I am struggling with forgiveness. I know that forgiving someone who hurt me is part of my recovery process, but does forgiving someone mean that I need to be willing to treat that person as well as I would treat those I consider my closest friends? (Assuming that it’s appropriate to interact with the person who hurt me.) Does forgiving completely mean that there are no consequences for the person at fault?
Advice: In Total Forgiveness, R.T. Kendall addresses the issue of how we treat others after they have let us down or mistreated us. There are consequences which sometimes can’t be and shouldn’t be removed when we forgive.
In his book, Kendall talks about a situation in which a woman forgave the man who raped her and also decided to testify in court in order to stop him from raping again. In that case, judicial consequences were meted out along with forgiveness. There are other examples given as to how relationships are affected when someone mistreats or abuses us. Forgiveness does not cancel out all consequences. As in any situation, be careful not to put yourself in an unsafe place or an unsafe relationship.
You may decide that a friendship may change because that person cannot keep confidences. A change in relationship does not mean that you have not forgiven the person. You can let go of the blame and not hold the wrong against the person, but you may learn something about that person’s character that changes the way you relate to them.
If you learn that they can no longer be trusted with a confidence or they cannot be trusted to follow through on a commitment, then it’s necessary to take steps to protect yourself. You can forgive them but decide not to share certain things with them any more, or not to rely on them. Forgiveness does not mandate that you trust all people on the same level or that there will be no consequences for wrongful behaviour.
You need discernment about the person and the issue to be forgiven. Forgiveness shouldn’t get dispensed whenever someone wrongs you without bringing on some consequences for that person and the relationship. Hopefully, the person will feel guilty and want forgiveness and reconciliation.
Consequences may not be needed when issues are small or the matter was only a misunderstanding.
Forgiveness is necessary for you to be free from the black hole of bitterness. It is a process that demands wisdom and grace. Forgiveness will cause you to make some decisions which are difficult. You may need to learn more about assertiveness and more about your own need for forgiveness. You may even take a risk or need to trust that person again! Or you may decide that the person needs to earn your trust again.
Forgiveness doesn’t equal trust and it doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences for the person or relationship and boundaries that need changing. Forgiveness will challenge you to grow — to love more deeply and to learn more about life and interacting with people. But, more importantly, forgiveness will set you free!
The ability to forgive is rooted in being forgiven ourselves. As children of God, we have been forgiven and are asked to forgive. Forgiveness is at the very heart of grace; it is a cornerstone of faith. God doesn’t leave us to fight our own battles and He doesn’t ask us to forgive in our own strength. Pray for the grace to be able to forgive, and ask Him to soften your heart and give you the ability to forgive.