From the Pastor
Pastor Mike Burns
903.567.2072 (Ext. 3002)
Living Strong: Forgiveness vs. Reconciliation
Ever said or heard this?
•“I can’t forgive as long as he’s in my life.”
•“She won’t apologize so how can I forgive her?”
•“Forgive? I'll never forget what he did!”
I just presented a sermon called Mending the Family Net: Forgiveness. In doing so, several questions were asked of me about this subject. One of the most common questions: “How can you forgive if you’re not ready to let the offender back into your life?”
From this question, it’s evident that many people misunderstand forgiveness. They assume that forgiveness requires making up with the person who hurt you - sitting down with the perpetrator, talking it through, and hugging it out. They believe forgiveness is the same as reconciliation. The truth is they’re not the same. They’re related but not the same.
Let’s say a good friend does something horrible. She or he kicks your dog, kisses your date (yes, this has been known to happen), or destroys your reputation. Then, she or he moves out of the country or ceases all contact. Or dies. What happens now?
Can you forgive? Can you reconcile?
My response: You can still forgive. Reconciliation is a separate issue.
Lewis B. Smedes wrote: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.” Smedes wrote the book “Forgive and Forget” in 1984 which has been credited as the catalyst for modern forgiveness research. Holding a grudge imprisons you. Forgiveness sets you free. In fact, the health benefits of forgiveness are so clear, holding a grudge seems self-destructive by contrast.
In my thinking and experience, forgiveness is an internal process where you work through the hurt, gain an understanding of what happened, rebuild a sense of safety, and let go of the grudge. The offending party is not necessarily a part of this process.
On the other hand, reconciliation is an interpersonal process where you dialogue with the offender about what happened, exchange stories, express the hurt, listen for the remorse, and begin to reestablish trust. It’s a much more complicated, involved process that includes, but moves beyond forgiveness. Forgiveness is solo. Reconciliation is a joint venture.
Said Smedes: “It takes one person to forgive, it takes two people to be reunited.
You can forgive someone who is dead or someone you never see anymore or someone who has no intention of apologizing. So apologies aren’t necessary, but when available, they do help.
Forgiveness doesn’t require participation from the offender, but repentance can make forgiveness easier.
Certainly, if somebody is really apologetic and takes responsibility—“My bad. I really hurt you. No excuses.” Then forgiveness is easier. It’s not just bad because you got hurt, but I did something wrong to you.
When someone says, “I’m sorry because you’re hurt,” well, that can make the person who’s been injured feel at fault because they were hurt. That’s an offensive kind of apology. It’s different when you say: “Boy, I did wrong, independently of whether or not you got hurt. I also see how that wrong has impacted you, and I’m sorry for that.”
So there are two steps—“I did wrong, and that wrong hurt you.” Then the next step is, “Since it’s my responsibility, what can I do to make it better for you?” That’s a true apology, and that makes a real difference. But an apology is not necessary for genuine forgiveness to be extended and freedom to be received on the part of the person who is doing the forgiving.
Another common question involves the relationship between forgiving and forgetting. Does forgiveness mean we expunge the infraction from our memory? Is that even possible?
Smedes said: “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”
What happens is that we remember differently after giving forgiveness! While lack of forgiveness is remembering something with an edge or a grudge or a sense of injustice, forgiveness means remembering it more benignly, with compassion. It involves some purpose of moving ahead, rather than just being stuck in the past.”
The phrase “forgive and forget” is not found in the Bible. However, there are numerous verses commanding us to “forgive one another” (e.g., Matthew 6:14 and Ephesians 4:32). A Christian who is not willing to forgive others will find his fellowship with God hindered (Matthew 6:15) and can reap bitterness and the loss of reward (Hebrews 12:14–15; 2 John 1:8).
If by “forgive and forget” one means, “I choose to forgive the offender for the sake of Christ and move on with my life,” then this is a wise and godly course of action. As much as possible, we should forget what is behind and strive toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:13). We should forgive each other “just as in Christ God forgave” (Ephesians 4:32). We must not allow a root of bitterness to spring up in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15).
You can forgive your dog-kicking friend. In fact, your mental, physical, and spiritual health depends on it, but making up with her or him is a different story. One that requires forgiveness as well as his or her desire to listen, understand, and apologize to you and your dog!
The point is, the process of forgiveness and reconciliation can be a long, grueling process. Making up may not be possible due to obstacles including participation by the offender or because of the heinousness offense (abuse, etc.). But forgiveness involves only you. Isn't your emotional, physical and spiritual health worth it?
Published on Thursday, March 26, 2015 @ 9:27 AM CDT