You could say it was my fault, and I wouldn’t disagree. Let me explain.

It happened in the middle of a tough season (doesn’t it always?). One of those chaotic stretches of unlimited responsibilities and limited capacities. Between my personal and professional life, I was stretched as thin as slip of floss. I knew this, which is why “Keep it together, man!” became my regular mantra. My standard pep talk when I fear I might break.

(Oh, you too?)

Then, in a moment of maximum vulnerability, IT happened.

A friend hurled a spiky jab my direction. Okay, maybe it wasn’t as dramatic as all that. Truth is it was a few words meant it as a joke, a playful attempt at sarcasm.

Only, in my thinned state, the words landed sharp.

Thus, being the grownup I am, I retaliated. Snapped with a harsh reply. It all happened in mere seconds (doesn’t it always?). Then, we stood there. Stunned. Camaraderie swallowed up in less time than a latte.

What had I done? I apologized. Then, days later, an apology over email. A month after, an apology-ridden phone call. 

“I forgive you. No sweat. It’s over.” That’s what she said, every time.

Only it wasn’t. I felt it. Then, a year later, I discovered quite by accident that she’d shared my blunder with a few mutual friends.


I’d apologized, hadn’t I? Didn’t I do my best to make things right? Thus, I once again responded. No, I reacted. Instead of words, I withdrew. Shut down. Chalked up a lawyer’s list of reasons for “boundaries.”

In short, I justified my unforgiveness with hers.

This scenario happened several years ago. In fact, it’s more a reflection of multiple scenarios rather than any single one. You see what I’m getting at, don’t you?

We may claim to embrace grace, but we sure don’t know how to live it.

I’m not talking about the grievous wrongs, the illegal and immoral crimes committed against the innocent. And I’m not talking about turning a blind-eye to patterns of dysfunctional and destructive behavior.

Instead, I’m talking about the daily digs, darts, oversights and unappreciations. The easy slips of sarcasm, selfishness and snap judgments. The criticisms and jumping-to-conclusions.

And, yes. The harsh words. The withheld absolutions. And the unforgiveness in retaliation for unforgiveness.

Dare I say it more bluntly?

We’re terrible at forgiveness.

No, really. We’re terrible at it. We think far too much about ourselves, our wounds and how wrong it feels to be wronged. We nurse it, coddle it, examine our hurts like a jewel in the hand, then show them off to our friends. 

But rarely do we stop to examine the wounds we deliver and the wrongs we exact.

We didn’t mean it! we defend. 


But neither did they.

For years I’ve been working with leaders, while trying to be a leader myself. In that time, I’ve learned about personal development, time-management, setting goals and pursuing priorities. I’ve explored spiritual disciplines, productivity practices, creativity prompts, and wellness regimens.

But I can’t recall one time when I dug deep and invested all of myself to master the art of forgiveness. Not one time when I spent weeks working to release wrongs, once and for all. Not one time when I set out to discover the beauty and brawn of a devout and daily forgiveness practice. 

And? Rarely have I encountered anyone else who does.

1 Corinthians 13:1 adds some potent perspective: “If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter how intelligent, determined, and articulate we are if we don’t develop a tolerance for human imperfection. If we don’t learn how to love. 

Because as much as you and I want to lead well, we will always be leading people with a propensity to screw up. And we’ll always be leaders with the same inescapable flaw.

Years ago, I heard pastor and teacher Chuck Swindoll share his secret to a staunch forgiveness practice. Although his sermon was on authentic love, he urged us to remember there is no room for a God-sized love without radical forgiveness. Simply, every time you and I are faced with the temptation to withhold love for a wrong done, authentic love requires that we remember the ABC’s of forgiveness: 

A = I accept you as you are. No conditions.

B = I believe you are valuable.

C = I care about you when you hurt.

D = I desire what is best for you.

E = I erase all offenses.

It’s that simple. And that hard.

Want to lead well? Want to be the kind of person who changes the world with powerful words?

Try “I forgive you.” Mean it. Then live it. Your influence and impact grows from there.

[reminder]What are your secrets for doing the work of forgiveness? [/reminder]

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