Forgiveness, Amends and Reconciliation Part 3 of 3

Forgiveness – 3 choices

In my last 2 posts, I examined the emotional, spiritual and health-related benefits of forgiving someone who harmed you, and then outlined what forgiveness is and what it isn’t.  In this post, I will give you some practical tips about how to navigate relationships with a person you’ve forgiven.

There are 3 ways to define a relationship with someone you have forgiven.

The first is to forgive, but do not contact or have relationship with the person you have forgiven. That includes not interacting with them when you forgive them.  As I explained in my last post, you don’t have to offer forgiveness directly to the person who harmed you.  Forgiveness is something that can be done just between you and God, trusting that He can and will deal with them so that you don’t have to.

There could be several reasons to choose this option.  The main reason would be that the person who has harmed you has not changed, has not made amends, has not empathised with you.  They may not even feel they’ve done anything wrong, or may not care if they did. They may be dangerous or abusive to you or someone you love. They might even be in prison, or otherwise legally restricted from contacting you. I know that sounds extreme to some, but rest assured many people are in exactly that situation!

You might also choose this option if it is inappropriate to contact the person who harmed you.  For example, they may be an old boyfriend/girlfriend and one or both of you might now be married or in a committed relationship. In that case, it may cause more problems than it solves to let them know you’ve forgiven them. Old feelings could be rekindled, which may cause issues in your/their current relationship.

This option also applies to an offender who has since passed away, or is otherwise unreachable. Just because you can’t contact them doesn’t mean you can’t be free from anger and resentment, and improve your overall health in the process of forgiveness.

The second option I will suggest is to forgive and have non-vulnerable contact with the person who harmed you.  Note that this still does not mean you should necessarily let them know you have forgiven them.  Rather, it means that you may still see the person, or be in a situation where you come into contact with them on a regular basis.  You may even need to communicate with them from time to time.

This option makes sense if the offender has not made amends, but is someone that you work with, is in your friendship circle, or even in your family. They may still be toxic, or it may be that you just don’t trust them.  For people like this it’s all about setting boundaries and limits.  You may have to interact with them from time to time, but when you do it is ‘just the facts.’  In other words, no emotional content.  Sharing on an emotional level creates a sense of intimacy, and it’s unwise to expose your heart to someone you can’t trust. I would also suggest not putting yourself in the position of being physically vulnerable to a person you don’t trust, i.e. not being alone with them.

At the same time, you can release them to the Lord, and live in the freedom of forgiveness.  Anger and resentment are not necessary to maintain boundaries and limits. If you find yourself having a hard time maintaining boundaries or limits with an unsafe person, then I suggest you do a bit of exploring to find out why.  Try doing a search on ‘co-dependency’ on the web, reading a book on boundaries, or talking to a coach or therapist. It is a common issue, but one that there is ample support for if you seek it out.

The third option is to forgive and reconcile. The difficult thing about this, is that it’s not all up to you.  Reconciliation is dependant on the offended person forgiving and the offender making a compete amends.  Not just acknowledging the harm, but apologising, offering some empathy, repairing the damage done, and committing to a change process if the issue is habitual or requires some support.

This is hard work, but when it happens, it’s beautiful and worth it – a lot like the reconciled relationship between Jesus and those reconciled to Him through the cross.  It is a return to a relationship that has healed.  It is a stronger relationship because both parties have learned something about themselves and one another. And having gone through the process of reconciliation once, they will be more likely to go through it again in the future, because they know that they can.

In my various roles over the past 17 year as a pastor, missionary, mental health therapist and coach, I have walked alongside many people who’ve gone through exactly this process – and have certainly gone through it myself a number of times.

Of course there have also been others who, for one reason or another, were unable to reconcile.  But what the offended person can do - the option that is always available - is to forgive.  That is something Jesus modelled by forgiving us when we hadn’t earned it (Ephesians 2:8-9). Knowing some would never confess their need for forgiveness (Romans 5:6-8). He just offered it freely, doing everything he could without taking away our free will choice, to remove the barrier of our debt from the pathway of reconciliation.

You were made to be free from the bitterness, anger and resentment that is only hurting you – the offender may not even know or care you’re angry – so why keep ‘hitting yourself’ with unforgiveness? 

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.