Forgiveness, Amends and Reconciliation Part 2 of 3

What forgiveness is and isn’t

In my last post, I made the point that forgiveness is something you do for yourself.  It’s not necessarily for them, it’s for you.  It’s the only way to stop the feelings of bitterness and anger from consuming your life and driving you into an early grave as the stress takes its toll on your relationships and physical health.

But some people choose not to forgive because they have some misconceptions about what forgiveness is, or isn’t.  In this post I hope to clear up those misconceptions, and help remove some of the unnecessary barriers to forgiveness and emotional freedom.

To begin with, forgiveness isn’t reconciliation.  The word ‘reconciliation’ means ‘a return to relationship’, and forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to be in relationship with them. As I mentioned in my last post, forgiveness is something you can do just between yourself and God, turning them over to him each time bitter thoughts surface.

Neither does forgiving someone mean that the offense was not an offense. Just the opposite in fact. To fully forgive, you have to admit the full extent of the harm, because you can only forgive what you acknowledge.  If you only acknowledge part of the harm, you are only forgiving part of the harm. You have to acknowledge it all to forgive it all.  That is why getting support for yourself in this process can be so helpful.  Someone who can listen to your perspective can help you draw out the ways in which the offense has harmed you, so that you can later, when you’re ready, move to a place of forgiveness.

Also, forgiveness is not a ‘once and done’ thing. It is instead, something you have to do over and over each time feelings of bitterness come up.  Think of it this way: Your thoughts are used to travelling a certain ‘path’ in your brain when you think about the offense. Sort of like walking a particular path every day across a field of grass. Over time, the grass will be worn away and there will be a dirt path there. When you approach the grass, you will automatically walk across on the path.  But if you resist the automatic response towards the well-worn path, and choose instead to walk a fresh new path, and do that over and over, you will eventually create a new dirt path to travel, and the grass will grow over the old path. In a similar way, you have to train your thoughts to take a different neural pathway when triggered, allowing ‘the grass’ to grow back over that unhelpful neural pathway of unforgiveness so that the new path of forgiveness and release can become more defined. 

Each time the bitterness comes up, you can choose to say to yourself, “No, I’m not going down that path of resentment. I’m turning them over to God.  Judgement is His job, not mine. I’m going to let Him deal with this person, so I can be free to live my life.”

Forgiveness is also not something you do to get an apology. If you forgive in hopes that the person who hurt you will apologise, you may be sorely disappointed. In fact, you don’t need to even contact the person you are forgiving if it is unsafe or inappropriate to do so.  You can just let God know you are forgiving them, turning them over to Him rather than indulging vengeful thoughts.

Similarly, forgiveness isn’t something that needs to be withheld until you get an apology. Why give the person who hurt you the power to release you from bondage on top of what they’ve already done? Why should they hold the keys to your freedom? They don’t. Neither did Jesus wait for us to admit our guilt in order to forgive us.

Forgiveness is up to you – it is your peace and health that is at stake. When you harbour resentment you’re not withholding forgiveness from them, you’re withholding it from yourself.

Finally, forgiving someone does not mean that you have completely recovered or adjusted to the harm that was done to you.  Forgiveness is certainly a step toward healing, but it is not the only step in the process.  You may still have work to do and would benefit from confiding in a trusted friend or coach, as you gain insight into how the offense affected you, and how you can protect yourself in healthy ways going forward, or even find some greater sense of meaning or purpose through the experience of being wounded.

By now, you may see that it is in your best interest to forgive – but, you may wonder, what does that mean about the status of the relationship with the offender, practically speaking.

I will address that topic in my next post: Forgiveness – 3 choices.

If you need help working through a troubled relationship, reach out to a Coach or Therapist at The Forward Foundation. We’d love to help you work through the dynamics of your personal situation and to find the peace and freedom you were made for.