She said she was sorry for at least the tenth time. Each time that I forgive, she changes for a little while but then goes right back to her old behavior. I know I am supposed to forgive as I am a Christian.
Does the above sound familiar? I encounter people all the time who are trying to forgive when they have been hurt repeatedly by the same person. We are to forgive right? Yes, but there a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.
Many people withhold forgiveness because they believe they have to immediately trust the person that has hurt them, and form a relationship with them again.
Forgiveness does not = Reconciliation.
Forgiveness is instant, but rebuilt trust and reconciliation takes time. Reconciliation can only happen if there is true repentance, that is not just saying the words, “I’m sorry,” but through a change in behavior. God does command us to forgive others, but He never told us to keep trusting those who repeatedly violate our trust. In fact, Jesus understood that not all humans are trustworthy.
Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in Him. But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell Him what mankind is really like. John 2:23-25.
Sometimes people live with resentment and bitterness because there has been confusion about forgiveness and trust.
If there is a desire to restore a relationship, communication is key. Issues have to be brought up and discussed, otherwise, that same pattern of repeated behaviors that has hurt you, will happen again and again. Someone has to stop the crazy cycle. If the offending person will not communicate with you, then you will not be able to have a true relationship built on trust with that person.
The glue that holds relationships together is trust and communication.
Forgiveness does not mean letting someone “off the hook.” It means holding people accountable for their behavior. Confronting in love when necessary.
Forgiveness does not mean we let the offense happen over and over again. If someone has repeatedly hurt you, that does not mean that because you forgave them to allow them to continue to hurt you.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. We can forgive someone even if we cannot be in a relationship with them.
Forgiveness can be a process. Sometimes it takes time to work through all the pain associated with the person who has hurt us. Be gentle with yourself during this process, but make sure no bitterness, unresolved anger, or revenge sneaks in.
Forgiveness means letting go of the anger and resentment. Letting go of these does not mean automatic trust, it means not holding onto grudges and past offenses.
Reconciliation is focused on restoring broken relationships. Those who repeatedly commit offenses must be willing to recognize that reconciliation is a process. If there is genuine repentance, they will understand that broken trusts takes time to heal.
Words alone are not sufficient enough to rebuild trust that leads to reconciliation. In other words just saying, “I didn’t mean to hurt you or I’m sorry,” is not enough for trust to happen. It is wise to look at the offender’s actions or behavior as well as listen to the offender’s words. Displays of tears or appearing to be sorry must not be the substitutes for confession and repentance, and a turning away from hurtful behavior.
Reconciliation can take place when the hurtful behaviors cease. If you continue to observe the same hurtful actions by the offender there cannot be a true reconciliation.
After you have forgiven someone that has hurt you, at some point you will have to decide if it right to reconcile with them. Repentance is not just an apology, it is turning away from one’s hurtful ways. At some point you may need to interact with the person that has hurt you to see if they have truly changed, or perhaps you can listen to what others are saying about their behavior first. At other times you can just ask the Holy Spirit to show you their true intentions. Don’t be pressured to extend trust if you have not observed trustworthy behaviors. Pray for the one who has hurt you. This will be a way to keep anger and bitterness out of your spirit.
Is there someone you need to forgive? For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins, Matthew 6:14-15.
How will you know when it is time to move beyond forgiveness to trust and reconciliation?