Last autumn I wrote a post on Forgiveness in my <30-30 series> My Top 30 Life Lesssons in 30 Years>. To this date it has been the most trafficked post I have ever written. It seems that I am not the only one who finds forgiveness a relevant and difficult topic to wrestle with.
Tonight I gave a talk at our weekly student gathering on the topic of forgiveness. Maybe I was asked to deliver it because I have wrestled with it so darn much. I won’t give you all of it.. but here are a few things that have stood out to me over the year as I have had to forgive again and again one particular person who brought me much pain as well as the many others I’ve forgiven or had to apologize to in the tides of what makes for normal relationship breakdowns.
I am a total people pleaser. I love people. I want to be in good standing with people. I want people to like me. I almost always like people. I have been told off for thinking the best of people and choosing to trust people when others think I am a fool for this, which is why this has been a difficult lesson. Just because you forgive someone does not mean you need to be in a reconciled relationship with them. Reconciliation, or the restoration of the relationship is dependent on the one who has done the harm. You can forgive someone for their actions but not everyone you will be able to restore the relationship with. Reconciliation is the goal. It is the pattern of relationships for Christians because of our model of God coming to us and seeking a reconciled relationship through Himself absorbing the cost and punishment for our sin. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
But not everyone we need to forgive we will be able or will it be helpful to have a restored relationship with. Differing from forgiveness, reconciliation is often conditioned on the attitude and actions of the offender. The process of reconciliation depends on the attitude of the offender, the depth of the betrayal, and the pattern of offense. Some behaviours need time to see if there is change before trust can be restored. If someone is truly repentant and has caused harm to someone, they should be able to give someone this time and space. In the case of addictions one might need to see time and change before they allow themselves back into a relationship again so as not to be an enabler to someone’s alcohol or drug addiction. In the case of rape or verbal or emotional or physical abuse it is dependent on the offended party as to whether there is restored relationship. It might be more harmful than good for the victim to experience a relationship with their abuser. It is still good and necessary and healthy for the victim to come to forgive but that does not guarantee a reconciled relationship. If someone is not repentant, or is lying, or there is evidence that their behaviour is an unending pattern, it might hinder the one injured from trusting again or being willing to reconcile the relationship.
“If we can restore to full and intimate fellowship with ourselves a sinning and unrepentant brother,” John R. W. Stott wrote in Confess Your Sins, “we reveal not the depth of our love, but its shallowness, for we are doing what is not for his highest good. Forgiveness which by-passes the need for repentance issues not from love but from sentimentality.”
My thoughts on reconciliation have been shaped by a lot of painful circumstances, learning healthy boundaries, counseling, and wise friends. I read some interesting things here that I poached that you might find helpful in more depth as well. How to Move from Forgiveness to Reconciliation . Praying to be a person who loves deeply, forgives authentically, and seeks reconciliation. But I am wiser to want to love rather than reach for vain sentimentality…