Forgiveness isn’t reconciliation–reconciliation involves the cooperation of both you and your offender in the process. In other words, forgiveness of your offender can be done privately and simply between you and God alone. And forgiveness may be your step toward reconciliation, but does not guarantee reconciliation or require it. So if you are feeling like you don’t want to send the wrong message to your offender by forgiving them and therefore letting them off the hook, then you are confusing reconciliation with forgiveness. In other words, when you forgive you are not saying that what the other person did to you was no big deal. And when you forgive, you are not promising to drop your guard and let your offender abuse you again. In fact, you are not even necessarily inviting the person back into your life, but you are offering them a blank slate in your heart and mind. And the only way you can offer them a blank slate is by asking God to give you the grace and mercy to accept the consequences, the losses, or the debt that your offender has cost you in your life. At that point, you are able to fully surrender your offender to God–leaving the conviction and repair of that relationship up to Him.
True and complete reconciliation involves additional steps that I believe God wants us to strive for, but may not be possible depending on whether our offender cooperates or not. As the two of you strive toward reconciliation, many times, both of you may need to follow through on the steps of reconciliation for each other. However, depending upon your situation, the steps of reconciliation may only need to be done by your offender in response to you or vice versa. But a word of caution: remember that the offender must decide to take these steps on his or her own. Forcing the offender to take the necessary steps will lead only to more hurt, resistance and frustration for the both of you. Remind yourself that the Holy Spirit is better at convicting someone of their part than you are! In fact, you may be only getting in God’s way when you keep reminding them of what they need to do!
The steps toward reconciliation that must be taken are: an acknowledgment of the specific wrongs that were committed, an apology, a sense of genuine remorse, and corrective action that is taken to right the wrongs in the present and future. If one or more of these elements is missing, they must be worked toward by the offender otherwise the reconciliation will not be complete or successful (Mt. 18:15-35).
This does not mean that you, the offended, are off the hook and don’t have to continue to forgive this person–since the two elements are mutually exclusive. This also does not mean that God relieves you of the responsibility of continuing to do your part in encouraging reconciliation. But if your offender continues to hurt you or refuses to take steps toward the elements of reconciliation, then what you must do is continue to pray for yourself, your offender, and perhaps come to accept the fact that the relationship may never be “reconciled.” The good news is that you can always experience the freedom of forgiveness with or without your offender’s cooperation (Luke 17:4, Eph. 4:32, Col. 3:13).
If you are concerned about reentering this newly reconciled relationship–fearful that your offender will hurt you over and over again–then look for my next post on “Reconstructing After Reconciliation” This too is a delicate and somewhat complicated process that must be understood before proceeding in a relationship.