FORGIVENESS is a relational thing – it’s never just about us. Being relational, and being that it usually involves two protagonists, one of whom has resolved to reconcile matters, forgiveness is about brokering things relationally – making the effort, over and over again if need be, to ensure the other party knows we have forgiven them to the point of loving them. What has happened, for us, is now well and truly under the bridge.
The reason forgiveness is not just about you is it needs to be about the other person(s), also. Indeed, forgiveness forces us to go to the precipice of interaction. If we are serious about honoring God we will leave no stone unturned.
This is about the precious emotional scaffolding that holds us all together. Why do we allow ourselves the pitiable ‘luxury’ of leaving people hanging? No, we ought to continue to interact with them – again and again and again, in love – so that they can see our unstinting resolve toward reconciliation. Of course, what’s sharply in view is the relationship where there is the need of ongoing engagement with them. This is to protect the relationship so splinter factions don’t form within the community.
Forgiveness must simply be practiced. We just do it. Thinking how interactions might play out, we imagine in our mind’s eye what it is to love this other person we are struggling with. We give them eye contact and other friendly body language and gestures.
We go into interactions with them ready and willing to extend lots of grace, for there will come a time when our grace will only be just enough. They might reciprocate eventually – and usually when we least expect it – not that we do our works of obedience for grace for their reciprocation.
The other needs to know that we have buried the hatchet. It is their perception in all this that matters. Our forgiveness of them matters not really one iota if they don’t experience our grace. Forgiveness that doesn’t consider the other person is selfish forgiveness, and in that it may not even qualify.
In relationships, reconciliation is critically important – to put the past behind us, even if it means things will always need to be different.
Forgiveness forces us to go to the precipice of interaction. Forgiveness is not done in isolation. Forgiveness is reconciliatory. It is the opportunity to act in grace over and over again. Forgiveness is active in love in the life of the one we are forgiving. Ventured forth in faith, forgiveness wins.
Postscript: there are exceptions to which this advice doesn’t fit; where there is abuse, for instance. Sometimes all we can do is walk away and work on forgiveness in our own terms – to forgive them for their transgressions against us. But where we have to work with people (family, occupationally, church, etc) then we have the obligation to interact with abounding grace.
Steve Wickham is a Baptist Pastor who holds Degrees in Science, Divinity, and Counselling
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