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Book Summary: Forgiving What You Can’t Forget by Lisa Terkeurst

by | Jun 15, 2022

Forgiving What You Can’t Forget by Lisa Terkeurst is a book I often recommend to others.  These are my personal notes from the book.  These are not all direct quotes, but also paraphrases and added commentary from me.  A * designates a note-worthy point.  As always, reading the book for yourself is suggested.  

  • Intro

Do you find yourself defining life by before and after the deep hurt? 

* Staying in the pain, blaming them, and forever defining your life by what they did will only increase the pain. It will keep projecting out onto others. The more our pain consumes us the more it will control us.

  • 1 Forgiveness, the double edged word

Post hurt, relationships can be reduced to attempts at managing what you figured about them rather than enjoying what you loved about them.

Heaviness settles in and then becomes cynicism, bitterness, resentment, trust issues, and stuckness.

allow Jesus‘s grace to flow through you for you Ephesians 4:7 

cooperate with Jesus. Forgiveness isn’t an act of determination (will), it’s only made possible by your cooperation with Jesus. 

What you give up: the right to demand that the one who hurt you pay you back or be made to suffer, God will handle this.

What you get: freedom to Move On. 

*  Forgiveness takes time, Understanding, insight, divine intervention and openness.

  • 2 Welcome to the table

Your feelings feed the resistance that holds you back from forgiveness: I can’t forgive when I still feel angry, I still feel hurt, they haven’t acknowledged what they did… 

Forgiveness feels unrealistic. 

We have excuses like it’s too soon or it’s too late. 

* The Bible offers the truth about forgiveness. 

You can still forgive even if you can’t forget. 

*  We are instructed to let go of what’s behind us so we can move forward without the weight of bitterness, resentment, anger, and unforgiveness. 

Forgetting? The only place that’s mentioned in the Bible is connected to God forgiving us  Hebrews 8:12 

*  Are you processing life through the lens of the way you want it to be or the way it actually is? 

At some point you must stop: replaying what happened over and over, taking what was actually terrible in the past and tricking ourselves into thinking it was better than it was, or imagining the way things should be so much that we can’t acknowledge what is. 

We can’t live in an alternate reality and expect what’s right in front of us to get better. 

*  We can only heal what we are willing to acknowledge is real. 

Putting on a smiling face while filled with unhealed hurt inside is a set up for an eventual blow up. 

Sometimes it seems easier to deny pain than to do the hard work to deal with and heal what was really there.  

Unhealed hurt often becomes unleashed hurt spewed out on to others. 

  • 3 is this survivable?

Don’t let a triggered emotion settle in and become a bad mood.

Unresolved pain triggers unrestrained chaos. 

Acknowledge that. Own them as yours to control. 

The resulting feelings of your triggers and emotions are yours to manage. 

*  You can’t manage feelings you don’t own. 

*  Another person is not capable of being the healer of your pain. 

*  Blame hands the power to change over to the person who hurt you. 

*  What we look for is what we will see. What we see determines our perspective. And our perspective becomes a reality.

  • 4 how is forgiveness possible when I feel like this?

Do you have the desire to heal from this? 

Realize you may never feel like things are fair. 

Separate your healing from their choices. 

Your ability to heal cannot depend on anyone’s choices but your own. 

Place your healing in gods hands. 

*  Separate your healing from any of this being fair. 

*  Your healing is your choice. 

*  When we keep reliving what happened in our mind over and over, we keep experiencing, it’s happening in the present time.

*  Refusing to forgive is refusing the peace of God. Progress is hard to see when triggered feelings make your vision clouded with intense emotions. 

*  Forgiveness is both a decision and a process. You make the decision to forgive the facts of what happened. But then you must also walk through the process of forgiveness for the impact those facts have had on you. 

Every trauma has an initial effect and a long-term impact. 

When triggers occur, the day of the original trauma will feel extremely present all over again. This is where we start to wonder and doubt and feel hopeless. 

Why do we continue to struggle with deep emotions around an incident we’ve already forgiven? The decision to forgive doesn’t fix all the damaged emotions. It doesn’t automatically remove the anger, frustration, doubt, damage trust, or fear.  We must now start the process of forgiving that person for the impact. The decision to forgive acknowledges the facts of what happened. The much longer journey of forgiveness is around all the many ways these facts affect you, the impact they created. 

Whatever your feelings don’t yet allow for, the blood of Jesus will surely cover. Amen.  

Once you decide to do this, it no longer has a strong hold on you. 

The process of ongoing forgiveness. 

It’s not helpful to think of having to deal with the impact of the traumatic event over and over as unfair. You can get stuck in the why can’t this just be one and done situation, why can’t I just forgive and Move On?  

Sit in the space between the feeling and the reaction. 

Discern if you need to process out loud with someone or just work through it in your own journal. 

  • 5 collecting the dots

We all have a story. And we all have a story we tell ourselves. 

Dig into your stories to understand what’s behind the curtain. 

Forgiveness isn’t just about what’s in front of you, a bigger part of the journey is uncovering what is informing you from long ago. 

Ideal versus real 

Things we learn as children stick with us. 

*  Things that happen in our lives don’t just tell a story, they inform us of the story we tell ourselves. 

Woven throughout our narratives is a belief system that formed inside of us as children.

  • 6 connecting the dots

It’s important to start making connections between what happened in our childhood and the reasons we do some of the things we do, say some of the things we say, and believe some the things we believe.

It’s not just processing for the sake of understanding ourselves. It’s processing what still needs to be forgiven so we can truly move forward in healthy ways. 

The things marking us from yesterday are still part of the making of us today. 

To verbalize forgiveness, we have to verbalize what we are forgiving. 

Feelings serve a purpose. They inform us of issues that need to be addressed, they help us empathize with others, bond with others, and know when we need to give and receive emotional support. 

We don’t need to be ruled by our feelings.  

Do you lack the depths needed for real emotional intimacy in your relationships? 

You have to be vulnerable to look at the realities of your life and make some connections. 

Forgiving others will seem more like another thing you have to do rather than a freeing process that you can participate in.  

*  Everyone needs healing and everyone needs forgiveness.

Forgive even though you fear rejection. 

*  People are so much more than the mistakes they make. 

As you forgive you will grieve. Grieving is often a long process that hold hands with forgiveness.

If we risk being open, we risk being hurt. We risk the other person taking something from us. And we know to fear this pain because we’ve experienced this pain. So we pull back and we get bitter and we become more offended and less willing to be vulnerable.  

When we grieve a loss, we gain more awareness of an eternal perspective.

“ I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all, but whatever I have placed in Gods hands, that I still possess.” Martin Luther 

There are hurts and losses we’ve experienced in our past that feed wrong beliefs and unhealthy tendencies, holding us back in the present.  

*  If we become more self-aware of how we are processing our thoughts and perceptions and redirect those in more life-giving ways, then inside every loss, a more wise empathetic understanding discerning compassionate person of strength and humility has the potential to arise within us. 

Look for the why. 

We can’t change what we’ve experienced but we can choose how the experiences change us. 

Trust gets built when you see gods work with your human eyes. What builds your faith is when you can’t see or understand what he does.

  • 7 correcting the dots

Do you personalize everything? Do You store things that are said to you? Are you always building a case to support your perceptions? Do You assign wrong motives and negative interpretations to what is done? Do you miss place your pain and project it on everyone around you? 

*  Whole healthy people are capable of giving and receiving love. Giving and receiving forgiveness. 

We have to get to the place where the pain we’ve experienced is a gateway leading toward growing, learning, discovering and eventually helping others. 

But if the pain is what you’re simply running into over and over, it’s a stop gate preventing you from getting over or getting through your situation. It’s like running into a brick wall again and again never understanding why your pain is just increasing day by day.  

It’s easy to assume that bad things are caused by bad people causing bad realities that will never be anything but bad. 

Processing something takes pain, acceptance, and perspective. The pain of expressing everything that happened and how it made you feel, and acceptance of acknowledging that the permanent ink is now dry on those pages of your story and you cannot change what happened. And from those connections you begin to see a new perspective.

What do I now believe about this person? Yourself? What happened? About God?

  • Do you find yourself: (unforgiving, unhealthy)

Cringing, rolling your eyes, feeling your pulse quicken, clenching your jaw, or letting out a sigh? 

Do you shake your head at the unfairness of things? 

Do you secretly celebrate when you hear they are having difficulties? 

Do you dream of the moment when you get to present all your proof and hear them finally admit what they did wrong? 

When you talk to other people are you quick to try and convince others how wrong they were?

Are you always expecting the worst of them? 

Are you easily offended, put off, aggravated, and annoyed by them or people who remind you of them? 

  • Or: (forgiving, healthy)

Do you acknowledge what was hard but feel a sense of peace? 

Can sincerely pray for them? 

Can manage emotions when good things happen to them? 

Are eager to share a helpful perspective with others facing a similar situation? 

Can look for what is good in other people? 

Look for life lessons and collect those instead of grudges? 

Have compassion for who wronged you? 

Can be kind to this person? 

  • Now ask yourself: (questions for growth)

What would a healthy version of me want to do from here?

How can this hurt make me better not worse? 

What might God be giving or revealing to me through this that I couldn’t see before?

* God never wastes our suffering. Romans 5:3-5

Revelations can come with time and in unexpected ways. 

Do you cling onto the facts of how you were hurt more than the perspectives you are learning? 

Does it look more like proof than perspective? 

  • If so, some suggestions: (getting unstuck)

Be honest with the feelings you’re having. 

Be brave enough to stop the Runaway thoughts. 

Find distortions. 

Find a scripture verse that can speak truth to you. 

Process through it until you can find a more healed way of looking at and telling your story.

  • Personal declarations:

I don’t need to run away. 

I don’t need to isolate. 

I don’t need to numb it away. 

I don’t need to hate. 

I don’t need to silence my words. 

There is a healed version of me that is waiting and wanting to emerge.

Focusing on proof only keeps you trapped in the place where the pain occurred.

Sort out what’s true from what’s deceiving. 

Let go of all the frustrations and fears and fragments of half truths and lies the enemy worked really hard to get you to believe. 

Pour it all out. 

*  The proof is not a treasure nor is it a souvenir or a weapon of justice. It’s debris. Though you believe it’s protecting you, it’s ugly and sharp. Nothing about it is healing your heart. It’s time to call it what it is and start clearing it away.  

*  To get better you don’t have to know why. Why they hurt you, why they misunderstood you, why they betrayed you, why they didn’t love you, protect you, or stay like they should. Their reasons are multi layered with a mysterious mix of their own pain. They are dealing with their own heartbreak and their own soul wrestling. In the end  they probably don’t even know all the reasons why they made the choices that they did. 

*  If you want to move on, heal, and lay down what hurts, it’s 100% your choice to make. The steps needed are yours to take. 

*  Emotional healing is not so much a level to reach as it is a new way of thinking you choose.

It’s admitting you might be thinking about this wrong. Is there another way? 

When you let the hurt and grudges go, perspective is what you’ll receive. 

Proof doesn’t serve you, building a case won’t heal you. Holding on to all the hurt will only steal from you all that’s beautiful and possible for you. Let it go. And trust it to God. 

  • 8 unchangeable feels unforgivable

*  Forgiveness is a hard step to take, but it’s also the only step that leads to anything good. Every other choice just adds more hurt.

  1. Forgiveness is more satisfying than revenge.

You may think getting back at them will make you feel better but in the long term it will always cost you more emotionally and spiritually than you’d ever want to pay. The only thing your revenge will do is add your wrongdoing on top of theirs. Forgiveness doesn’t let the other person off the hook, it places them in gods hands. Romans 12:18-21 

  1. our God is not a do nothing God.

We don’t get to see you on the side of eternity how God was working in our most painful experiences. Sin masquerades as fun and games. God knows the full truth. 1 Peter 5:7

  1. Your offender is also suffering from pain.

Have compassion for the pain they had to experience in order to make the choice they made. The one who causes pain is in pain. No human gets through life without being deeply hurt at some point. Grief finds us all. Ephesians 4:32

  1. The purpose of forgiveness is not always reconciliation.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that trust is immediately restored or that hard-relational dynamics are instantly fixed. Romans 12:18 1 Timothy 1:5

  1. The enemy is the real villain.

There’s nothing more powerful than a person living what God‘s word teaches. Ephesians 6: 11-12

  • 9 boundaries that help us stop dancing with dysfunction

I cannot control things out of my control. 

Destructive choices always affect more people than just the one who makes them. 

*  You can either draw appropriate boundaries, shielding yourself from the consequences of their hurtful behaviors or you can try and change the person, which will only grow more and more difficult with every tightening grip of your attempted control. 

*  Relationships that need boundaries will not get better on their own. 

Trying to change another person will lead to maddening frustration both for you and the other person. 

Change can only happen for them (or for you) from the inside out. 

*  As long as you’re trying to control a person, you can’t truly forgive them.

Boundaries are not to push others away, they are to hold you together.  

Boundaries are 100% your choice not theirs. 

What do I need to do in this relationship to stay consistent in my character, conduct, and communication? 

Do I feel the freedom in this relationship to communicate what I can and cannot give without the fear of being punished or pushed away?  

What boundaries do I need to put in place? 

Identify where you’re dancing with dysfunction, toxic realities in relationships will not tame themselves. 

What we allow is what we will live.

You do not have to negotiate excuses or navigate exceptions with lengthy explanations that wear you down. 

You can mute someone’s social media account that triggers you. 

Choose not to sweep lies under the rug or help another person cover up their bad behaviors. 

Clearly communicate.

It is OK to say no. 

It is OK to be honest about what you can and cannot give. 

You can reduce their access to your most vulnerable emotions and limited resources. 

You can choose not to engage. 

You do not have to crumble if the other person accuses you of wrong intentions when you set boundaries. 

Communicating your boundaries is not being controlling or manipulative. 

  • 10 because they thought God would save them

God doesn’t always intervene like you think he will or want him to.  

The more you don’t see tangible evidence of God intervening the more unseen and unheard you may feel. 

*  The more you lose hope the more you resist forgiveness.

Feelings of disillusionment left unattended start to seem like facts about God when our circumstances don’t turn out like we believed they would or should. 

*  What makes faith fall apart isn’t doubt, it’s becoming too certain of the wrong things. 

Gods silence is not proof of his absence. 

If we try and draw conclusions from the well of our pain, we will only have the sorrow of today to sip from. If we draw strength from the deep well of God‘s promises then this goodness will seep life into your dry and weary soul. 

Instead of drawing conclusions today, draw at least one line from a past situation where you can look back and see evidence of his faithfulness. 

“Hope is the melody of the future. Faith is dancing to that melody right now.” Jim Cress  

forgiveness is always healing in the right direction. 

  • 11 forgiving god

Do you expect your prayers to look like Amazon prime deliveries? You expect them to arrive in record time and delivered straight to your front door. 

Daily bread took on many different forms in the Bible. Sometimes it looks like a loaf from the oven, other times like manna, and sometimes Jesus himself. 

What we know now is partial and incomplete. 

We naturally fill in the blanks of what we think we need. 

God allows missing pieces so that we don’t have to do it all on our own. 

We want his provision to look the way we think it will. 

*   We don’t need to forgive God we need to trust him. Trust that there’s something God knows that we don’t know. We may see it in time or not until eternity. 

*  We don’t have to understand God to trust him. 

We see only what the human mind can imagine.  

Maybe it’s not what God is working on but how God is working in us that matters most of all. 

Let the faithfulness of God ease the ache of your confusion and bitterness and bewilderment. 

The problem is when we form conclusions from a place of hurt. 

*  Our perspectives aren’t complete.  

Destroy wrong thoughts before they cause destruction  in you. 

Fear of the unknown replaces the assurance and peace you previously had. 

From our vantage point here in this world, we can’t see everything in a complete way. 

When you say God isn’t answering your prayers, what you’re really saying is God isn’t doing what you wanted him to do.  

The more you can’t understand what you see, the more you want to take back control for yourself. 

*  We try to control what we don’t trust.

God doesn’t cause our pain but he’s very much aware of it. 

Resist looking at the hardest place and thinking it’s the end. 

God does some of his best work in the unseen. 

*  Every day he is providing for you.  

Make the choice to look for the beautiful. 

  • 12 The part that loss plays

Bitterness wears the disguise of other chaotic emotions that are harder to attribute to the original source of hurt. 

*  Loss is at the root of bitterness. 

  • Bitter Disguises can be:

derogatory assumptions, 

sharp cutting comments, 

a grudge, 

desire for the one that hurt you to suffer, 

anxiety around unfairness, 



negativity cloaked as you having a more realistic view than others, 


frustrations with god, 

seething anger that grows over time, 

obsessions/replaying events over and over , 

passive aggressive statements to prove a point, 

one upping other people sorrow or heartbreak, 

feeling justified in your behaviors you know aren’t healthy,

snapping and exploding on other people whose offenses don’t warrant that kind of reaction, 

unexplainably withdrawn in situations you used to enjoy, 

disconnecting from innocent people because of fear, 


demanding unrealistic expectations, 

refusing to tell the person who hurt you whats really bothering you, 

stiff arming people who don’t think the same way you do, 

rejecting opportunities to come together and talk about things, 

refusing to consider other perspectives, 

blaming and shaming  other people inside your mind, 

covertly recruiting others to your side under the guise of processing or venting 

Loss —> Bitterness—> Toxic thoughts and behaviors 

You can’t address it if you don’t acknowledge it. 

  • What bitterness really is:

*  Bitterness doesn’t come from a core of hate but rather a core of hurt. 

Realizing this  can help us not get so defensive. The only legal revenge is resentment. 

– Bitterness isn’t usually found most deeply in those whose hearts are hard but rather in those who are most tender. 

It’s not that they’re cold it’s that they’ve been made to feel unsafe. 

Hardness is often the exact opposite way their heart was made to operate but it’s the only way they know to protect themselves. 

Protection is often the motivation behind bitter projections. 

– Bitterness isn’t an indication of limited potential and relationships. 

Being bitter shouldn’t be equated to being a bad person. 

Revisiting your grief can help you find your way out. 

Come out of hiding behind the unfairness of your situation and feel your hardness be watered by the tears of fresh loss. 

Undealt with hurt and pain hardens like parched soil. 

You don’t beat bitterness out of someone. You don’t point out and poke it out or plead with it or provoke it out of someone.  

You soften the hardness out. 

Then they can change their perspective. 

Bitterness is in part unprocessed grief. 

If you have a beating heart you are carrying a  loss of some kind. 

  • 13 bitterness is a bad deal that makes big promises

Things get stirred up together. 

Wrongs we deem were never made right are incredibly stealthy in their ability to sit, quietly seething, until the one more wrong done to us gives them permission to finally scream. 

* Our reactions are manipulated by the lens of unresolved past hurts, bitter lens = bitter reaction. 

When deep pain gets poked, it’s only natural for a reaction to be more of a reflex of past hurts than a spiritually mature calmness. 

Resentment is usually attached to a specific person for a specific incident. Bitterness is usually the collective feeling of all of our resentments. 

Bitterness is a liquid acid seeping into every part of us and corrupting all it touches. It not only reaches unhealed places but it also eats away at all the healed and healthy in us. 

Bitterness leaves nothing unaffected. 

*  It will always intensify our reactions, skew our perspective, and take us further and further away from peace.  

*  You can’t keep trying to do right things without taking the step of forgiving. 

*  Holding onto the hurt won’t diminish your pain. It will multiply it. And it will manipulate you to become someone you didn’t want to be.

Most of us aren’t making the connection that the heaviness and unsettledNess that’s in our lives is evidence of unforgiveness.  

*  Make the connections between your past hurts and your present intense reaction. 

Make progress in your own process. 

Humanity without humility makes true forgiveness impossible. 

Realize that you don’t really want them to suffer you just don’t want to be hurt again. 

Release your evidence of all the reasons they were so wrong. 

Release your need to see this person punished. 

Release your need for an apology. 

Release your need for this to feel fair. 

Release your need for god to declare who’s right and wrong. 

Ask God what you are to learn from all of this. 

Ask God for his peace and place of your anger. 

*  Your anger and resentment demands that all the wrongs are made right. It keeps you positioned to get emotionally triggered over and over. 

Humility wants something better, peace. 

*  There are lots of reasons why they may not be apologizing, consider: they’ve been hurt, they don’t care, they don’t know they hurt you, they’re protecting themselves, they’re struggling with sin preventing them from feeling positive feelings or having empathy, they feel justified and feel you may have deserved it, they don’t think what they did was wrong, they’ve been given bad advice, other reasons that are complicated.  

Romans 12:18 

Peace is possible even in a world that appears to be bent toward being offended and angry. 

John 14:27 

* Peace in your life isn’t being prevented by other peoples choices, it’s made possible by your own choices. 

Don’t let circumstances or people kidnap your peace.

*  The antithesis of peace isn’t chaos, it’s selfishness. 

*  The very best way to uninvite selfishness is in the humility of forgiveness. 

*  Peace is the evidence of a life of forgiveness. 

*  Undealt with pain and a mind at peace cannot coexist. 

Romans 12 :19-21 

our emotions will sometimes be the very last to believe certain Bible verses. 

  • 14 living the Practice of Forgiveness every day

Would you rather fixate on other peoples wrongdoings then to get honest about needing to do the work of addressing and fixing your issues? 

When we get hurt we get afraid. 

When we feel vulnerable we’d rather protect ourselves and hide than risk further exposure. 

Are you tempted to dig up your proof of what they did in the past when they hurt you again?

Do you Weaponize your pain against them and feel the rush of bitterness back inside of you like an unstoppable flood? 

*  The goal with forgiveness isn’t perfection it’s progress. 

These things don’t make you a Forgiveness failure. 

Matthew 6:9-15 our daily prayer 

if you do not forgive others of their sins your father will not forgive you of yours.  

The Lord‘s prayer reminds us what the human heart needs every day: we need God, we need to be forgiven, and we need to forgive. 

Almost none of us are truly praying daily with confession and forgiveness like Jesus taught us. 

James 1:19 be quick to listen slow to speak and slow to become angry. 

*  Feeling angry is different from living angry. Feeling offended is different from living offended. Feeling skeptical is different from living skeptical. Feeling wronged is different from living wrong. Feeling resentment is different from living resentful. 

Jesus knew we’d have all these feelings.

To do: pray, predecide, and give grace. Pray the Lord‘s prayer, predecide to forgive those who may hurt you, and then ask for grace for your human tendencies. 

Confession breaks the cycle of chaos in your  and forgiveness breaks the cycle of chaos between us.

*  Be honest without being hurtful. 

Maturity helps us see how hardships can add what’s missing in our development. It can bring self awareness, perspective, healthy relationships, empathy, and patience. 

Choose a verse from the Bible that’s addressing a theme applicable to a relationship dynamic you’re working on. 

Jesus didn’t just model forgiveness when he taught us to pray, it was the message of his entire life. 

At his death he uttered, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. 

  • What the Bible says about forgiveness

Open the Bible before you open your mouth. 

Unforgiveness has never healed anyone, it’s never made someone’s pain better and has never repaired a broken heart. 

God is our healer. 

Psalm 147:3 Trust God, execute His justice.

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About Kristi | View Profile

Kristi Schwegman is a psychotherapist specializing in helping couples develop healthy relationships, whether dating, engaged, or married. She also draws from her Christian-based approach to lead individuals in becoming aware of the limiting beliefs that can get them stuck.

We offer in-person and virtual services – contact us today to learn more!

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