How to be Free from Painful Offenses

When our oldest daughter was about nine, her daddy hurt her feelings. He went to her, acknowledged his wrong attitude, and genuinely asked her forgiveness. Long after the conversation, she sat silent with her arms crossed and her jaw set.

Me: Did daddy apologize and ask for your forgiveness?

Her: Yes.

Me: You still seem to be upset. What’s keeping you from forgiving him?

Her: He’ll just do it again!

Whether we are nine, nineteen, or 90, repeat offenses are hard to forgive, perhaps the hardest of all. We’re not talking about an abusive situation where you are in danger, physically or emotionally. That’s when the immediate and most important step is getting out of the situation. Don’t equate forgiveness with trust—never stay in a dangerous relationship.

Having said that, there are multiple scenarios in ordinary life where we encounter repeat offenders. It could be the hard to get along with co-worker who enjoys irritating you. An ex who looks for loopholes to not pay child support. Or something annoying like your spouse not squeezing the toothpaste tube like you do.

Sometimes a true story is a good example, with a few changes to protect confidentiality. Sarah has several adult children and has always worked hard to be a good mom. She and her daughter were close until the last few years of college. The changes were small at first but escalated after graduation to where the daughter stopped coming home for holidays and belligerently refused to talk to anyone in the family, especially Sarah.

Totally confused by these changes, Sarah did all kinds of things to create contact. She sent gifts, left voice messages, sent money, anything to try to create a conversation. The result was angry, mean messages from the daughter. She had moved out of state, was living with someone, and made it clear she wanted to be left alone.

Sarah went into deep depression for several years. Every rejection became an accusation that she was a failure as a mother. She questioned what she had done wrong. Her husband and adult children tried to reason with her and console her. She was constantly being offended and deeply hurt.

There are many layers to this story. It took a while, but Sarah eventually accepted that she could only change her own responses. God cared more for her daughter than she did, so she released her to Him. After that, each repeat offense—a missed holiday, a missed family celebration, a rejected text—that stung initially, was faced differently. She forgave the new offense, released it, and enjoyed the rest of her family. She loves her daughter and prays for her often, but no longer allows her daughter’s drama to control her life.

When Jesus was talking about forgiving 70 times seven* in one day, He was talking about living in an attitude of forgiveness. Each repeat offense is to be forgiven as its own, separate offense—even knowing it could happen again. Sometimes it’s as if we need to forgive someone for who they have chosen to become. Forgiveness is for the one doing the forgiving; it frees us from bitterness.

The 9-year-old inside each of us can sit with our arms crossed and our jaws set because what happened was wrong. Yes, it was wrong. We can’t change that, but we can forgive and enjoy life.

* Matthew 18:22