Digging Deeper: What does forgiveness look like?

scorpionWhat does forgiveness look like? This is the question I’m mulling over as I examine serious family issues between my fictional characters.

Lessons from Dr. Laura
I listened to Dr. Laura Schlessinger back when her show was on the free airwaves. It was entertaining to hear how she handled her callers. None of this touchy-feely-poor-baby stuff that some women pile on each other during venting sessions. With Dr. Laura, it was: “What’s the problem? Here’s the solution. Deal with it!”

While she was sometimes over-the-top brutal, once in a while Dr. Laura would come up with a major nugget of truth. Here’s one (as best as I can remember it):

Emotional female caller:  “My mother was verbally abusive to me while I was growing up. Now I’m married with kids, and she calls me every day to tell me what I am doing wrong—with my children, with my house, everything. I finally told her to stop talking to me like that. She hung up on me. Now she doesn’t take my calls, and we haven’t talked in weeks! What should I do?”

Dr. Laura: “So what’s the problem?”

Caller: “I just told you.”

Dr. Laura: “It sounds to me like you just solved it. You were just complaining about how your mother verbally abused you as a child, which she continued doing after you grew up. Now she’s stopped calling. So what’s the problem?”

Caller:  Silence. Then, “You’re right! It’s been really nice not having her calling me every day.”

Dr. Laura: “When you’ve removed a toxic person from your life, why on earth would you want them back?”

Caller: “But she’s my mother!”

Dr. Laura: “So?”

Boom. What does this have to do with forgiveness? It could be one example of the result of forgiveness.

The Scorpion and the Frog

You’ve finally forgiven a family member or friend. But what they did was beyond the beyond. Damage was done. Trust was broken. Their true character was revealed. What you have now is knowledge: this is a dangerous person. Be careful around them.

To help me process this, my husband shared the following story. Here’s the short, Wikipedia version:

The Scorpion and the Frog is a fable about a scorpion asking a frog to carry him across a river. The frog is afraid of being stung during the trip, but the scorpion argues that if it stung the frog, the frog would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog agrees and begins carrying the scorpion, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion points out that this is its nature. The fable is used to illustrate the position that the behavior of some creatures is irrepressible, no matter how they are treated and no matter what the consequences.”

My husband has reminded me time and time to remember the scorpion. I keep wanting certain relationships to be good and happy and trustworthy. Denial about the scorpion has resulted in getting stung over and over again, and my husband has had to deal with the fallout.

So what do you do? You distance yourself. You let the relationship go.

But the scorpion is a family member, or a friend of friends. Ignoring them just adds to the drama as you try to punish them with your apparent indifference.

How do you treat them? Be kind and polite, especially when you don’t feel like it.

Speaking of feelings… I think you’ve arrived at forgiveness when you feel absolutely nothing when you see the scorpion. No anger. No pain. You’ve let go. Perhaps all you feel is resigned sadness at the loss of the relationship. Or pity that the scorpion cannot be something it’s not.

And you stay feeling that way by not replaying the injury over and over again in your mind.

As I talked about in my last post, Jesus said we have to forgive someone not seven times, but seventy-seven times. He knows our true nature. He knows that’s a realistic number. He knows how hard it is for us to let go.

All this to say… I need to figure out what the process of forgiveness is going to look like between family members in my novel. Not an easy task.

So please help me out. What does forgiveness look like to you?

How do you treat someone you have forgiven, but you cannot avoid?

Leave a comment


  1. For me forgiveness becomes easy when I find the gift of the experience. Instead of looking at how it has harmed me, I look at what the gift is. So I write down everything I have learnt from the episode(s) and then I meditate on it with focus on my heart. Can I find it in my heart to forgive this person? Usually yes, because otherwise I would not be the person I am today with all that I have learnt. It may take time. Somebody once said that ‘not forgiving is like drinking poison and hope that the other person dies from it’.

    • You are so wise, Lise! We are the sum of our experiences; how could we waste any of it, even the bad stuff? This is a verse that helps me a lot: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28


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