How Much Forgiveness is Enough?

This post describes, in part, the effects of a degenerative neurological condition called Huntington’s Disease. Any negative behavior on the part of my wife should be attributed to that condition. Any negative behavior on the part of myself should be attributed to my need for God’s ongoing grace.

Resuming where we left off last week…

After Janet’s unsuccessful attempt to have me arrested, life in our house has fallen into a rather depressing, repetitive pattern. My days consist of getting up at 7 AM, going to work, coming home (I typically buy dinner for us all on the way home), taking care of Janet and going back to bed (about midnight). Even at work there is no break from the pressures of caregiving because Janet typically calls 5 or 6 times a day to complain about something that I did do, didn’t do, or need to do. Moreover, these aren’t quick calls because the perseveration causes her to keep going back over the same topics over and over and over again.

A side effect of this routine is that I feel isolated from everyone around me. There have been times recently when the high-point of my week was “sharing the Peace of God” at church because the handshakes and occasional hugs allowed me to have actual physical contact with another human being. And every week there’s a fight about whether I even get to go to church. She always wants me to stay home because I am, “too tired” – and she says that being tired is what causes me to get angry.

Interestingly, I have discovered that I can also start an argument by attempting to apologize for something that I did wrong. An apology compounds the mistake because, in her words, “If you were really sorry, you wouldn’t have done what you did.” Therefore, I am also a liar and my apologies are deemed “worthless”. Of course, the only thing worse than apologizing is to not apologize – oy vey!

The absolute worst though, is that the only thing really needed to start a row is for me to tell her, “I Love You.” When I make that serious transgression of propriety, she gets mad and yells that if I really loved her I wouldn’t __________. Fill-in the blank with some real or imaginary complaint about my behavior.

To tell the truth, I don’t know how much longer I can maintain this schedule. I am constantly crying – but never in front of Janet, to her that’s just “Poor Mikey” whining about how bad his life is. Even Frannie is starting to become the target of Janet’s wrath and is increasingly calling me at work in tears to tell me about some argument that the two of them have gotten into.

How long, God, can this go on? Why can’t I have the “real Janet” back for just 5 minutes. She was always so smart and organized, she could tell me what to do.

Please God, just 5 minutes is that too much to ask…


This period was truly a dark time. The hardest part was that any mistakes Frannie or I made went onto our “Permanent Record” in broad strokes of dark, indelible ink. There was no forgiveness, no understanding and, very definitely, no mercy. Later, I came to realize that for Janet, her illness got in the way of being able to express forgiveness – a not uncommon problem with neurological conditions. I get it now that it truly isn’t Janet doing these things: it’s the HD. Unfortunately, Frannie is having a harder time remembering.

Yet despite (or perhaps because of) the darkness, this period taught me that one of the greatest gifts that God prepares for His children, is in fact forgiveness. Ultimately, it is thanks to His gracious and steadfast forgiveness, that we have assurance in our spiritual security and can be confident in the reality of our eternal home. However, forgiveness isn’t the exclusive purview of God. Indeed Scripture presents it as a central gift that we are to give freely to each other – as when Jesus taught us to pray, “…and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us…”

Unfortunately, forgiveness is yet another gift of God that today’s society systematically devalues. Modern psychology often turns it into little more that an enlightened form of selfishness by concentrating on the negative impacts that we will experience if we don’t forgive. Any doctrine or philosophy that treats forgiveness purely from the standpoint of human experiences and emotional consequences misses the central point that true forgiveness is, at its core, a spiritual declaration.

Before His crucifixion, Jesus said that those who believe in Him will do all the things that He had done, and will do even greater things than Him because He was going to be with the Father. Therefore, as Christians, when we forgive we are doing more than simply setting someone’s mind at ease, or stopping negative consequences for ourselves, our statement of, “I forgive you” is a way in which God is allowing us to actively participate in Jesus’ redemptive work.

By the way, when considering forgiveness, don’t fooled into thinking that forgiveness is only needed for big important things. Forgiveness is about the heart and the constant drip, drip, drip of “small” things can leave people with a host of problems including:

  • Feeling Personally Invalidated
  • Pain from Unresolved Guilt
  • Hopelessness About the Future

Of course, this fact shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, if you won’t forgive me for something small, why would I expect forgiveness from you for a big problem. So what should we do when someone apologizes?

First, honor all apologies that you receive by really taking the time to hear what they are saying. It could have taken then a while to work up the courage to say it.

Second, remember that forgiving is a holy thing so don’t just blow it off with a quick, “That’s ok” or “No problem”. Use the words “I forgive you” or “You are forgiven”. These responses may throw people off at first, but they are also very healing words. Consequently, Janet and I always used those words when forgiving our kids.

Third, Jesus also said what we bind on earth will bound in heaven and what we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. God cares how we treat each other – sometimes more than how we treat Him. Think about it, of the 10 commandments exactly one of them addresses our relationship with God. The other 9 are all about how we treat each other. So in your heart, release (loose) them from the spiritual burden for what they did.

There are few things that we can give to another human being that are greater than forgiveness.

In Christ, Amen ☩


A prayer for when you don’t feel forgiven, or like forgiving…

“Blessed are You, Lord God, King of the Universe. It is right that I should at all times and in all circumstances bless You for your boundless forgiveness and mercy. But today I want to bless you especially for the gift of us being able to forgive one another. You know that all too often when I am feeling hurt and unforgiven, I don’t want to forgive either. At those times, I don’t want reconciliation, I want to get even. I want to make them hurt like I hurt. Please God, forgive me and show me how to make amends to those with whom I have unresolved anger. Please show me that what I really need is not revenge, but are loving brothers and sisters. Amen”