Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Forgiveness: Are Repentance & Reconciliation Necessary?

Can true forgiveness happen without repentance? Without reconciliation? These are 2 separate yet intertwined questions that I've not only been thinking about, but dealing with lately. One situation is long resolved, the other relatively new & ongoing. My emotions are a tangle of anger, confusion, & hurt, but I'm hoping that writing this will help me sort them out.

In short, I think the answer to both of the above questions is yes AND no. For the first question, I think you can give true forgiveness without the other party's repentance, but it takes time. Time because hurt feelings have to be worked through & gotten over. Repentance, of course, helps speed that process along. Without that acknowledgement of a wrong done & a sorrow over the pain caused, the healing simply takes longer. The time needed also depends on the depth of the wound. Even with repentance this is often the case. Forgiveness, in that case, may be immediate, but the hurt & damage still have to be healed. Just as with any physical wound, healing is not instantaneous. And, as we all know, emotional wounds are often harder to heal than physical ones.

What about reconciliation? I know from personal experience that reconciliation can likewise occur without repentance, but time will again be a major factor. Even then, full trust may never be restored if repentance has never been expressed, again depending on the depth of the wound.

As for the other part of this, do true forgiveness & reconciliation go hand in hand? In other words, can you forgive & not be reconciled to the person who hurt you? I know I sound redundant here, but I think one of the factors - maybe even the main factor - is how deeply you've been hurt. I also think it depends on how often the same person hurts you. If someone displays a habit of causing pain, that is going to be a factor in whether or not reconciliation can occur. There are times when you can forgive a person, but the sin is so grievous (or repetitive) that reconciliation is impossible, unwise, or incomplete.

Here are some examples from my own life to illustrate what I mean. If you know me well enough, you know I was molested as a child. In that situation, I was hurt not only by the molester, but also by two other family members because of their response to the revelation of the molestation. Repentance was never expressed by anyone. It took years - 2 decades, really - but I was finally able to forgive all 3 of them. Two of the relationships have even been restored. I am grateful for this. One relationship - with the molester - will never be restored, nor should it be. I harbor him no ill will, but there are natural consequences to our actions, & destroyed trust is the least of those when you violate someone like that.

The recent & ongoing situation is of a much less serious nature, thankfully. It has been very hurtful to me, though, for a couple of reasons. One, it's a recurring event. Meaning that - particularly over the last few years - this person has caused me some excruciating pain repeatedly. Secondly, this most recent occurrence communicated to me that our relationship is not the close one I had thought it to be. I do believe forgiveness can happen, even if repentance is never expressed, but I don't know that full reconciliation will happen. Or maybe I should say that the fundamental nature of the relationship may have changed from a deeper friendship to a more surface acquaintanceship. At this point, I can't say because my emotions are too raw.

I don't know if any of this makes a lick of sense to anyone, or if it is the tiniest bit helpful to anyone (I hope it is), but I appreciate y'all letting me think out loud (sort of) & try to figure this out for myself. It made me feel a little better to flesh this out a bit. So, thanks for sticking with my rambling. ;-)

Happy New Year!