Heather’s unexpected journey

When you feel justified to be angry and not forgive

Chris & Heather hosted our couple’s small group for two years. Their daughter Emily was tragically killed in an automobile accident. It may have been the most difficult funeral I’ve ever officiated. Afterwards, Heather began an unexpected forgiveness journey. Today, she shares her journey as only Heather can. Full-on honesty. 

Two years ago I never gave much thought about forgiveness. It just wasn’t that important to me… it was easier to stay mad and go on about my business… I was stubborn and it didn’t seem to bother me in the least. I know that statement probably made a few eyebrows raise and may have even gotten a grumble out of some people. No one is perfect and I was no exception… I’m still no exception. Forgiveness can sometimes seem so small that it’s hardly worth bothering with or it can seem so big that it doesn’t really apply to your situation. I tend to think it’s whichever suits us at the time just as long as we can avoid the whole thing all together. But sometimes… sometimes, you can’t run away and you can’t justify not dealing with it… it’s too big to sweep under the rug or hide in the closet.

On June 7, 2014… I sat on the porch of my husband’s grandfather’s house talking with our oldest daughter Emily. She was 22 at the time and embodied the free-spirit wild child that caused us many sleepless nights and had us shaking our heads many other times… but she always, always made us laugh. Like most other girls as she was growing up, there was no shortage of drama. When she would come home with hurt feelings or mad because “so-and-so did this to me”, “so-and-so said this” or whatever the case was, I would instantly tell her to stay away and don’t talk to them. So… a few days later when she would come home after school with said person in tow, I never understood… I mean, aren’t WE still mad at them?!?! None of this changed as she got older and when I would ask her how she could just look the other way when someone hurt or wronged her, she would simply say “it’s easier than staying mad.” It aggravated me to no end and if I’m being completely honest, I thought of it as a sign of weakness… or at least I used to.

I didn’t know that when she drove off that afternoon, it would be the last time I would see her. We texted a few times that evening and within a few minutes of my last text, she was gone. She had left the safety of that porch and went to the river in a neighboring town to go swimming with her boyfriend Michael and another couple. I’m not sure why, but when they headed back, she rode in the passenger side of the other car and not in her boyfriend’s car. The two guys started racing back to town, Michael’s car lost control and while the car Emily was in swerved to miss it, they too lost control and crossed into oncoming traffic. The semi hit the passenger side and in an instant, she was gone. When her boyfriend’s car came to a stop, he ran away and wasn’t found by the Sheriff’s Dept for 4 hours. And because of that, it was 4 hours before we were notified of the accident and her death, because they had no way to ID her.

Emily Word

And so began a different life. I don’t know how it’s possible to remain one single body yet feel like you’ve been divided into 3 or 4 and each one of those going down a different road, embarking on its own journey. One of those journeys has been forgiveness… it has been the hardest and has been met with the most resistance. I’ve been through a rollercoaster of emotions when it comes to Michael and it started well before the accident. After several months into their relationship, I wasn’t a fan. It wasn’t healthy… in fact it was volatile. I couldn’t understand how two people could bring out the best and the worst in each other, but somehow they managed to do that. I think that I was his first phone call after they picked him up and booked him that night. It’s not a conversation that I remember too well but I do remember that I didn’t know any of the specifics at that time. The second phone call that came a few hours later, I had more information… and I was mad.

We were never able to see Emily again… we were just left with having to take someone’s word that it in fact, was her. Emily had secured her place in Heaven many years before this would happen and I knew where she was, I knew that she would never know pain or sadness and that she could never be hurt again. I clung to my faith the week between the wreck and her funeral, and it was the ONLY thing that got me through. My faith never faltered and I never stopped believing even when I got to the “angry with God” point… which I won’t lie, lasted a long time. I was angry with everyone… this was NOT supposed to happen to us… this is what happens to OTHER people. Any hint of forgiveness was gone. And thus began a vicious cycle that lasted for well over a year.

I remember the first time during all of this when I was met head on with what I thought was the choice of “forgiving” Michael. We sat in the office of the District Attorney and had to re-hash everything… to decide how we wanted to proceed. A plea agreement was presented, we accepted it and that was that. “That was that”… to say that I was naïve would be an understatement. It was probably my first lesson showing me that I knew nothing about what forgiveness really was. Just because we didn’t push things and try and get the harshest punishment there was, didn’t mean I had forgiven… but I thought it did at the time. But then Thanksgiving came and she was still gone, then Christmas and then her birthday. And with everything that came and went with her not there with us, the anger and resentment grew. Just as it seemed to subside a little, something would happen and once again the fire would be stoked. When you combine grief, anger and guilt… guilt because of the wrongs you can’t right and for not being able to protect your child… it creates a storm that will leave you exhausted, bitter and destructive.

There was probably close to a year that I didn’t have any contact with Michael. I think that was probably good for both of us. But in December of 2015, he contacted me via Facebook and let me know that he would be released and back in town the following month on January 11. Suddenly, I didn’t know what to do… I didn’t know how to feel. I was tired… tired of being angry then okay… tired of rehashing everything… tired of trying to figure out how I felt. I stopped praying the day after Emily’s funeral… I remember that moment with complete clarity… but I started again… eventually. At first it was awkward, I didn’t know what to say and truthfully, it didn’t seem sincere. So my path that led me back to praying began with me opening up to God with how and why I was so angry at Him… and eventually I found my way back. I had been praying for God to show me how I needed to feel, even though I knew exactly how God would want me to feel. Maybe this was an exception… I mean, it seemed reasonable to justify why I should be angry and not forgive.

I think it was a day or two after he got back to town that I reached out and asked him if he would like to go to the cemetery with me. He did. I had been feverishly praying about how to handle my emotions and how to handle this day, should it come about. On my way to pick him up, it wasn’t God that I talked to… it was Emily. Looking back, I know that God was giving me the answer as to how I should feel but I wasn’t as open to it as I thought. I was looking for the answer I wanted… not the one I needed. On my way over there, I begged and pleaded with Emily to somehow let me know how she wanted me to feel. If she wanted me to be mad, then I would be mad. I had so much that I wanted to say to him, so many questions… so many accusations… so many terrible things I wanted to say…

When he walked around the corner something happened… to me… I felt it and I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t angry, I didn’t hate him and I didn’t remember one thing that I had prepared myself to say. I couldn’t have been mad if I had tried and honestly, I was pretty mad about that. What I saw when he walked around that corner, was the person that Emily loved, she loved the good and the bad even though I never understood it. I saw a 21-year-old who will have to live the rest of his life knowing that he played a part in the death of his girlfriend and his best friend… I saw someone who looked lost and who was going to have to find their place in this world as a different person. We stopped and he bought flowers then off we went to the cemetery. It was the first time he had been able to go and I guess that I was needing to see a certain reaction… and I did… it was remorse, it was hurt and it was regret. As we sat out there and talked, I could almost feel myself forgiving him. It was an emotional visit and when I dropped him off and drove away, I knew that was not the end.

I have journaled my way through my grief and other emotions over the last year and a half and wanted to share my view of forgiveness as well. A few days after our visit to the cemetery, I posted this… In the last year and a half, I’ve had to work a lot on forgiveness. It’s not an easy thing to do because we always feel justified in the reason we can’t or won’t forgive a person. The one thing I know is that forgiving someone doesn’t change what happened… but neither does not forgiving them. Forgiving does not make you weak, it does not make you lesser of a person. It does not make you stupid or crazy. If fact, it makes you the opposite of all those things. Staying angry will slowly eat you alive and you won’t even realize it. What is the hardest part? It is knowing you will have to defend yourself and argue your point on why you forgave someone. It’s knowing that relationships and friendships will end or forever be changed. Why do I choose to forgive? It’s because I needed to… it was good for me and good for him… it’s what we are supposed to do… it’s because it makes me feel better emotionally, mentally and physically… it’s because we all need to be forgiven by someone for something and it’s got to start somewhere.

Over the next month or so, I would take him to the cemetery when he wanted to go. I also would pick him up on Tuesday’s, go eat dinner and then drop him off at one of his groups he had to go to. I had… and I have, forgiven him. And in doing so, it changed me. My heart was no longer as heavy and I was able to deal with some aspects of my grief that until that point, I felt, were slowly killing me. Do I think that we will be a part of each other’s life for years to come? I don’t know… but probably not. We will always share something and have one thing in common… we loved a beautiful, amazing girl who changed our lives. But, I know that his life will continue… I know that one day he will find someone, fall in love and maybe even have kids. And when that happens, I will be okay. It’s what I would have wanted for her… if she still had the chance.


The one thing you must stop saying

“I’m learning a lot from your book. I wrote down my story in one paragraph and am focusing not to tell it again.”

(Facebook message I received from a man on Sunday)

He’d just finished reading chapter three in my forgiveness book and he took the challenge! What challenge? To keep quiet.

Let’s be honest. Telling your story might be a little bit fun. Okay, it can be a lot of fun! But it eventually paralyzes you.

After you’ve been hurt, two things usually happen and people rarely connect the dots:

  • You tell your story
  • You struggle to forgive

It turns out your story is part of the problem. Every time you tell someone else what your offender did, you strike a match in your heart lighting a bitter flame.

Quiet Please

I know this about you – you’re telling a story right now. Even if you’re not telling anyone else your story, you’re telling yourself your story. So, what’s your story?

Here are three reasons you should be paying attention to the story you’re telling:

Reason #1: Your Story Fuels Your Emotions

Your mind is like a filing cabinet full of categorized memories. For instance, every time you recall a memory from the emotional category of “anger” you access the other anger memories filed nearby. Maybe you’ve notice when you’re telling your story that you often remember other times you’ve felt angry and you feel yourself suddenly more “fired up”. Your story is fueling your emotions.

Reason #2: Your Story Isolates You

Every time you tell your story, you further isolate yourself from the people you most care about. Repeating your story as a victim quickly removes your warmth. You are pushing people away by rehashing your story. Even though you want to draw sympathy and support, your story sounds like a broken record and people can endure that kind of noise for only so long.

Reason #3: Your Story Reveals Your Heart

“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” -Luke 6:45

Your public words reveal your private heart. Your story is your heart’s MRI. So pay attention to what you’re saying and what you allow your mind to dwell on.

Jesus was:

  • Betrayed by his friend Judas
  • Abandoned by his closest friends, the disciples
  • Rejected by the religious at Caiaphas’ Council
  • Physically and emotionally assaulted by strangers
  • Humiliated in public by Herod
  • Falsely condemned by Pilate
  • Publicly crucified

If anyone was ever entitled to tell his story as a victim, it was Jesus. But he didn’t. Instead, Jesus did something odd.

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. — Isaiah 53:3-7, emphasis added

“When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, ‘Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?’ But

Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.” — Matthew 27:12-14, emphasis added

Jesus said nothing.

No story.


If his answers had been transcribed, it would have read “. . . .”

As I read these verses, I feel myself begging Jesus to defend himself and shout something like, “People, I’m innocent! I’m holy. I’m your creator. I could speak and the earth would swallow you up. I could dropkick you from Jerusalem to Rome! Don’t you know who I am?”

That’s what I want him to say. That’s the story I would shout.

This treatment of Jesus isn’t fair! These people obviously misunderstood Jesus and his motives. Why didn’t Jesus speak and clear things up?

He could have at least said, “People, I’m here to save you. After all, I created you and I know you intimately. I left Heaven so that we can have a relationship. These charges are false.”

But our Savior said nothing.

The maker of vocal cords waited in complete silence.

I envision extended periods of awkward, pin-drop silence in Pilate’s court. Even today, we’re struck dumb by Jesus’ non-answer answers. Why didn’t he speak?

I believe it’s because Jesus knew something I often forget: words get in the way.

Jesus taught that forgiveness isn’t found in speaking, but in surrendering. Forgiveness isn’t found in defending, but in dying.

That’s why I feel so much encouragement when someone chooses to stop telling his or her victim story. That’s what our Savior did.

That doesn’t mean you should carry your burden alone. Choose one or two people, like your spouse, a close friend, a pastor, or a counselor with whom you can share your story.

But stop telling everyone else.


Remain silent.

Even pin-drop, awkwardly silent.


Have a Broken Relationship? Want to Reconcile? These 6 Guidelines Might Help.

“[Reconciliation] is a risky undertaking, but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation
with reality can bring real healing.” — Desmond Tutu

Last week a lady tearfully told me that her husband was now mending a long-term broken relationship in his life. She was clearly so proud of him! She said he was using the 6 reconciliation guidelines in my book STUCK. Those guidelines seem to be resonating with many people. That is incredibly humbling.

Today, I want to share the guidelines with you. If you know someone with a broken relationship, consider sharing these guidelines with them.


The great paradox of human relationships is that we are created to heal each other from the hurts we inflict on one other. But before we jump into the reconciliation guidelines, let me offer one caution.


Reconciliation is not entirely up to you. In fact, it may not be possible or even recommended. Reconciliation is not an option if:

  • Your offender is abusive and reconciling would cause further injury
  • Your offender has died
  • Your offender does not want to reconcile
  • Your offender is unrepentant

It only takes one person to forgive, but it takes two people to reconcile. In Romans 12:18, the Apostle Paul reminds us, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (emphasis added).

You are only responsible for your behavior. When it comes to living at peace with others, do your part. But your offender also has a part. If you are the only one making the effort toward reconciliation, then it’s unlikely to happen. If they are unwilling to do their part, reconciliation is not required.

If reconciliation is appropriate, here are the six guidelines I recommend:

Guideline #1: Depend on God

Do you remember the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel? Do you know why they were battling? Because, after a twenty-year separation, Jacob was about to try and reconcile with Esau. So, Jacob wrestled with an angel demanding God’s blessing for what he was about to do. As Genesis 32:26 tells the story, “Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’” (emphasis added). Despite his wisdom and wealth, Jacob was dependent upon God.

Constant prayer helps you maintain a dependent heart throughout the reconciliation process.

Question: When was the last time I prayed for this person and about our broken relationship? It might be wise to stop right now, and ask God for His wisdom and grace.

Guideline #2: Aim for Peace

Peace is much more attainable than trying to fully restore a broken relationship back to where it was. In Romans 12:18, the Apostle Paul reminds us, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (emphasis added). The goal of reconciliation is peace.

Maybe you want to reconcile with a parent, child, former spouse, former boss, or former friend. A deeper relationship may eventually develop, but begin by aiming for peace instead of bowing under the pressure of trying to restore a friendship.

Question: Am I hoping things will be like “the good ol’ days”? Or, am I aiming for peace?

Guideline #3: Seek to Understand

Seek to understand the other person’s perspective instead of presenting your side. Prov. 18:13 “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.” Resist the urge to present your case or defend yourself.

Instead, quietly listen, then restate the other person’s perspective. Ask them if you’re understanding their perspective accurately. Real progress can be made when they agree that you understand their perspective.

St. Francis of Assisi, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Question: Am I ready to hear their perspective without defending myself?

Guideline #4: Don’t Accuse

If it’s appropriate, share your perspective, but avoid finger-pointing or accusations. One rule-of-thumb is to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For example, instead of saying, “You betrayed me,” you could say, “I felt betrayed.” “I” statements allow the other person to respond without feeling defensive. Use “I” statements to help you share honestly but without accusations.

Having an objective person present to help you “stay on track” may be helpful.

Question: Who will help me stay on track sharing my perspective vs. defending myself?

Guideline #5: Apologize Early

Early on in the process, find something for which you can offer regret or an apology. An early apology will go a long way toward rebuilding trust and it reveals your humility and commitment to reconciliation.

James 5:16 reads, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Question: What am I specifically and genuinely ready to apologize for?

Guideline #6: One Issue at a Time

Deal with one issue at a time. There may be one major issue of disagreement. However, most broken relationships include many smaller issues of disagreement. In order to accomplish Guideline #3, Seek to Understand, you’ll need to address each issue individually. Make sure the other person feels completely heard and understood on each issue before moving on to the next one.

Question: Am I willing to patiently hear their perspective on each issue?

If you’re thinking about initiating a reconciliation process, I know you feel fear. I sure did. Maybe it will encourage you to read someone else’s reconciliation story. Here’s mine.

The one thing you should do when you’re frozen

I recently had breakfast with a Senior Pastor who said, “Mark, more than half of the people I counsel are still hurting from something in their past. They remain frozen and can’t move forward.”

Are you frozen because of past pain? (This assessment will help you know.)

ice cube

The one thing you should do when you’re frozen is . . . anything.

We often think we need a detailed plan before we can start. The truth is we need to act now. Do something. Take a little step. It may even be the wrong step. But don’t remain frozen.

So, what can you do? Here are 10 small steps you can take when you’re frozen from past pain:

This time next year, you’ll remain frozen unless you do something. So take a step . . . any step . . . TODAY.

Coach Jim Harbaugh teaching Jameis Winston a Biblical principle

Jameis Winston will probably be the #1 pick in next week’s NFL Draft. The biggest knock on him is his off-the-field behavior.

For example, Winston was issued a citation for shoplifting crab legs and crawfish about a year ago. What’s fascinating to me is how hesitant Jameis is to own any guilt. The truth is I’m just as hesitant. We all are.

In an episode of ESPN’s Draft Academy released this week, Winston met with Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. As Jameis explains the shoplifting incident, Coach Harbaugh tells Jameis to just own it by admitting that he messed up. However, Jameis immediately responds, “But how am I supposed to handle it if someone gave them to me for free?” Jameis doesn’t want to own any part of the guilt. After all, there’s someone else to blame. Watch the 2-minute video below.

Heads-up: The language is censored but typical of “locker-room talk”. 


The most captivating part of the interview is when Coach Harbaugh looks at him with a wrinkled brow and repeats to Jameis that he just needs to own it and admit that what he did was wrong. It seemed to frustrate Jim Harbaugh that Jameis didn’t get how obvious the solution is.

Own it

But it’s more complicated in Jameis’ mind. You see, someone at the store apparently offered to give him free food even though they may not have been authorized to do so. Therefore, Jameis fails to see his part in the incident because in his mind someone else is mostly responsible.

You will never confess your sins if you blame everything on someone else.

This isn’t unique to famous athletes. I know exactly how Jameis’ feels. It’s hard for me to own my part of my problems.

I instinctively argue, “It wasn’t my fault. It was their fault. They are to blame. They were wrong. All my friends agree with me.”

It’s easy to overlook the wrong we’ve done since our part feels minor compared to what they did. We’ll never confess our sins as long as we’re blaming everything on someone else.

“To make peace with your past, you need to own your piece of the past.” –Andy Stanley

Child abuse or unprovoked crimes are exceptions when the victim has no responsibility. But in most cases there is something we should own.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. -1 John 1:8-10

Here are a few examples:

  • He clearly mistreated you, but as you pause and look back, maybe people had advised you to beware of him.
  • She consistently demeaned and hurt you, looking back, maybe you kept answering her texts and letting her back into your life.
  • She seduced you, but as you pause and look back, maybe you stayed too long.
  • He stole from you, but in retrospect, maybe you rushed past all of the warning signs.

Your offender is wrong for what he or she did. Owning your part doesn’t make your offender any less guilty, but it will free your future.

Owning your part will take humility and courage. Ask a trusted friend if they see any part of your past that you have yet to own. Resist being defensive. Then humbly thank them for loving you enough to share hard truths.

It’s time to OWN IT. You may not be the #1 pick in the NFL Draft but you can experience something even better: a peaceful heart.

Pick up your copy of STUCK When You Want to Forgive but Don’t Know How by clicking below:


Can you forgive dead people?

A gentile, retired man approached me at church last weekend and said, “Mark, I’ve been reading your book.” Then he bluntly asked, “Can you forgive dead people?”

My heart hurt as he told me about the injuries he still carries from the years of abuse inflicted by his step-dad that began when he was a six-year-old boy. After all these years, he’s now wondering if forgiveness is even possible.

Family Stones

Sadly, our hurts often outlive our offenders.

Can you relate? Is there someone who has died that you’ve never forgiven? Has your opportunity to forgive been lost forever? Do you feel stuck with the hurt they caused you?

Here are two important things to keep in mind when you need to forgive someone who is deceased:

1) In order for your heart to heal, you must forgive.

You’ve heard the phrase “time heals all wounds”. That is a myth. Time provides perspective but time alone does not heal. Forgiveness, not time, heals.

2) Your offender plays no part in your forgiveness.

Your offender is responsible for your hurt but they have no voice in your forgiveness. It takes two people to reconcile but only one person to forgive.

So, the question is, how can you forgive someone who is deceased? You forgive a deceased person the exact same way you forgive someone who is alive. How do you do that? Did I mention that I wrote a book? Well, it includes specific behaviors to help you fully forgive.

It might encourage you to read my friend Kim Mayner’s personal story forgiving her deceased Dad. It’s amazing! You can read it HERE.

The most dangerous words you may speak today

Words could casually cross your lips today that feel completely innocent but are extremely dangerous.

You see every time you talk about what someone did to you, you strike a match in your heart and light a bitter flame once again. That’s why referencing your past could be the most dangerous words you speak today.


The difference between being a bitter and broken person or a healthy and happy person is often determined by the simple way you talk about our past.

How you talk about your past really is a big deal.

Now, if anyone was ever entitled to be a victim, it was Jesus. Instead, Scripture points out that Jesus often did something a little odd.

“When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, ‘Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?’ But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.” — Matthew 27:12-14, emphasis added

Jesus said nothing.

No story.


I read that story and I want Jesus to speak up and defend himself, shame Pilate, and ‘wow’ the crowd. C’mon Jesus, speak up!

But our Savior said nothing.

The maker of vocal cords stood in complete silence.

Jesus knew something we forget: casual words about our past put us in enemy territory full of landmines filled with bitterness.

Talking about your past can be dangerous. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Your painful past can become a healing story. In fact, it can become a platform for ministry. But you’ll need to transform your story.

Here’s the first step to transform your story from dangerous to healing:

Find meaning in your pain

This is different than simply being positive. Finding meaning allows you to identify how you have grown from your difficult experience without calling that experience good.

Here are three questions to help you find meaning in suffering:

Would your suffering be worthwhile if it helped transform another person?

What good has already come from your suffering?

What good could come from your suffering?

In my new book, I offer the H.O.P.E. Tool to help you discover purpose in your past pain. This helps you transform your story.

Imagine if you were able to honestly look back at your past and, instead of talking only about your pain and your offender, you could reference God’s hand and the good that came from it?

Your past hurt is capable of producing the most dangerous words you speak today or the most impactful words you speak today.

As we approach Easter weekend, we will acknowledge our Savior’s painful crucifixion followed by his glorious resurrection.

Our stories should reflect that pattern. Pain followed by resurrection.

I love how Joseph talked about his past pain with purpose, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20)

3 Ways to Know You HAVE Forgiven

I’ve had people ask me, “I think I’ve forgiven them but how can I know for sure?”

This is a GREAT question because it reveals we’re genuinely searching our heart.

But sometimes it’s hard to tell. So how can you know for sure?

Last week, I shared seven ways to know you have not forgiven yet.

Today, I share three ways to know you HAVE forgiven.

Open bible with man and cross

1. You talk like an overcomer

When you talk like a victim you’re overly focused on your offender and you give your offender too much control over your story.

Forgiveness recognizes that God is in control not your offender. When you transition your language from “victim” to “overcomer”, you draw the focus back on our Creator and Redeemer.

Like Joseph we can say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen. 50:20)

Despite being falsely accused, betrayed, and crucified, Jesus never focused on how unfair his offender’s behavior was but instead focused on God’s sovereignty and overcoming their actions with forgiveness.

When you can refer to your past as an overcomer, it’s a great sign that forgiveness has taken place.

2. You own part of the problem

It’s easy to think it was 100% their fault. Even though it may be mostly their fault, chances are there’s something you can own.

For example:

He clearly mistreated you, but as you pause and look back, maybe people had advised you to beware of him.

She consistently demeaned and hurt you, but as you pause and look back, maybe you kept answering her texts and letting her back into your life.

She seduced you, but as you pause and look back, maybe you stayed too long.

He stole from you, but as you pause and look back, maybe you rushed past all of the warning signs.

Owning your part (even if it’s only 5%) unleashes an accurate perspective and a forgiving heart. After all, there is only person who has ever lived who was 100% innocent.

CAVEAT: There are exceptions when a child is abused, someone is attacked, etc. when one person is 100% responsible. However, most of us have a percentage we can own.

When you own your part of the problem, it’s a great sign that you have a forgiving heart.

3. You genuinely wish them well

This has nothing to do with your offender, their guilt, their remorse (or lack of), etc. You may forgive them but decide that it’s not wise to give them access to your life.

However, when you wish them well you are recognizing that in light of the cross, we’re all needy people. In the New Testament, Jesus challenges us to pray for and to love our enemies.

When you genuinely wish your offender well, it’s a great sign that you have a forgiving heart.

Anything else you would add that reveals forgiveness has taken place?

7 questions that reveal you haven’t really forgiven

As a pastor, I have people ask me, “I think I’ve forgiven them but how can I know for sure?”

I love hearing this question because it shows that a person is genuinely searching his or her heart. It’s an important question.

Have you forgiven . . . really? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

I’ve heard people say things like, “I’ve completely forgiven so-and-so but I still can’t stand to even think about him or her. If you only knew what they did. It was awful.”

Some people are convinced they’ve forgiven while everyone else can see that the wound is still raw.

It’s sort of like an athlete showing up out of shape at the beginning of the season declaring, “I’m fit and in shape!” But then fails the physical assessment miserably! Everyone knows the athlete is unfit except the athlete.

What if there was an assessment that revealed your forgiveness fitness?


I’ve put together a 7 Question Test. If you answer yes to any of these questions, you probably haven’t forgiven. (Next time, we’ll look at some indicators that reveal you have forgiven.)

1) Have you told your story more than once to the same person?

You know that feeling when you’re talking to someone and you can tell they aren’t interested because you see their eyes glazing over? Suddenly you remember, “Oh, I’ve already told them this story!”

When you haven’t forgiven, you tell the story over and over not because your memory failed you but because the wound is raw and it dominates your thinking.

2) Do you replay the past events at least once a day in your mind?

Most people don’t like to watch the same movie twice unless it’s really good. Even a great movie would get old if watched every year. Who in the world wants to relive the same event every single day? Only a person who hasn’t forgiven.

3) Do you have imaginary conversations with the person who hurt you?

We want the bad guys to pay! That’s why we cheer for Luke Skywalker over Darth Vader; Marty McFly over Biff Tannen; and Neo over Agent Smith. We all want justice!

Imaginary conversations (arguments) are part of our natural desire for justice and seeing the bad guys pay.

Jesus reveals a very different . . . and much better way.

4) When you think about your pain does it cause a mental fog?

“We often react in extremes about our past. We either deny or exaggerate the damage. Why? It’s a psychological defense protecting us from anxiety.” -Dr. Robert Enright.

I offer a personal assessment tool in my new book to help you accurately identify your injustice and remove the mental fog.

5) Is it hard to explain to others why your hurt bothers you so much?

I often hear people say things like, “No one understands how much I’ve been hurt. They just don’t get it.” Honestly, I always hurt a little when I hear this because that’s exactly what I used to think.

When you think your situation is unique it makes you feel isolated. However, even if your circumstances are unique, your injury/injustice isn’t. Once you discover your injury, you discover that you have an injury in common with many other people.

In my book, I share a thorough list of the most common injustices.

6) Does your story focus primarily on your pain and what you have lost?

Talking about your past from the “victim” position focuses mostly on you, your pain, and your loss. When you’re still telling your story from the “victim” position, you probably haven’t forgiven.

Forgiveness provides a bigger perspective while unforgiveness remains mostly focused on us, our pain, and our loss.

7) Have you made a commitment to not tell your story again and then broken your commitment?

Two things happen after a deep hurt and we rarely connect the dots: 1) we tell our victim story, and 2) we can’t forgive. It turns out; our story is part of the problem.

The best time for you to hold your tongue is the time you feel you must say something or bust. –Josh Billings

If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are you have not forgiven. You’re not alone. Most of us can relate.

Here are some ideas that might help you move toward the freedom of forgiveness:

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What Others Are Saying

“Mark has started a conversation that the Church has desperately needed to have for a long time. Mark helps us get unstuck. Do yourself a favor and read this book.”
BEN REED, Small Groups Pastor, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA

“Mark is just the man to help us navigate forgiveness. He lives what he writes, and I love that. I predict you’ll end up buying copies to give away.”
Dr. DANIEL HAHN, Lead Pastor, ENCOUNTER, Ventura, CA

“Mark’s story is one based not on theory, but on his real-life story, and aren’t those always the best? Mark’s story and insights will help you release the grip of the grudge and move forward in freedom.”
JEFF HENDERSON, Lead Pastor, Gwinnett Church (North Point Ministries) Metro Atlanta, GA

“Pastor Riggins has written a highly informative book on how to forgive. He uses engaging stories and much practical, Bible-based advice to help the hurting learn how to forgive.”
Dr. ROBERT ENRIGHT, Ph.D., Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison & Co-founder, International Forgiveness Institute

(Click below for your copy)

STUCK When You Want to Forgive but Don’t Know How