Forgiveness is hard to give at times, yet it’s one part of human interaction that we all need. All of us forget things, fail at tasks, make mistakes, and outright sin all the time. What happens when we do? We need forgiveness. We crave it.
So why is it so hard to offer forgiveness when it’s our turn to give it?
Leadership Demands Forgiveness
Leaders are only leaders because there are people following them. That’s a no-brainer statement, but think about it. A leader isn’t a leader simply because they’re smart, or talented, or rich, or popular. No, they’re leaders because of people. It may have been one of the attributes listed above that drew people into their orbit in the first place, but it’s leadership qualities that make people continue to follow.
In the same way, I think most of us understand that someone’s not a leader simply because they’re the boss. You can be in charge and have no followers. Leaders must be someone people want to follow, and one of the crucial characteristics of good leadership is forgiveness.
Because the people you lead make mistakes, they’ll need your forgiveness. Want to breed loyalty in your followers? Forgive them regularly and magnificently.
I think there are at least two levels of forgiveness. The lower level of forgiveness is to forgive someone for failure. It doesn’t matter what the failure was or why it happened. We all fail, and we fail more often when we’re pushing ourselves to achieve greater things.
“If you’re not failing at something, somewhere, you’re not growing.”
Chris LoCurto—podcast October 13, 2014
A higher level of forgiveness is to forgive someone who’s hurt you. That’s hard, and from your perspective it often doesn’t matter if it was purposeful or not. You only feel the hurt resonating into the deepness of your soul. I’m sure if we searched our own hearts we’d find times when we remember hurting someone—whether intentionally or unintentionally.
How much grace did you want when you screwed up? How much do you want understanding and mercy in the future when you hurt someone again? How often do you wish you had second chances?
The people who wrong you want your mercy and grace in the same measure. Followers who have been forgiven of their failures are loyal because they know you’re got their backs.
What Goes Around…
On a human level, we need to offer forgiveness as much as the other person needs to receive it. Hurt received leaves a mark, but so does an unforgiving spirit. Holding a grudge is like picking at a wound so that it never heals—it festers and gets ugly, threatening to spread its pain elsewhere.
When you’re unwilling to let go of the hurt you’ve been caused you can’t move on in life. Forgiveness is an essential facet of personal growth, and choosing to withhold forgiveness stunts your growth as a person.
If you’re unable to forgive, you’ve still got some growing up to do.
On a spiritual level, the Bible has some mind-blowing and profound ideas about forgiveness—ideas that run counter to much of modern culture’s understanding. Here are some select verses to consider:
- “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” ~Ephesians 4:32
- “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” ~Luke 6:27
- “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” ~Colossians 3:13
- “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” ~Mark 11:25.
- “Then Peter came up and said to him [Jesus], ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.’” ~Matthew 18:21-22
Then perhaps the seminal statement about forgiveness is at the tail end of The Lord’s Prayer. Jesus uses the phrase, “…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Many people forget that He goes on after the classic end of the prayer to say, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
That’s pretty harsh. If we were to stop and consider the ways we’ve withheld forgiveness from others in our lives and then consider that forgiveness is withheld from us in the same measure, how would that change the way we treat others?
We tend to forget that lack of action on our part can be just as evil as actively doing something wrong. Withholding forgiveness from another person is the same as wishing evil on them. On a spiritual level, a lack of forgiveness is immeasurably damaging.
Forgive and Forget?
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you forget, nor does it mean you make allowances for abuse, laziness, lying, or any other negative character traits. Sure, if someone takes advantage of your forgiveness you may need to stage an intervention or take some other sort of action. Ultimately, the people you lead need the mercy and grace you have to offer them so that they can become fully grown and mature.
While we may not be able to just forget, we must be careful about keeping a running tab of failures in order to bring them up later. Yes, if you’re a boss or manager you should keep track of people’s progress. A good manager does everything they can to help their team succeed, and that includes holding their team members accountable.
What’s not okay is throwing out phrases like, “you always do this,” or “I remember the last time…” Now you’re on shaky ground. What you’re saying may be true, and it may be hard to trust someone due to past wrongs, but dredging them up into the present shows at least partial unforgiveness on your part.
Deal with the wrongs that have been done to you in the here and now and them leave them in the past.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-6 NIV
I challenge you to offer forgiveness to everyone who needs it—in equal or greater measure to what you’d want to receive yourself. Offer kindness, even to people you perceive as adversarial. When others do you wrong, don’t retaliate or live with an “eye for an eye” attitude. Don’t take delight in their failures. Winning because an adversary fails isn’t really winning.
Showing you support them when they fail by helping them get back on their feet reveals your true character.
Also published on Medium.
I’m Jeff M. Miller, and I help ordinary people who are stuck in a rut change their behaviors so they can be extraordinary. I’m an entrepreneur who retired from my full-time job in my early 40s to work from home. I’m a financial counselor, life coach, graphic designer, and passionate believer in helping others improve their lives a little more each day.
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