Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Some Final Words

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The decision about whether or not to reconcile with someone can be tough, and it is one that I recommend against making until after you have fully forgiven the person for the wrongdoing. Someone who has fully forgiven has a very different perspective than someone who has not. Until you have forgiven the wrongdoer, the bitterness you are harboring will continue to drive your emotions and cloud your judgment. You will know that you have fully forgiven the other person when thoughts of what he or she did no longer hurt. I have not forgotten what Person #1 and Person #2 did to me – I simply remember their actions as facts  that no longer hold an emotional punch on the rare occasions that I think about them.

After you have forgiven, pray for God’s wisdom and discernment about whether to reconcile with them. In my experience, God’s answer has been based on the heart of the other person, not my own, and only He knows what is inside the person’s heart. Only he knows whether the other person is truly remorseful or is simply trying to manipulate you.

Confirm whichever direction you are sensing from God with His Word. Reconciliation isn’t about how heinous the other person’s action was – it’s about the degree to which the person is repentant. What Person #1 did to me was exceedingly worse than what Person #2 did. The difference is not in the level of culpability – it’s in the level of remorse.

If God is leading you to reconcile, obey Him. Trust that He knows what He is doing and that He will bless you richly for your obedience. If you have concerns about walking back into an abusive situation, pray for God to confirm what He is telling you as well as for any specific steps you need to take to protect yourself from further harm. Part of the healing God wants to do for you is to remove the victim mentality. My interactions with Person #1 after forgiveness and reconciliation have been empowering, not victimizing.

Trust that God knows what He is doing. If he is leading you toward reconciliation, trust that He will give you beauty for ashes as you walk in obedience with Him.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace doing a rap move with “Word” on a necklace. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

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Confirming the Reconciliation Decision with God’s Word

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God is never going to tell you to do something (or not do something) that is inconsistent with His Word, so reference the Bible to validate that what you are feeling led to do is consistent with biblical principles.

Person #1 was (and is) regretful and repentant. While she has not taken full responsibility for every single thing she has done, she has taken responsibility for and apologized for some of it. She is contrite and appears to feel guilty for many of her bad choices. Her motivation for apologizing appears to be her guilty conscience seeking relief. Like the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet, Person #1 demonstrates an understanding of her guilt. She has humbled herself without justifying her actions. (She has offered some insights into her behavior, not as excuse but as explanation.) Extending reconciliation to someone who humbles himself and is contrite has a biblical basis, such as the father’s reconciliation with his prodigal son.

Contrast this with Person #2. She would also like to reconcile but has expressed no remorse for her actions. She denies any wrongdoing, offers excuses, and has made it clear that she is open to reconciliation on the terms of ignoring the things she has done. In other words, she wants the benefits of a restored relationship with me without having to take any sort of responsibility for the harm she inflicted. While I have forgiven her for her past actions, I continue to hold her accountable for the harm she inflicted. I have told her that unless and until she takes responsibility for her actions, I will not be in a relationship with her.

The Bible supports this position as well. While Jesus loves and died for all of us, only those who repent enter into a relationship with him:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. ~ 1 John 1:9

Note that this passage begins with the word if: Jesus forgives us if we confess. Person #2 has not confessed her wrongdoing and continues to justify it. In cases in which someone continues to do something wrong, we are to remove the person from our fellowship:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?” ~ 1 Cor. 5:1-2

This does not mean that we withhold forgiveness, which heals us, but we do not provide wrongdoers with the benefits of fellowship with us when they take no responsibility for their actions.

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[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding a tin can on a rope and saying, “Let me know.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Praying for Discernment on Whether to Reconcile

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If forgiveness does not require reconciliation, how do we know whether to reconcile?

You cannot base this decision on your feelings. If I did, I would have never reconciled with Person #1 but would have already reconciled with Person #2 because I valued the second relationship more than the first. Also, I was willing to put up with more “bad behavior” from Person #2 than from Person #1 for reasons I won’t go into to. Suffice it to say that if I allowed my feelings to drive my decisions concerning reconciliation after forgiveness, my story would the opposite of what I have shared.

Step one is to pray for God’s wisdom and discernment. Only He knows the heart of the other person. He knows the degree to which the person regrets the bad behavior and has truly repented of it. He also knows whether or not your presence or absence in that person’s life will benefit or harm him or her.

Note that I did not mention the benefit or harm of having that person in your life. Once you have forgiven the other person, he or she loses the power to continue emotionally harming you. Note that I am referring to emotional harm. If you are dealing with someone who continues to have the power to harm you (or someone else, such as your child) physically, pray for God’s wisdom in setting appropriate boundaries to protect you from physical harm if you sense Him calling you to reconcile with someone in a position to inflict physical harm.

As you forgive someone who has emotionally harmed you, God heals the emotional pain, which removes that person’s power over you. In fact, that’s one way you will know that you have fully forgiven the other person. As long as you remain mired in bitterness, you have given your “power” away to the other person, enabling him or her to continue inflicting emotional harm. Before I forgave Person #1, her words had enormous power over me. Today, whatever she says is irrelevant because the process of forgiveness dismantled that power. I no longer need emotional protection from her because God has healed my heart.

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[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace’s face on the cover of a book entitled, “Why Even Try?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

What Lack of Reconciliation after Forgiveness Looks Like

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Person #2 was in my life for many years. She got the misimpression that I was a threat to something she wanted and wreaked havoc that harmed not only me but others as well. To date, she has taken no responsibility for any of this.

As with Person #1, I prayed for her. I refused to “feed the bitterness” because I had learned from my situation with Person #1. Whenever I was tempted to dwell on negative thoughts about her, I prayed for her instead. I feel no bitterness toward her. I am not happy about how she has behaved and her continued unwillingness to take any responsibility for the harm she inflicted on me and others, but I do not allow myself to dwell on those thoughts.

God has placed heavily on my heart that I am to have nothing to do with Person #2, despite having forgiven her. To make sure I was hearing God correctly, I looked for Bible verses to confirm that not reconciling with someone is consistent with God’s Word. Here’s what I found:

Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.” ~ 2 Thes. 3:14-15

But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” ~ 1 Cor. 5:11

After much prayer, the conclusion I reached is that God does not want people in rebellion against His ways to benefit from a relationship with me. This ties into the sowing and reaping principle that is woven into many parts of the Bible. When someone does not repent of his wrongdoing, allowing him to reap the benefits of a relationship with you violates God’s sowing and reaping principle.

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[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with her hand on her hip saying, “Not Today.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

What Reconciliation after Forgiveness Looks Like

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Person #1 is someone who hurt me many times over a period of years. I finally had enough and removed that person from my life. I had no interest in ever having a relationship with this person again.

God led me to forgive this person, which is something I had absolutely no interest in doing for many reasons. God placed a question heavily on my heart: “Do you love Me more than you hate this person?” It was a close call, but I chose to obey God. My specific way of doing this was to pray for her day after day, week after week, and month after month for well over a year. This was very difficult to do at first, but over time, my bitterness abated while my peace grew. This person mailed me a card apologizing for one of the many things she had done in the past, and I realized as I read it that my pain was simply gone – God had healed it! This was how I learned what forgiveness looks like – you know you have fully forgiven someone when the pain is gone.

I was happy to move on with my life without this person in it, with each of us going our own way, but that was not God’s plan for me. He placed heavily on my heart that He wanted me to reconcile with her. I did not understand why, but I chose to obey God out of love for Him. So, I invited this person to lunch when I was visiting other people (she lives out of state) and praised God the entire drive so I could fill up with Him before seeing her. I was surprised by how well that visit went. God filled me to overflowing with His love, joy, and peace, which flowed out of me to her. I could feel His love for this person and enjoyed the benefits of getting to experience that love as it flowed out.

I continue to stay in regular contact with this person out of obedience to God, expecting nothing from her. My role is to pour God’s love into her life by extending grace. I expect nothing in return. If she has anything to give, it’s a blessing, but it is also OK if she does not. God meets all of my needs, and I am simply extending His grace to her. I have not forgotten the many ways she harmed me in the past, but it no longer matters. She is a beloved child of God, and I view her as such.

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[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace peeking out a doggie door over a welcome mat that says, “Welcome back.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Does Forgiveness Require Reconciliation?

yes_or_noI was very resistant to the concept of forgiveness for most of my life, in part, because I had absolutely no interest in reconciling with people who had harmed me. An example I would use was the idea of forgiving a stranger who rapes a woman in a park. Why should she be required to establish a relationship with this man when their only interaction was violent? Why must some sort of relationship (and a positive one at that!) be required of the victim?

God taught me that forgiveness and reconciliation are two different concepts, and one does not necessarily lead to the other. If it were true that forgiveness required reconciliation, then people would be unable to forgive someone who has died or who refuses to have a conversation with them, leaving them bound in their bitterness for reasons that are outside of their control. If reconciliation was a requirement, then the “power” to forgive would be out of our own hands, and that simply is not biblical. God would not command us to do something that we are unable to do.

God has taught me much about forgiveness and reconciliation over the last few years, both with people I reconciled with and through those with whom I have not. I have forgiven all of them (or continue in the process of forgiving them), and whether or not reconciliation has taken place is not an indicator of whether or not I have forgiven them. I will share my experience with two of them without specific details to protect their privacy. My forgiveness of both is complete, but I have reconciled with one but not the other. I have experienced the same healing and freedom from bitterness in both cases. My lack of reconciliation with one of them has not, in any way, impeded my ability to forgive her.

For more on the importance of forgiveness, read this blog entry. You can read other blog entries on forgiveness here.

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[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up two signs: “Yes or no?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Forgiveness: What it is NOT

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Before I continue with my story, let’s talk about forgiveness because it is such a stumbling block for so many Christians. Christian speaker and author Joyce Meyer says that informal polling at her conferences indicates that 80-90% of us are angry with someone.

Why is it so hard for us to forgive others when God so freely forgives us? Here are five of the lies I believed, which kept me from obeying God in forgiving those who hurt me:

Lie #1: Forgiveness = Forgetting

Nowhere in the Bible are we told to “forgive and forget.” I will never forget having been raped and emotionally tormented as a helpless child. After forgiveness, I still remember the wrongs, but those memories no longer carry an emotional punch, just as a scar no longer hurts like an open wound.

Lie #2: Forgiveness = Reconciliation

While I have forgiven everyone who has hurt me, I have not reconciled with all of them. I have reconciled with people who took responsibility for their actions, but I am not in relationships with those who did not. This has not kept me from forgiving them. Just as the father of the lost son was ready for immediate reconciliation after his lost son repented, my forgiveness has positioned me to do the same if and when those people take responsibility and repent.

Lie #3: Forgiveness lets the wrongdoer off the hook.

For many years, I was unable to forgive my child abusers because I thought this was letting them off the hook. I believed that holding onto my bitterness was imposing a penalty on them, but it actually kept me in bondage while they were off living their lives. When I forgave my abusers, their lives did not change, but mine changed radically.

Lie #4: Forgiveness requires the transgressor’s repentance.

Waiting for the transgressor to apologize before forgiving puts the ball in the transgressor’s court, and let’s face it – many are not sorry for what they did. If we had to wait for God to change someone else’s heart before He could heal ours, we might live our entire lives in bondage. Forgiveness only involves you and God. You must be willing to let go of your bitterness, and then God does the heavy lifting of making it happen, regardless of whether the transgressor ever repents.

Lie #5: God will heal your emotional pain while you remain bitter.

As Joyce Meyer has said on her television show, Enjoying Everyday Life, God will give you beauty for ashes, but you don’t get to keep the ashes. If you want to experience God’s healing from the pain, you don’t get to keep the bitterness. It’s an exchange: you give up your “right to be bitter,” and you exchange that bitterness for joy and peace. As someone who has made the exchange, it’s a great deal!

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[Graphic: Cover of Joyce Meyer’s Book, Beauty for Ashes: Receiving Emotional Healing. Courtesy of Amazon.com.]