Several years ago, a person I had been very close friends with did something extremely hurtful, and it changed our relationship forever. In the years since, I’ve wondered if he was being cruel, or just clueless, but either way, the thing that happened ended our friendship.
Generally speaking, this guy is a kind and decent person, and we really had been good friends for years. You might ask why I couldn’t or wouldn’t forgive him. And that’s the thing. I have forgiven him. It took me a couple years, but in the span of a life, that’s not too long. At some point I decided to actively forgive, and while making that commitment didn’t feel like flipping a switch with immediate results, I eventually realized that I wasn’t angry and didn’t hold anything against him. Not only that, I realized that I actively want him to have a good life, and to be happy. I’ve let go of the hurt and fully moved on. I even saw this person recently, and we talked for a little while, and it was good.
But we’re not friends. Our friendship was destroyed by the thing that happened. It’s a sad fact, but one I have accepted. Sometimes a relationship cannot be saved, even when there is forgiveness.
This is a critical truth to remember when you are grappling with the work of forgiving someone. You might have a desire to forgive, and maybe you’ve got a particular bible verse ringing in your head, commanding you to do so, but the thought of continuing in the relationship pattern that you’ve been in, or going back to a toxic situation feels impossible. So forgiveness feels impossible.
But forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Sometimes you can forgive, but you can’t (or shouldn't) reconcile.
Now let’s be clear: Forgiveness is necessary for reconciliation. Wounded relationships cannot heal without forgiveness. Long-term friendships and partnerships cannot survive without a robust practice of forgiveness on the part of everyone. But reconciling with someone after real harm has been done is a long and serious process. It’s very often worth the effort, and it leads to new trust and wisdom and hope for the future.
Yet sometimes reconciliation is not possible, and because of what happened, the relationship is over. In this case, forgiveness is not part of healing what went wrong between two people. It’s simply the work of releasing burdens of resentment, bitterness or hatred that need to be let go. It’s a choice on the part of the forgiver, not to dedicate any more personal energy to wrath, and to not let the hurt they endured determine the rest of their life.
There’s real freedom, here. If you choose to forgive, you’re not accepting what happened as okay; You’re not signing up for continued mistreatment; you’re not forgetting or minimizing the wrong; and you’re not obligated to make up with anybody. You can forgive someone irrespective of what the future holds for your relationship.
And when you do, I think you’ll agree that holding grace in that place in your heart feels a whole lot better than holding malice.
The Table is a Christian Church in Davenport, Iowa, pursuing transformation:
from greed toward generosity
from violence toward peacemaking
from isolation toward neighborliness
from fear toward faith
Worship Sundays, 5pm
102 E. 2nd St. Davenport Iowa