Pretty much anyone will tell you that I’m not a grudge holder. The ease with which I offer reconciliation is something I value about myself. I’ve always thought I learned this from my dad. He used to give some weirdo punishments. If I didn’t do the dishes when I was asked, my punishment would be to sit and talk to him while he did them instead. Because he forgave so easily and with what seemed like an unfair penance, I’ve been able to forgive even when it isn’t fair to.
There is one person that I “fake forgave”. She hurt me something awful. It was one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me. I grew up with her practically as my second mom. Our families spent holidays together and went on vacations. Eventually her family moved out of the state but we remained close. She drinks a lot and one of the times her family visited mine, she had an especially bad episode that I deemed inexcusable.
I worked harder for my undergrad degree than I ever worked for anything in my life. I coasted through grades K-12 managing good grades but college was hard… really hard. So I was proud of myself for persisting and overcoming (God must have been helping although I was never asking him to at that point). Anyways, during her drunken episode, she really let me have it. In her opinion, I’d torn my family apart just to get a worthless education from a university that “wasn’t even private”. She believed “no employer would give me a second look” and I’d “wasted my parents time and money and I didn’t even care that I was headed nowhere in life mooching off of them.” She went as far as to tell me that my life was “worthless and I was bound to disappoint everyone around me when I got slapped in the face by the real world because no one would hire someone from a piece of crap public university like mine”.
My parents listened to her drunkenly berate me and didn’t do or say anything. Her own children begged her to stop and her husband finally silenced her but the damage was done. I grabbed a few things from my families house, called a friend to pick me up, and told my parents to call me when they’d left. My parents, for their part, were pretty upset that I never gave her an opportunity to apologize when she apparently wanted to the next day but they respected my decision.
I told myself and everyone else that I forgave her. I said I was not mad but that I was washing my hands clean of her and never wanted anything else to do with her. I didn’t forgive her though. It hurt. It still hurts if I’m being totally honest. It isn’t fair but somehow this was not like all the other unfair times that I was able to forgive. It seems like that tendency towards easy reconciliation that I liked about myself wasn’t so present when the hurt really stung.
I spent 4 years declining gatherings where this family that I grew up with would be present. When her name came up, I sat smugly and recounted the tale of her drunken tirade but finished always with “I forgive her but I have no interest in having her in my life”. I got even more smug when others chimed in with their own stories of times they’d seen her misbehaving.
It wasn’t until I started living a real relationship with God that I had to confront the reality that what I was doing was not forgiveness and it was not Christ like. I had no business liking myself for my ease of forgiveness when I had set a threshold for the maximum excusable trespass against me. Jesus’ death on the cross was the ultimate in unfair forgiveness. He had done absolutely nothing but suffered to forgive us.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed 1 PETER 4:12
The thing is.. I wasn’t suffering for God’s team or on behalf of some heavenly cause. I was just suffering because someone said some lies about me in a way that really hurt.
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. Mark 11:25
The Bible is pretty clear on calling us to forgive but can we forgive and then cut someone out of our life? In some cases (like an abusive partner) that’s necessary. But what about when circumstances (your families are friends) or the persons desire to be in your life make it difficult or impossible to cut them out?
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 2 Corinthians 5:18
If you read the rest of that passage, you might interpret that reconciliation need only be between us and God. It’s not totally clear if it’s with each other and if reconciliation is inherently included in all the times we’re called to forgive.
This past Christmas my family again went to visit our friends. This time I went. It wasn’t easy. I couldn’t figure out how to act. I didn’t want to talk about my successes because I didn’t want to rub in her face that she’d been wrong about me (I have since found out that she may not even remember what she said). It was awkward and uncomfortable to hug her and to make small talk. But that was the best I had. It was a shadow of the forgiveness and reconciliation Christ offers her and us but at least it was a shadow. I’ll try again and keep trying and I’ll shed the “fake forgiveness”.
I’ve heard a ton of different takes on whether forgiveness requires (or should include) reconciliation. For me, I think true forgiveness does. If we’re striving to get our forgiveness as close as possible to Christ’s example of forgiveness then we need to attempt reconciliation right along with forgiveness. Whether it’s a friend or a potential partner or a family member, we need to at least give it a shot to ensure that we’re offering real forgiveness.