Triumphing Over a Legacy of Unforgiveness

By on August 5, 2015

By Deborah Smith Pegues –

When I was a child, I heard my mother and father argued frequently about things that happened or had been said in the far, far distant past. They served faithfully and sacrificially inside and outside the walls of the church. Nevertheless, a spirit of unforgiveness plagued them.

Just days before my dad passed away at 78-year old, I had the privilege of reconciling him and his best friend after a three-year rift. They were fellow members of their church trustee board and had disagreed over a financial transaction. Prior to their split, they had enjoyed rich fellowship and great family fun over their fifty-year history. Notwithstanding, Dad believed the church had treated him unfairly (I didn’t agree with him based on the facts he presented) and he was not going to let it go—especially in light of his extreme generosity and long-term service. Through much prayer and long conversations in which I reminded him of the consequences of unforgiveness, he finally reconciled with his friend and the pastor.

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My mom, who passed away a few years ago at 82, frequently recounted the many instances of my dad’s physical and verbal abuse. After 21 years of marriage, she’d finally mustered the courage to literally escape to another state with five dependent boys in tow; my older brother and I had already left the nest. They remained separated for 40 years but never divorced. I’m convinced it was bitterness that ushered her into her 10-year battle with dementia prior to her death. All of her imaginary conversations had an angry tone and centered on her painful issues with my dad.

My parent’s legacy of holding on to offenses influenced how we, their seven children, dealt with people who offended or crossed us. With such a heritage, I knew unforgiveness was poised to become a stronghold in my life. The pattern had already started to evolve. If people offended me in any way, I never viewed them the same. Depending on the nature of the relationship, I would either keep my emotional distance or make a mental note never to trust, favor, or include them again in my dealings. My most common tactic was to hide behind being “too busy” to find time to interact with them again—ever. They finally got the message: Once you offend Deborah, you are out. No three strikes policy here! Shortly after I married my wonderful husband, I sternly warned him, “Please try not to do anything where I’ll have to forgive you because unforgiveness runs in my family. We do absolutely no forgiving!” This statement seems hilarious to me today, however, I was dead serious.

It was not until I met one of my most beloved spiritual mentors that I began to make headway in conquering this emotional giant. She taught and modeled forgiveness on a level I’d never seen. She frequently proclaimed, “I release everybody who has hurt me.” She didn’t just give lip service to the idea; I watched her walk it out many times in her high profile role as leader of a major church in our city.

I finally decided unforgiveness had wreaked havoc in my life long enough. It had caused me to write off several relatives, friends, co-workers, and others. I spent way too much time in my head rehearsing the wrongs people perpetrated against me and imagining the awful things I could have said or done to retaliate if I weren’t a Christian. I started to realize how counterproductive it is to engage in such thinking. So, as an act of faith and obedience, I declared my freedom from unforgiveness. It was and is a giant I could never conquer in my own strength.

I’ve learned over the years that forgiveness is simply letting go of the desire to avenge a wrong. I also now know that there is no such thing as forgiving and forgetting. Who but God can erase anything from memory at will? The challenge is to remember without malice; to learn the lessons that come out of the inevitable hurts in life. With Christ who strengthens me, I can do that. So can you.


Deborah Smith Pegues is certified public accountant, Bible teacher, Certified Behavioral Consultant, and international speaker. She is the bestselling author 30 Days to Taming Your Tongue (nearly 1,000,000 sold worldwide) and 15 other transformational books including the just released Forgive, Let Go, and Live (Harvest House Publishers, 2015). She and her husband, Darnell, have been married more than 36 years. Contact her at:


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Triumphing Over a Legacy of Unforgiveness