on scene. Take a look at the offender’s background, if possible, or history of behavior. Consider how many times they’ve tried to one-up, intimidate, manipulate, boast, deceive…what kind of brokenness could that be pointing to? Sometimes the tiniest, unintentional hurt has happened in that person’s childhood, and they’ve spent many years devising ways to make the pain stop. Perhaps they’ve even been unintentionally vulnerable with you, giving insight into what’s going on with them. Walk in those shoes for a moment.
  • Define the specific hurt they’ve caused you. Put a very precise label on it, and forgive that, in words, asking God to take that pain from you and bless the other person with a way to overcome their own hurts.
  • Understand that your own background may be contributing to an already bad situation. The sharp edges you gained from painful experiences may be sharpening the edges on the person who is hurting you. Ask God to help you identify your own painful places and to heal them.
  • Look closely at the definition of forgiveness in scripture, not in the dictionary. It talks about letting go, releasing a debt, and giving it to God to deal with. Really seek this definition out in prayer, and ask God to show you how to forgive as He has done. Don’t assume you must allow that pattern of hurt to continue.
  • Understand that forgiveness is a gift to you. I look forward to the day when the hurts caused by these last two folks no longer cross my mind. It’s been so freeing to let go of some of the other, smaller, hurts. Try it. It not only pleases God, but it also unties some nasty little knots in your heart. It's worth it.

I sure wish I could tell you that this is the definitive guide to forgiveness (hey folks, as easy as 1-2-3!), and that  I’m totally healed, and all-forgiving. I’m not. I’m still struggling. But Don Henley was absolutely correct when he said the heart of the matter is forgiveness.

If you need any further encouragement, consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:14:

"For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

That’s a pretty amazing promise, isn’t it?

Eyes up!


  1. So so good! Thank you! One thing Father gave me years back (before I knew HE gave it to me) was to remind myself that EVERYONE has a story. That was driven home when I watched the movie Good Will Hunting mostly thru tears - seriously, see this movie and you will never forget that there's a story in everyone. I've also learned in recent years that Satan really knows how to poke us in the tender spots - especially in marriage - any relational issues in that department here are most ALWAYS a result of Satan putting my brokenness against hers. It's much easier to enter the forgiveness zone (for me) when I blame it on Satan :)

  2. Forgiveness is not always an easy thing to do, especially when the offense or hurt is deep. I have found as a Christian that when I truly do forgive from my heart that the release is so freeing! When we forgive it allows room for the Fruit of the Spirit, joy, peace, love, kindness, patience, ect... but I find when there is unforgiveness in my heart that has taken root it begins to crowd out the good with bitterness, sadness, anger, despair, etc., so yes, it is very freeing to truly forgive and walk in love. I still deal with issues and find I have to 'take up the cross daily' YET at the same time trust the blood of Jesus to wash thoroughly my sins yesterday, today and future, that is very freeing as well. We will always as born again, Spirit filled believers desire and strive to walk in love, to please our Savior but we will fail from time to time, this is when God's mercy, love and grace come in. I have learned in my Christian walk that when I walk in love it is easier to not take offense and forgive. Not to say I have arrived, we will not be like Him until we see Him as He is 1 John 3:2 (my paraphrase). But, the more we obey His Word, putting on the full armor of God, casting down thoughts and vain imaginations that exalt themselves above the Word of God, forgive, walk in love and the fruit of the Spirit, pray always then the stronger we are able to stand up against those onslaughts that could cause us to be hurt and hold forgiveness. Not there yet but desire to be more able to walk in love, see with His eyes, listen with His ears, put a guard on my lips. I also don't see striving to walk in that manner as 'works' but more of growing and maturing in my walk with Him. We are commanded to forgive, I believe it's for our own health, mentally, spiritually and physically but also so that we can be forgiven of our sins.


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