5 Myths About Forgiveness—And 6 Ways to Deal With the Pain

A lot of people spend their lives confused about forgiveness. (Maybe because it’s so counterintuitive?) I was one of them. But as I grew and learned more about God’s Word and his best for my life, I began to see that some of the “truths” I attached to forgiveness were just plain lies. If that’s you, too, let’s set the record straight about five popular myths.

Myth #1: Forgiveness means you agree with or support the person’s actions.

Truth: I can forgive someone even when what he or she did was 100 percent wrong.

Myth #2: Forgiveness makes you a doormat, because you can never stand up for yourself.

Truth: Jesus taught that true strength is found in humility (see Matthew 5:5). You can forgive and still set clear boundaries.

Myth #3: If you’ve really forgiven someone, you won’t feel hurt anymore.

Truth: Forgiveness doesn’t always erase pain, especially not at first.

Myth #4: It’s fine to wait indefinitely for the person to apologize before you forgive him or her.

Truth: You can forgive someone even if he or she never admits to being wrong or apologizes.

Myth #5: Forgiving means forgetting.

Truth: You might never forget what happened, even when you’ve truly forgiven someone. God can’t forget our sins (because he’s all-knowing), but he has chosen to forgive and not hold them against us.

That last one is so important that I want to dive into it a little deeper. You game?

Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, once asked Jesus just how many times he should forgive someone. See, the Jews had a custom that if someone jacked you seven times in the same way, you could write the person off. You had done your fair share and could now check the little “forgiveness” box on your spiritual task list. But Jesus’ answer didn’t jive with what Peter had been taught. Let’s listen in on the conversation:

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” (Matthew 18:21-22)

Four hundred ninety times for the same stupid thing done to you? Not only is that radical, but it seems a little unrealistic. I mean, I get the point, Jesus, but I can’t think of anyone in my life who has sinned against me in the same way that many times. So what did Jesus mean by those words?

The obvious lesson is that we shouldn’t put a limit on how many times we forgive someone when he or she sins against us. But Jesus had a divine knack for weaving layers into his teaching, and I have a hunch that might be the case here.

What if Jesus also meant that we’d sometimes need to forgive someone up to four hundred ninety times in our hearts for the same hurtful thing done to us? In other words, for the same offense?

Because forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting and because I’m a sinner with a heart bent on whining about fairness, there have definitely been times in my life when a memory of something done to me resurfaces and I have to re-forgive that person in my heart. Again. And again. And one more time for good measure. When I look at forgiveness as a process of letting go of “fair” over and over in my heart, that four hundred ninety times starts looking necessary.

Forgiveness is not a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Have you seen those things? That white sponge does miracles, I tell you. Got Sharpie on your white desk? Rub-a-dub and presto chango! No more Sharpie. Scuff marks on a floor, or mildew on the shower wall? Gone. Battery acid on an oak floor? See ya. (True story.)

There’s nothing those little sponges can’t get rid of. But forgiveness won’t make the hurts magically disappear. And if they don’t just disappear, that means the pain sometimes lingers. So what happens when we find ourselves reliving hurts from people we love? How do we deal with the pain?

I can give you no better advice when it comes to family-caused pain (or any pain, for that matter) than this: Hold tight to God. He’s the only one who will always know just the right words to say, has the power to give you supernatural peace, and wants to comfort you and grow you, no strings attached. Here are some of the ways God comforted and helped King David when he was at his wit’s end:

My father and mother walked out and left me, but God took me in … I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness in the exuberant earth. Stay with God! Take heart. Don’t quit. I’ll say it again: Stay with God. (Psalm 27:10, 13-14, MSG)

“If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God, “I’ll get you out of any trouble. I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know and trust me. Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times; I’ll rescue you … I’ll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!” (91:14-16, MSG)

Reading those verses just now brought tears to my eyes. What amazing comfort! The God of the universe promises to take care of us, to be by our sides, to rescue us, if only we’ll get to know and trust Him. That’s our part. If we want to make it through the pain caused by our families, we have to dive headlong into our relationship with our Divine Daddy: our God full of kindness, warmth and tenderness.

When life delivers the hardest punches, we are usually tempted to turn to people to comfort us: to our friends, to our parents, and especially to guys. I know that. But God is the only one who will always be there for you—who will always have the best advice and purest comfort. Don’t take Him for granted.

How to Deal with the Pain

Truly forgiving also includes dealing with our pain in healthy ways. Healing can’t take place if we ignore the pain or cope with it in destructive ways, such as cutting, eating disorders, anger or internalizing our emotions. So let’s talk about some healthy ways to deal with hurt.

1. Let God’s Word Rock You

Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the Word of God is alive and powerful, sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword. It’s so sharp that it can cut through any walls we’ve put up in our hearts, letting God heal us right where we need it. The Bible speaks to our hearts in uncanny ways. Get into it and get refreshed.

2. Talk to God

A lot of us have this funny habit of praying, “God, show me how to handle such-and-such situation,” saying amen, and then going about life as usual, never giving him a second thought throughout the day. It’s like messaging a friend with “Do you want to hang out this weekend?” but never messaging back to figure out the details, such as when and where to meet.

How can God show us how to handle difficult or painful situations if we’re not willing to spend time with him, working out the details? Jesus said, “Come to me … and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). Before we can find that rest, we have to come to him. Talk to him. Spend time chatting it up about our feelings, experiences and pain.

3. Exercise

There’s nothing like a good run, walk on the beach, dance class or bike ride to lift a girl’s spirits. Not only are you taking care of the body God has given you (which is a very good thing), but the endorphins your body releases are a natural pick-me-up. For extra credit, you can use your time alone as you run, walk, ride or swim to talk with God about your feelings.

4. Write

Studies have shown that people who write about their feelings tend to have a better handle on them. Whether you keep a journal, write poetry, blog or create music, writing forces you to sift through your feelings to get to the root causes of them.

I’ll be honest, sometimes a good old-fashioned, dark and depressing venting session is in order. However, if you stay there forever, you’re going to drown in your own depressing puddles of words. It’s okay to write about your sadness or hurt. King David (writer of many a psalm) wasn’t shy about his pain, anger and amped-up desire for justice. But in the end, his psalms almost always circled back around to God’s love, truth and victory. He didn’t stay in the dregs forever; he remembered hope. And infusing your writing with hope will do wonders for your heart.

5. Talk with a Friend

I know that finding a friend who will listen and has wise advice can be about as hard to find as genuine Uggs at Goodwill. But look for one. And if you find one, confide in her. The proverb is true that “some friends don’t help, but a true friend is closer than your own family” (Prov. 18:24, CEV). A true friend can help you see aspects of a situation you hadn’t thought of, pray for you when you’re stuck, and bring joy and companionship to the hard days.

6. Look Outside Yourself

Your family life might stink. Genuinely. But if you focus on only your own misery, you’ll miss opportunities to be a friend to others, serve selflessly, love deeply, and represent Christ to your friends and family. There’s a whole world out there that needs the love of Christ, and you can offer it. Don’t let Satan sideline you from this huge spiritual battle we’re in by convincing you that you can’t fight when you’re in pain. Even those gifted with “heightened sensory perception” (aka pain wimps) like I am can cowgirl up and fight through life’s hurts.

Taken from Family by Jessie Minassian. Copyright © 2017. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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Jessie Minassian loves Jesus, sunshine, and sand between her toes. She’s a speaker at churches and events across the country, an author of 12 books, including Unashamed: Overcoming the Sins No Girl Wants to Talk About, and the resident “big sis” at LifeLoveandGod.com, a popular website that helps teen girls find their identity, pleasure and purpose in God. She lives in California with her husband and two daughters.