So today I was scrolling around the web (I feel like that’s a more accurate description than surfing the web) and I read this article that posed an intriguing question. The question was: can you forgive and not have a relationship with that person?
I think the author of the article was sort of wondering can you walk away from a relationship and still love that person in the sense that you’ve forgiven them, but the relationship is bad and you need to walk away from it. But she didn’t allow comments. Boo.
So I’m going to weigh in on both sides of the question right here. (Consider yourselves fairly warned!)
As for the first part of the question, I think forgiveness is essential in any relationship, even the ones you don’t intend on breaking. I think forgiveness gets an interesting reputation because it’s always presented as something you don’t want to do but really should do if you want to be a good person and all.
And that’s such a shame because real and authentic forgiveness goes so much deeper than that. In fact, if it models God’s forgiveness, it completely forgets the offense and in no way hinders the self-giving love that is the true joy of Christian life (where you receive that from God and share it with others). And I think Jesus encourages forgiveness because the truth of it is that it’s not so much for the other person as it is for you. Embarking on the trail of forgiveness is a lesson in learning how to give a person exactly what, in your mind at least, they do not deserve. And that is difficult. Because, speaking as a human, I rely on my judgement a lot and it’s hard to give up the moral high ground (on those rare occasions where I’m standing on it) to go and sit with my fellow sinners, instead of on my lonely throne of judgement and righteous indignation. Because forgiveness takes trust in God, and an acceptance that even if I feel justified in my anger towards someone for their offences against me, I might not be either:
- justified at all
- have that offense righted while here on earth.
Yet I like to envision heaven as a kingdom of mercy, and the further I walk down my spiritual path the less I want retribution from people for their sins against me because they were doing their best with what they’ve been given and I’ve certainly sinned against many here on earth (and against heaven too for that matter). And I want to forgive because I also want to be forgiven. I would want all the people I’ve ever sinned against to have mercy on me because the truth is, no matter how I appear to the outside world, I’m weak. It’s just a fact.
And I think this realization, the art of forgiveness, is a form of freedom. Acknowledging your weakness and the weaknesses of others, and being happy that God loves you and your neighbor anyway in spite of your many weaknesses. And celebrating that He’s happy to give you access to his love, the only thing powerful enough to overcome it all.
But getting to the second part of the question, is it okay to forgive and not have a relationship with that person? I would also say yes to this. Because I had a falling out with one of my best friends right around the time I graduated college. She knew me inside and out. I wanted to repair whatever was wrong (because to this day I’m still not certain exactly why she was so mad at me, I only know that she was) but she did not. And that hurt. Really badly. And it took me a long time to get over it. (Not having a blog at that time- which is a shame because I bet I could have churned out some really good stuff) And forgiving her completely took a long time.
I wanted to forgive her much sooner than I was actually able to because I felt really betrayed, and that’s a tough emotion to reconcile with forgiveness. I honestly don’t know how Jesus does it so effortlessly (I chalk it up to Him being infinitely more loving than I am). Because forgiveness flows from love and I still loved my friend (I do to this day) but I sensed that true forgiveness would require me to sacrifice my own emotions and my own will in the name of love, and boy did I not want to do it. But I eventually did even though this friend and I don’t have any kind of relationship anymore. While I wish her the best and made peace with what happened, the truth is as we were growing up we had been growing apart and becoming two very different people.
But it’s still important to take the humble path which in this instance was choosing love and life. Because selfishness brings death. Not physical death per se, but when you get too caught up in your own emotions, you become preoccupied with them, and it’s you that stops living. Because you’re not there in the present moment anymore, you’re immersed in the peaks and valleys of your own internal realm. And the only way I’ve ever found out of that battleground is surrender. A surrender to the love of God, which, as I have said before is stronger than any emotion. And this surrender is certainly a beautiful struggle. Because God’s love is an overcomer for sure. It doesn’t ask you to deny, ignore, or bury the emotions. Instead, it requires you to confront them, to be honest about what they are, no matter how ugly, and accept healing of them.
And with that healing, it’s like you can remember the wound without feeling any of the pain. It loses its sting. With this healing you can take the next step. One leap further on the path of love. Becuase now your eyes are not fixed on you, only the adventure that lies on the horizon.