A few weeks ago, I was sitting through our weekly small group meeting. We took a bold step and decided to tackle Authentic Intimacy’s Passion Pursuit. Dr. Juli Slattery began to discuss the importance of forgiveness in healing and improving our marriages. She also delved into the need to forgive past hurts in order to move forward. Something she said jumped out at me:
The acknowledgement that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing.
As she waded through the waters of forgiveness, the words FREEDOM were key. Forgiveness leads to freedom because what ever that wrong was, it no longer holds on to us. However, reconciliation may not be possible. Perhaps the other person hasn’t apologized, hasn’t repented because they do not believe they were wrong. Or, perhaps they took ownership of their wrong doing but for your own safety you can not resume a reconciled relationship with the person. In some instances the person may have died, moved away, etc and there isn’t a way to even reach out and start a reconciliation process. However, we can still forgive them and more forward. This forgiveness does not free them from the CONSEQUENCES of their actions, it does however free us from being held captive by that person or situation any longer.
I walked away that evening reflecting on several situations through the years that cause me distress. I thought of the scriptures that call us to forgive and reconcile. I felt like a failure in many ways because even despite my willingness to forgive, there were relationships that were not reconciled. I had sold myself to believe that I couldn’t more forward until reconciliation had happened. I resolved that those relationships wouldn’t necessarily reconcile to what they once were, but that to at least be on “civil terms” would be enough. When that couldn’t happen, I felt like I failed.
Now, that burden was lifted. I had permission to walk in that freedom of forgiveness, even I was walking alone and the other parties were not ready to join up yet. Today, I watched a video from The Gospel Coalition on forgiveness without repentance. One of the things I took away from the video is:
Reconciliation requires repentance and forgiveness from both sides.
It can’t be both sides saying they are sorry, and no one changes.
It can’t be a change of behavior by both sides, without anyone actually apologizing.
It can’t be an exchange of apologies, modified behaviors, when one or both don’t truly forgive.
Forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation may not come in that exact order & not all at one time. It may be a process that can span days, months, or even years to complete. Reconciliation may not even come this side of heaven.
If we have chosen to forgive, and if we have identified our own mistakes and repented… we may have to be okay with reconciliation’s slow arrival. If it even comes at all.
For each of us lies the responsibility of our own actions. Have we come to God and asked Him to reveal if we are part of the problem? Is there more to this than being sinned against? Are we too guilty of sinning against the other person? If you have a trusted mentor, have you shared the situation with them and sought their counsel and guidance?
Once you have taken an honest look at yourself, if there is a need for you to apologize then you are responsible for taking the step of repentance and seeking forgiveness. Then you can also extend your forgiveness to the other person and work toward reconciliation, should both parties agree. However, if you are truly the only one who was sinned against and the other person is unwilling to repent and ask for forgiveness… you can still choose to forgive as Christ has forgiven.
All of our sins are against a perfect God, who has done nothing wrong to us. Yet He is able to forgive our sins and cast them to the oceans depths. If the Lord can forgive me, how can I not forgive those who sin against me? Reconciliation may not happen, but that doesn’t mean that forgiveness is impossible.
The scriptures state that as much as it is possible, and is up to me, to live at peace with everyone. Reconciliation isn’t entirely up to me, it takes both parties to happen. But forgiveness is a choice I can make to bring peace into my heart, life, and relationships. Then we can lean into trusting the Lord to do the work in the other person, and if reconciliation is possible it will happen under the guidance of the Holy Spirit’s conviction.
When we forgive, we can live in the freedom of Peace. I choose Peace.