Always, Katie: 2020

Friday, February 7, 2020

Why I Haven't Forgiven... and why maybe you don't have to, either.

“Forgive… that’s a mighty big word for such a small man. And I’m not sure I can.” (Rebecca Lynn Howard, "Forgive.)

It was recently suggested to me that there are some people I need to forgive.  These people hurt me terribly, hurt my husband, and over the last few years of very low contact with these people, I’ve been able to move from bitter and angry to feeling just a little sad and nostalgic for the good times I had with these people. 
What I do NOT feel, however, is the need to resume the relationships. While I do miss the “old” them, the things that were said to and about me at an incredibly vulnerable time in my life, the attempted interference in my marriage, and the refusal to respect us as adults and parents were proof to me that the “old” them no longer exists. The absence of the “new” them from my life has been an improvement. I second-guess my competence as a mother less often, and I’m no longer walking on eggshells or looking over my shoulder for them to be judging my words or actions. My kids are not seeing their mother and father disrespected, bulldozed, or infantilized. 

“Forgiveness is learning to accept the apology you’ve never been given.” (Found on a meme, probably adapted from a Robert Brault quote.)

Although this is a common quote around the internet meme community, I find this position problematic.  To be clear, we have never been offered an apology from these people.  A few years ago, right after the rift, we were offered a few opportunities to sweep all of our problems under a rug and resume the relationship, and that is what has been suggested that we do by others in our lives recently. I do not believe that this is healthy or productive. 

According to researchers at The Ohio State University, a good apology has six parts. 
  1. Expression of regret: Simply, the person apologizing needs to say, “I’m sorry.” Not, “I’m sorry you feel –” and not, “I’m sorry if what I did –.” Nope. Just, “I’m sorry.”
  2. Explanation of what went wrong: It is important that the person apologizing can articulate what went wrong. This does not mean to make excuses; it means to demonstrate that they know which actions or words caused harm. 
  3. Acknowledgment of responsibility: Again, no excuses. “I hurt you. These actions or words were my fault.”
  4. Declaration of repentance: Acknowledge that you were wrong and promise to never do it again.
  5. Offer of repair: How are you going to make up for it? 
  6. Request for forgiveness: And then, after all of the other elements have been met, you can humbly ask for forgiveness, knowing that that may be a gift the person you hurt may struggle to give, and that the person you hurt has every right not to extend that forgiveness. 

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” (C.S. Lewis)

With all due respect to a great man, C.S. Lewis, the author of the above quote, this is not what it means to be a Christian. Being a Christian means that one has repented of their sins, asked forgiveness from God, accepted the grace He extends, and strives to live for Him. In essence, when we become Christians, we offer God a genuine, complete, six-part apology! We try to be Christlike, and I understand that many people seem to think that this requires us to forgive any and every offense. But what does the Bible say about that?

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,” you must forgive them.” (Luke 17:3b-4)

Clearly, we are encouraged to forgive, but with a BIG condition. IF they repent, forgive them. IF they come back to you saying, “I repent,” forgive them. 

Are we being directed to treat people any differently than the Father treated us? No! God also requires repentance before granting forgiveness and salvation. In the same way, it is okay – even expected of us – to wait for the apology. 

“You don’t have to rebuild a relationship with everybody you’ve forgiven.” (Unknown)

It is perfectly okay to forgive someone but still keep your distance. If their apology and repentance were sincere, you will probably not be hurt again, but it is understandable to require some time and space for them to prove that they were genuine, to see their promises of repair and repentance bear some fruit. If they were sincere, they will accept this distance or any boundaries you set as part of their efforts to repair. If they fight these safeguards you place around yourself and your family, you will know that they did not truly understand or believe the statements they should have made in steps two and three.

So if there is somebody in your life who is urging you to accept the apology you've never been given, or to sweep atrocious behaviors under the nearest rug, rest assured... if waiting for the apology is the path that is giving you peace, it's okay. You can wait for that apology and still be Christlike. You can forgive and still maintain new, strong boundaries. 

Wishing you peace, love, and strength, my friends <3

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