Updated: Feb 5, 2021
I asked my 4 year old son, “What happens when someone does something wrong to you, and he won’t say he is sorry?” This was right after he told me that forgiveness means, “Saying you are sorry.”
His answer was pleasant: Buy him flowers, to make him feel good. Then if that didn’t work, you give him a real mean look with ‘ugly eyes’. It that doesn’t work, you go home and have fun with your toys.
It took me 30 years to figure some of that out. I had some relationships where I fought for that apology that was owed to me with kindness; and when kindness didn’t work, with showing my teeth. But after all, the best wisdom is to just go home and play with your own toys.
Recently, I spoke with two therapists about the subject of forgiveness. I learned a lot of things I had never been presented before.
Forgiveness to me, and to many Christians, always meant two parties admitting fault and continuing on in sacrificial love (sacrificing inner peace and dignity mainly) .
But the two parties are sinners, so that puts a kink in the perfect equation.
Sometimes turning the other cheek unfortunately turns into a blind eye toward damage a person does, not only to your soul but your families’ souls as well.
Turning the other cheek is a figure of speech that often lives out in our relationships as a reason to not create safe fences. To show affection on and on, with the hope that another person will be softened by our persistence in pursuance of a good relationship. Many a Christian teen has been led away from their upbringing by trying to date evangelically…we can change their heart for the good, by prayer and being good to them…we hope. We pray that God will answer our prayers, or that witness will be so strong as to bend another persons free will to do and be hurtful.
I think the mature questions of forgiveness are:
Is it healthy to continue this relationship as it is?
By continuing this way, am I being a good steward over the main relationships in my life?
Does the stress from this relationship ripple out to my kids and spouse?
Am I really only sticking around because I want an apology?
When we have a family, our duty to all other relationships changes. Our immediate family - the ones in our house - are who we are first accountable to.
Once I saw a play where Madea said something to the effect of, There are two places you should find peace in this world. Your home and the grave. If you can’t find peace in your home, somethings gotta change.
No matter the relationship, if an outside influence is causing strife to form in walls of your home, it is time to set boundaries. What does that have to do with FORGIVENESS?
Many people stay in bad relationships because they can’t leave without an apology or admission of guilt. They stay waiting, anticipating a change of heart or mind. They believe that apology will make it all better for them, and maybe they can get along or move on. Often times they trade a sincere apology and lifestyle change, for shadowy hints at remorse and guilt that are more manipulation to keep a person around than to actually repent. Minimization, blame shift, denial of wrongdoing, are all maddening substitutions for actually growing in love and grace. They often sound kind of like an apology, but true apologies are always accompanied by change.
We know, Christians especially, that forgiveness is an inward, personal work of the heart. Even the best intentioned people will say, “Oh, you just have to accept people as they are, and not worry about it - forgive and forget”. My therapist says that forgiveness is not amnesia - forgetting means we learn nothing. Forgetting also minimizes the experiences of the person who is being wronged. In the Bible, God "forgetting" does not mean that God doesn't have recollection of something. There are differences in translation between verbs. God forgetting, means God doesn't act on what we deserve. Oppositely, when God "remembers" something, it means He acts on what He has planned to do. ( Learn more about that in, "The Bible Unfiltered" by Micheal S. Heiser).
Forgiveness means loving the person, and erasing all debt from them. No need for apology; no need for admission. The guilty party owes you nothing. You turn the other cheek by not striking back, but that doesn't mean you allow someone to continue to negatively control your feelings, atmosphere, or plans.
Is there still a need for a relationship after you release that debt? You might find that the hope of an apology is the only reason you have been hanging around.
How does hanging on to a close but toxic relationship show care over your family, who has to hear about the drama, deal with the bad moods…?
Boundaries, by Townsend and Cloud is a great book to read if you want to learn how to navigate relationships.
It is important to use an objective wisdom that catalouges all the effects of certain people’s influence in your life, and how that influence also affects the people you are responsible to. Sometimes a little space is all you need for peace; a little fence put up to keep your peace in and their crazy out. You keep the latch to the gate on the inside for you choose when to open up or not. You don’t have to respond to every call or text on their terms. You don’t’ have to confide in people who will use your weaknesses as a weapon against you later. Pray about what is a respectful and loving boundary that protects your family.
Maybe all you need is a little clarity over a line crossed. For example saying, “I was upset when you fed my son ice cream while we are dairy-free. You don’t know all the trouble that causes - tummy issues for days. We have spent tons of time and money on doctor visits and special groceries to help his problem. If you can’t respect my rules, or can’t support me front of my kids, perhaps sharing meals is not the best way for us to spend time together. Maybe we should start planning get-togethers that don’t involve food, since we have been over this and the temptation to feed him milk persists.” Clear, with a possible boundary introduced.
Sometimes people are so toxic, you just have to express love to them, and let them know that they are not allowed to influence your life any longer. You shouldn't carry on with an abusive person.
In his book "Necessary Endings", Dr. Henry Cloud talks about types of people (whom we all are at some point).
- wise people - will listen to what they could do better and try to imporove
- foolish people - won't listen to critique and shift blame, deny, ect. These folks need certain boundaires from negatively impacting your life.
- evil people - abusers, blackmailers, thieves (people who hurt you intentionally) - these folks need all contact cut off between you until they show true and actual repentance. Space away from speaks louder than the words you have tried but that they will not hear, and protects you from being hurt further.
You can be there for them to reconcile once they have a life turnaround, but it is not our job to save anyone, nor can we make them accept the grace of God to empower them to change.
For example, you can say, “I love you and I release any debt you have to me. I forgive you for hurting me. But I will not wait around for you to change. I have people in my life who need me to be healthy and happy for their health and happiness as well, today. Don’t contact me any longer. Maybe at a later date when you have had a huge life change, we can talk again, but no time soon. I may contact you if I hear you are doing well. I pray forgiveness, peace, and health over your life. I am sorry we can no longer be lovers/friends/close for now.” Make sure that door for true and reconciliation is open when it is not destructive to you and your loved ones (if that is appropriate).
That is the wisdom of going home to play with your own toys. Be happy in your own space with your blessings; don’t bring that negativity in to taint the good in your life.
Don’t be afraid to be honest. Many people are so afraid of conflict that they settle for a veneer of peace - a relationship that seems cordial but is bubbling with resentments under the surface. If we do and say everything in love, we can be careful to respond to an offense instead of reacting to it. We can let others know how they affect us negatively without feeling guilt or being nasty. (Read Ephesians 4.) Change will never come if the dirt is stuck under a heavy rug. You have to swiftly and purposefully sweep it out to have relationships that are rich with love and forgiveness (and not smiling resentment).
I pray love over your life today:
Love and respect for yourself - we all need some boundaries.
Love and support from family, who are your first priority over anyone else.
Love and forgiveness from people you may have wronged. Put away pride and try to understand why they have set boundaries up. You may find if you look objectively, you would have done the same. Call them sincerely with an apology and readiness for reconciliation. Respect their boundaries.
Love from God, who is waiting to heal all your hurts and relationships if you use wisdom and love as your way, and God as your guide.