Magazines 2024 May - Jun Forgiving starts with our own forgiven-ness

Forgiving starts with our own forgiven-ness

25 April 2024 By Keri Harvey

How good are we at rebuking, empathizing and the like? Let’s reflect together in this series.


Jean Valjean in the classic 19th-century story Les Misérables is introduced as having served 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s children.

Later he’s caught with silver flatware from a bishop’s house. The bishop tells the officers who have caught Valjean the flatware was a gift and that Valjean had also forgotten two silver candlesticks.

Then the bishop speaks these amazing words. “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”

Valjean’s life of being bitterly wronged turns around when the Bishop of Digne shows kindness and forgiveness.

The essence of forgiveness is to know we’ve been loved and forgiven for inexcusable offences – and to offer that unearned forgiveness to others in response.

We see this theme in Luke 7:36–50 where a “sinful” woman washes Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. “Her many sins have been forgiven,” says Jesus, “as her great love has shown. But Harveywhoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Forgiving is hard work. Here are three ideas to help us along the way.

Stay humble

Forgiveness has almost nothing to do with the repentance or worthiness of the offender.

Instead it starts with us. We all have our sore spots – life creates bruises. We are more sensitive in some areas than people may realize. Often people can trample all over us and our feelings, but have no idea how much damage they are causing. Might that be relevant here?

Forgiveness often feels impossible because we know we’re right. We’ve done nothing wrong, yet we have been wronged. So another step toward forgiveness is remembering how much we have been forgiven.

We all make mistakes, miss opportunities to make someone feel better or included, and say the wrong things at times. Remembering our own shortcomings can help when we are tempted to nurse a grudge.

Every relationship experiences tears. Our job, as much as it is up to us, is to offer repair and a fresh start.

Guard against offence

Another step toward forgiveness involves dealing with offence. Three ways offence enters us are annoyance, resentment and disrespect.

“Can you believe they did that?” “I would never act like that!” Phrases like these come from annoyance when someone else’s behaviour breaks our rules.

Resentment comes from unmet expectations. “I thought you would be there for me.” Or “I thought we were close friends, but you never try to connect with me.” Trying to read another person’s motives can be tempting, but it can also trap us in offence.

And disrespect arises from a perceived insult or disregard. “Did you hear how they talked to me?” Or “Who are they to judge me? I know who they are and what they do!”

Once offence has entered a filter drops over our eyes and we can’t see people charitably. In our mind we have prepared a case against them, and built a fence to protect ourselves and keep them out.

Admittedly sometimes we need fences and some people are not safe. But let’s ensure we aren’t blocking them out because we are hurt or offended.

Forgiveness helps us remove the filter and try to see them again through God’s eyes.

Keep a generous mind

Proverbs 11:27 says, “If you search for good, you will find favour; But if you search for evil, it will find you!” Simply put, we find more of what we focus on.

People can seem like enemies as soon as we start looking for hidden motives and undertones.

But most of the time we are small players in their bigger life. Can we challenge ourselves to be more generous in our opinions?

Most of the time people aren’t trying to hurt others. They may be careless, hurting or misinformed, but most of the time people don’t set out to wound others.

These three ideas are worth practising. God’s gift of forgiveness to us offers unlimited fuel to enable us to work toward offering that gift to others.

Keri Harvey, MA, is a registered clinical counsellor in Langley, B.C., and an associate counsellor with Through Therapy Collective (

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