January 16, 2015

Forgiveness vs. Restoration

This post is a result of several memes and conversations involving forgiveness.

The goal of relationships is to keep building upon them, whether family or friends, because Jesus told us that our #2 job as humans is to love our neighbor as ourselves.  But everyone is full of sin and so there are times when relationships are broken by selfishness.  When something happens, confession (acknowledging your sin/mistakes), repentance (a desire and effort made to change your behavior), and forgiveness can repair the damage and restore the relationship.  Jesus commands us to forgive others because, through his sacrifice, God forgives us our sins and he tells a story to demonstrate how seriously God is about requiring us to forgive others as He has forgiven us.  Here is a really funny video that tells Jesus' story:

However, I don't think that forgiveness always leads to restoration of the relationship, or at least not immediate restoration.  Some hurts are deeper than others and need more work from God to heal.  Some relationships are unhealthy because one person is a user or a bully and either they don't see it or they are unapologetic, which is functional unrepentance.  They are not safe people.

I had to drop a friendship this week that had started in the summer because the person revealed herself to be a bully who wouldn't listen.  The start of the conflict did involve me--I was a guilty party;  however, I acknowledged my poor behavior to her, apologized to her, told her I would change and made the changes.  I did all I could to restore peace and the relationship.  Her subsequent actions toward me, all antagonistic, demonstrated that she hadn't forgiven me.  As a result, the relationship was broken.  Each time she was unkind, the Holy Spirit gave me the strength to live out Ephesians 4:31-32 and forgive her unkind words and deeds because there was going to be a day when we had to work together.  The day arrived.  God blessed me with the ability to see the humor in the situation and gave me His love for her so that I was able to make peace overtures to her.  She responded with appreciation.  A couple more phone calls followed and she seemed to welcome the chance to talk about what happened.  I desired to meet with her in person and made a phone call to set up a time and place.  The phone conversation became troubling.  Instead of respecting my request to have the conversation in person, she started throwing accusations at me, for which I had already offered an apology.  The few minutes I was able to speak and give her my perspective, she responded with justifications for her actions and followed up with a renewed attack on me.  She demonstrated that she was unwilling to listen to or acknowledge the role she played in the conflict and in turning a resolvable issue into a raging inferno that burned everyone involved.   My trust in her, which was already waning because of the past problems absolutely disintegrated.

So I am in the process of forgiving her for stuff said in this conversation, and forgiving her again of her past hurts, which were resurrected as a result of the conversation.  I forgive her even though she is unrepentant, because I know that by releasing her into God's hands, I am freeing myself from her influence and can receive God's peace.  And because I want grow up to be just like my Heavenly Daddy, who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.

But in this case, restoration is not likely to happen.  The consequences of her behavior and attitude is that I have no desire to speak to her and she lives far enough away that it is possible to successfully avoid each other.  I am grieving, as much for the end of this relationship as for the fact that it will likely also affect our daughters, who became good friends over the past nine months.  Before I came to this conclusion, I did pray about it, because I know how much importance He places on relationships.  He reminded me that at the cross Jesus forgave his enemies because he knew they were blind, pitiful fools, but when he rose again, there is no Biblical record that he visited the people who had called for his crucifixion.  And yet, I also know that with God, anything is possible, and if he can bring a dead man back to life, he can resurrect a dead relationship.  I am leaving it in His capable hands.

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
--Isaiah 26:3-4

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