Column Entry, Let’s Talk Family, “Asking and Extending Forgiveness,” Jonathan Pettigrew and Diane Badzinski

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Let’s talk family column

Column: Let’s Talk Family: Conversations about Faith and Family Flourishing

Column entry: Asking and Extending Forgiveness

By Jonathan Pettigrew, PhD, Arizona State University; Diane Badzinski, PhD, Colorado Christian University

Column Description: Let’s Talk Family: Conversations about Faith and Family Flourishing is a monthly column offering a space to consider research-based, biblically-sound practices for family communication. We all have families. And we all experience messy family communication from time to time. Our column focuses on what works and doesn’t work for helping families be a little less messy and a lot more rewarding. Please join the conversation.

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July 2023

Asking and Extending Forgiveness

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). In his last moments on earth, Jesus asked his Father to forgive those who mercilessly beat and crucified him. Forgiveness, as Jesus modeled, is a necessary and fundamental aspect of Christian living. It is not just a nice sentiment or optional path. As Jesus taught, we pray daily “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12, KJV). Forgiveness, paradoxically, remains a choice we make—something we offer to others—but it is commanded and integral to the Christian family.

The last two months’ columns looked at “yellow lights” that warn of conflict or problems in relationships. In May we overviewed communication patterns that can warn of impending problems. In June we reviewed some strategies for dealing with these. This month we focus on forgiveness. The classic Biblical story of Joseph foregrounds sibling rivalry, betrayal, hurt, and ultimately forgiveness. Let’s take a closer look.

Joseph, the second youngest of twelve brothers, was despised by this brothers. Genesis records that “[t]hey hated him and could not speak a kind word to him” (Gen. 37:4, NIV). So, they conspired to kill him. Goaded by a guilty conscience and greed, they decided to sell him into slavery instead. After a series of major ups and downs, Joseph eventually became the second in command over the entire nation of Egypt. It is an incredible rags-to-riches story, but it continues.

As a severe famine hit the land, Joseph’s brothers traveled from Israel to Egypt to buy food. While Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. Joseph ultimately decided to reveal his identity to his brothers. It’s a dramatic scene. “Come close to me” Joseph says, “‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance’” (Gen. 45:4–7). Joseph forgave his brothers, relocated them to the land of Egypt, and provided for them and their families from that time forward.

This story foregrounds forgiveness in powerful ways. Based on work from psychologist Robert Enright and his colleagues from the International Forgiveness Institute, we can draw out the following:

  • Joseph’s forgiveness was not easy. He struggled to give up his anger and offer forgiveness. Forgiveness can be a process that takes time.
  • Joseph’s forgiveness was loving. He did not merely accept the unfairness, pretend that he wasn’t hurt, or become indifferent toward his brothers. He offered love to his brothers as he forgave.
  • Joseph didn’t wait for his brothers to apologize or ask forgiveness. He even goes so far as to attribute their actions to God’s plan – “God sent me ahead of you.”
  • Joseph’s forgiveness was life-giving for those he forgave and for himself.

This story is instructive for all families. While relatively few of us have to process the intense pain of being sold into slavery by our families, we all experience hurt, betrayal, disappointment, or anger. Our relationships with one another create opportunities for the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18) and for love to “cover a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). We all need to seek and extend forgiveness, and we need it continually.

But how? We offer two practices that can help family members extend forgiveness.

Forgiveness involves recalling a hurt, trying to take the perspective of the one who offended us, and then deciding to forgive. It’s like giving a gift, so we use the Spanish word for gift, regalo, as an acronym to help work through the process (adapted from our parenting intervention, Dale, Hablemos Familia).

  • R: RECUERDA: Remember the offense
  • E: EMPATIZA: Empathize with the offender, recognizing that each person has innate value.
  • G: GOZA: Enjoy that forgiveness allows us to get rid of bitterness and anger.
  • A: AMA: Forgiveness is a promise to love, not necessarily reconcile, but to offer love.
  • L: LIBERATE: Forgiveness brings freedom.
  • O: OBSTINATE: We must persist in our decision to forgive. Forgiveness is not forgetting nor is it reconciliation. But to hold onto freedom and love, we must choose to hold onto forgiveness.

The second practice we suggest is a guided meditation. Forgiveness may need to be expressed, but it is also a choice – a decision like Joseph made to love, to forgive without conditions. Try it out. We can’t control everything that happens, and even if we could, we all still make mistakes. None of us are perfect and none of us parent perfectly. Extending and receiving forgiveness is a way to keep our relationships fresh. Find a quiet place and take 3 minutes to read and imagine the following:

  • Imagine standing on the side of a river, watching the water flow quickly, but gently. What do you hear? What does the river look like? How do you feel watching the river?
  • Look into the flowing river and focus your attention on a single drop of water. Look upriver and watch the drop flow past you downstream. Sometimes our moments are like the drop of water. They enter into an ongoing stream of time. They flow in our view for only a moment. Then they are carried off.
  • Imagine picking up the drop and holding it gently between your fingers. What does it look like? What does it feel like?
  • Recall moments from today that were sad or hurtful. Remember any arguments and any moments of anger. Imagine you are looking at those moments as if they are inside the drop. Now imagine reaching back toward the flowing river and placing the drop into it. Watch it join with the river water and start flowing downstream. Focus on that drop and watch it as long as you can. Imagine where it goes after it is out of sight.
  • As the day comes to a close, let go of any of the moments you’ve had that were troubling. Let them flow away into the stream of time.

In families, forgiveness as a daily ritual can lead to healthy, more connected relationships. Hurt and conflict are inevitable. Forgiveness, paradoxically, is a commandment to all Christians and also a choice we must regularly make.

Once we forgive, we sometimes need to show it. Forgiveness is not the same thing as reconciliation, but in families leaving an offense unresolved can lead to hurt feelings and stress that gets in the way of a relationship. Before going to bed each day, a good practice is to let your family relationships be fresh, clear. So after you’ve walked through the exercise on giving forgiveness, pick a time and way to communicate love in your relationship.

  • You can talk with the offender and say “I forgive you” or maybe say “what you did wasn’t that big of a deal.”
  • You might need to apologize, saying something like “I’m sorry I was short tempered this morning. I love you.”
  • Maybe just give a hug to show everything is good.

Keeping our relationships clear from hurt, pain, and tension is an ongoing job. We have to actively forgive and reconcile in order for our relationships to stay clear. Offering and receiving forgiveness from each other is the oil of relationships. It is the lubricant that keeps them working!

How might you ask or extend forgiveness today?

Check back into next month’s column, where we offer practical strategies for cultivating family resilience so that even during times of crises we can honor God and build stronger family connections.

—Jonathan Pettigrew and Diane M. Badzinski

* The views of any CCSN columnists are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the CCSN. We invite and embrace a wide range of views and critiques on important communication and cultural issues from a Christian perspective. The CCSN is a community of Jesus followers who study communication. We do not support or promote a particular social, political, or denominational agenda. 


Robert Enright and Jeanette Knutson, “Be Your Best Self: Giving and Receiving Forgiveness: A Guided Curriculum for Children Ages 11-14 (Grade 7 in the US, Year 9 in the UK) within a Christian Context,” International Forgiveness Institute (2010).

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