Briefly, I transparently shared that I had experienced ongoing challenges with a relative for 30+ years. Due to how toxic the relationship had become, I determined five years ago to terminate the relationship. From that time forward, I eventually forgave the person.
The reality is that forgiveness is not a one time decision. Rather, it's a daily process. Forgiving doesn't mean forgetting. It doesn't mean those who hurt or offended us are off the hook. We can and we should hold others accountable for their actions.
After chatting with these women about my estranged relative, I could sense their disapproval. Immediately, the young mom insisted that forgiveness is not legitimate unless it involves reconciliation. She felt that I needed to contact the family member who I no longer speak to in effort for God to forgive me. It didn't sit well with me, but I agreed to pray about it.
Over the past week, I have earnestly sought the Lord on what He truly calls me to do when it comes to forgiveness. As a woman of faith, I most definitely want to be obedient. This led me to read scriptures and study God's Word about forgiveness. Here's the million dollar question: Does forgiveness mean that we must reconcile with those who offended us? What about toxic relationships?
You can take this with a grain of salt or take it to heart. In my Bible reading, I have come to the conclusion that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same. Forgiveness is solo; it only requires you to forgive others. Whereas reconciliation is a joint venture. The truth of the matter is that we are not responsible for other's actions, nor their behaviors or emotions. We can only take responsibility for ourselves, including our willingness to forgive.
Sometimes we resist forgiving others because we think that we have to be friendly with them and associate with them. Forgiveness does not mean that we go back to the old relationship. It most certainly does not require that we re-enter a toxic relationship that involves physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.
Although the Lord does command us to forgive those who hurt us, He never instructed us to keep trusting those who violated our trust. In addition, He never told us to continue hanging out with those who repeatedly hurt us. If you are currently in an abusive relationship, get out, be safe, and seek help. Seriously, we can forgive from a distance. We may forgo reconciliation when or if our lives are threatened.
When in doubt, pray about it. Ask Jesus what His will is for you. Use your common sense about reconciling with someone who has hurt you. A reconciliation is the restoration of a relationship. It must be mutual. There are times this is possible and other times when it is not. As far as forgiveness, this is a whole other topic. The key to understanding forgiveness is learning what it is and isn't.
The Bible says, "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV)
- Forgiveness does not erase the offense.
- Forgiveness is not a one time event; it's a process.
- Forgiveness doesn't mean justifying the offensive action or accepting it as right.
- Forgiveness is a choice.
- Forgiveness is the key to unlock the chains that once had us bound up in bitterness, anger, and pain.
- We forgive others as God forgives us.
- Forgiveness does not mean pretending the offense never happened.
- When we grant genuine forgiveness, we extend mercy and grace.
- Forgiveness is not the same as reconciling.
- We forgive others, regardless of whether they repent or not.
- Even if they are not sorry, we grant forgiveness to others.
- Forgiveness can lead to mutual reconciliation when there is trust, respect, and healthy boundaries.
- Genuine forgiveness leads to healing and freedom.
I love the inspiring quote by Max Lucado that says, "Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realizing you were the prisoner."
While I may not reach a reconciliation with my estranged relative due to the toxic behaviors of this person that I have no control over, I do accept responsibility for my own self. As mentioned up above, I have forgiven the offenses. When the negative memories rear their ugly head (you can bank on it that the enemy will find sly ways to resurface old recordings of past offenses), I bring it to Jesus by asking Him to help me forgive. One day. One choice. Release and bless.
Are you struggling with forgiveness? Does a relationship need restored? If you are currently wrestling with unforgiveness, confront it now. Do not permit it to catch fire and grow into an inferno. Talk to God one on one about the person or people who wronged you. Most importantly, do not allow bitterness to rob you from the beautiful blessings the Lord has in store for you. I pray you are able to extend genuine forgiveness and walk in freedom.