Many people get confused about the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. I was one of those people. I was afraid that if I forgave my offender, I would have to let down my guard and risk being hurt again. It didn’t feel safe or wise.
In this article, I am going to explain what forgiveness and reconciliation are, and then show you how to move through the process of forgiveness.
Reconciliation is different, so I will deal with that separately.
What is Forgiveness?
“Forgiveness is giving up resentment against someone and our right to get even no matter what has been done to us. It is the surrendering of my right to hurt you back.” – Charles Stanley
What is Reconciliation?
“An end to a disagreement or conflict with somebody and the start of a good relationship again.” – Oxford Learner’s Dictionary
Why We Need To Forgive Others
As a Christian, I believe forgiveness is a gift of God as we need God’s help to forgive. This is why it’s called a spirit of unforgiveness.
Whoever it is you need to forgive – if it still hurts you or affects the quality of your life in some way, then it is in your best interest to take the time to reflect on your relationship(s) or situation and decide how you are going to move forward. Remember, forgiveness is always about you and not the offender. It’s about you finding peace, joy, and freedom.
How do I Forgive Someone? Do I Have to Go to Them?
No, you do not have to go to your offender to forgive them. Forgiveness is between you and God.
God knows the truth. He knows you were hurt and that it was unjust. You don’t have to go to that person, because the problem now is with you, in your heart.
If you are still angry at that person or having conversations in your head about what you’d really like to say to them, then perhaps you haven’t forgiven them yet.
Confess to God for holding onto resentment and hurt which separated you from God and other people. After all, when we’ve been hurt, it makes it difficult to trust God and others again.
Is that it? Well, it’s the first step. The anger may come back again when you think about it. You won’t ever forget it and that’s ok. In fact, it’s better not to forget it because now you know how bad people can be. You learned something. You learned to guard your heart.
You will feel more at peace when you have truly forgiven the person who hurt you. Your goal now is to move on with your life. See my blog, Dealing With Life’s Hurts: 10 Ways to Face the Past and Move On.
We are all different and so we will approach this delicate process of forgiveness in different ways, but it’s crucial that we acknowledge the hurt. Do not minimize, rationalize, or justify it in any way.
For example, some people who don’t want to face the uncomfortable task of dealing with their pain may say, ‘well they didn’t mean it’, or ‘maybe I’m overreacting or I’m too sensitive.’ Don’t do this. Feel the hurt and think, ‘what is this doing to me?’
Can You Forgive Someone, yet Not be Reconciled?
The simple answer is yes – yes you can forgive and not be reconciled to that person. Reconciliation is not mandatory for forgiveness to happen.
This is the central point of this article. I want to make it clear that after you have forgiven someone, you (the offended) now have to make a decision.
How are you going to move forward? Just because you have forgiven them, does not mean it is safe for you to be close to them again.
The offended is usually a good person who wants to have good, loving relationships. This is good in itself, but it’s not good if they choose to put themselves in harmful situations.
There are other issues involved here which I won’t go into now, but often the offended has some self-esteem issues and so they don’t know how to stand up for themselves. They may even suffer from co-dependency or some other mental problems.
How Reconciliation Works
Firstly, it takes two people for reconciliation to happen. The offender needs to be convicted in their heart (by God) that they have done wrong. They unjustly hurt someone who trusted them.
They must feel genuine remorse for what they did to the offended and seek to put it right.
Counselor Patrick Doyle of Veritas Counseling says, 4 things have to happen for reconciliation to work.
4 Things Have to Happen for Reconciliation to Work
#1. The Offender Is Convicted of Their Wrong
#2. The Offender Repents to God
#3. The Offender Confesses their Wrongdoing to the Offended
#4. The Offender Asks for Forgiveness
After the offender has gone through this process, it is then up to the offended to decide how they would like the relationship to move forward.
Often the relationship takes on a whole new dynamic as there will inevitably be some new boundaries put in place.
In the case of divorce or geographical distance, there may be little contact, but at least when there is contact, there will be peace and the offended will feel safer.
But, let’s not romanticize this, it often takes the offender a long time to change their behavior and the offended a long time to rebuild the trust. This is the price the offender pays for being disrespectful or abusive. They now have to try to win back the trust of the offended.
Forgiveness is necessary for you to find peace again, but reconciliation is completely different, it’s not a requirement. In my life, I went through a long process of forgiveness with a significant person. I had only one goal in mind and that was to feel happy and at peace within myself, to heal the wounds.
I never dreamed of being reconciled. It wasn’t something I ever thought would happen, but to my surprise, as the years rolled on that person started to see the error of their ways and changed.
We were reconciled and it was a beautiful gift to me in my life, but I know, that does not always happen and does not need to happen either, for you to be happy and at peace in your life.
In my case, the person did not ask for my forgiveness, but I knew they were sorry by their changed behaviour and that was enough for me to give them a second chance. We are all different. Do what’s right for you.