woman at the beach with a hat

Why Bother Letting Someone Off the Hook?

I’ve gone fishing a few times in my life. I know how to bait a hook, cast a line and watch a bobber. I know that the minute that bobber goes under the water, that I’ve got a fish on the line. I also know that when that bobber surfaces again and remains above the water that the fish is no longer on the line. I recognize the difference between having a fish on my hook as well as not having a fish on my hook. One weighs more than the other. 


Harboring unforgiveness is a little bit like having a fish on our hook. Our bobber goes under, the fish puts up a fight and we have to work hard to reel it in. All the while, our attention is completely focused on the wrestling match between us and that fish. And of course, we want nothing more than to win the fight. 

For the longest time, I was unaware that unforgiveness had set up residency in my heart, but I was well aware of my wrestling match with anger. It had my full attention. Though I tried hard to keep my hostility to myself, there were many times my contention leaked out all over my husband, my sons, siblings and many others.  

It’s really difficult to pretend you are calm when you are not, to fake genuine concern for others when you don’t care or to ignore the heaviness of the grudges that accumulate in life. I tried my best though, to resist, ignore and alter my anger. I really wanted to be honest, empathetic and open-hearted, but attempting to tame my anger, to reel it in, or to rid myself of it,  wore me out. 

Wearing myself down and realizing I could not win this battle was actually the first step in actually winning the battle. In the midst of my wrestling match I did not ask, plead or pray for a solution, I demanded one and I got my answer.

When do we ever get the answer we want? When is the response ever easy, or what we expect? My case was no different. The message that came back loud and clear; I needed to forgive. 

Forgiveness is the same as letting someone off the hook, canceling the debt you think they owe you, and releasing them from unmet expectations. 

I knew who I needed to release. First, there was my father who abandoned me by suicide. Then there was my mother who had lied to me about my father’s death. Finally, there was my prodigal son. Three people were on my hook and it weighed me down. 

I wanted so very much for things to have been different between them and me. I’d wanted my father’s love, not his absence. I’d wanted a truthful relationship with my mother, not an emotionally detached one. And I’d wanted a compliant son, not a rebellious one. 

These were strong desires, but my tight grip on them changed nothing. I’d had no power over my father’s choice to end his life. My mother could not give me what she herself did not possess, and tell me, is a mother more powerful than God that she can change the mind of a prodigal son? 

And so it came down to this simple question; can I let these people off the hook? Can I cancel the debt I’ve held them to? Can I release them to the only one who somehow sets all things right? 

I did and right away I felt the weight fall away and my heart suddenly became buoyant.

Why bother letting someone off the hook? Unlike a fisherman, letting the fish go might feel like a defeat, but when we let our grudges go, we will be the winners.

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A heart's journey to forgiveness book by Terese Luikens