“If I forgive her, do I still have to be her friend?”
I’ve heard it asked on multiple occasions from multiple people. Daughters struggling to relate to their moms as adults; women who feel betrayed by a friend; women in ministry struggling with the actions of people in their congregations. Figuring out how we move forward in relationships after conflict can be the hardest part of forgiveness.
There aren’t hard and fast rules for this. Sometimes it’s not safe or healthy for us to continue in relationship with this person. Sometimes we have to readjust our boundaries and allow people less access to our lives and hearts. And honestly, sometimes we need to acknowledge that part of the problem in the relationship is us. There are times I need to be honest enough to admit I have taken offense in a situation that is disproportionate to what really happened. Often, those offenses highlight something in me that I need to deal with before the Lord. It’s only after I’ve done business with the Father in those areas that I can honestly look at the relationship and move forward appropriately.
Here are some principles I find helpful:
- Forgiveness takes one person. Reconciliation takes two. Forgiveness is a matter of us taking care of our own hearts before God. We can forgive someone who is no longer living. We can forgive someone who is not repentant. We can forgive someone without telling them that we’ve forgiven them. Forgiveness does not require the other person’s participation or repentance. Reconciliation does. While we always desire reconciliation, reconciliation is not always possible.
- Love and forgiveness are free. Trust and respect are earned. We can offer love and forgiveness to everyone because of the cross. When we show love and forgiveness, we are reflecting the grace God has shown us. Love and forgiveness are unconditional. Trust and respect are earned. I may forgive the person who embezzled church funds, but I’m not going to make him church treasurer. I can love and forgive the friend who gossiped about me, but it may be a long time before I share a secret with her again. When trust has been broken, it takes time to rebuild that relationship. Redefining boundaries to acknowledge that loss of trust can be necessary and appropriate.
- Boundaries are necessary for our emotional and spiritual health. We can offer grace and love to everyone, but not everyone should get access to our inner core. Jesus had many disciples, but there were only twelve he called to be with him. Of those twelve, only three were invited to share intimate moments like the Transfiguration and raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead. We can be honest with everyone, but we don’t have to be intimate with everyone. We allow our spouses, children, best friends, casual acquaintances, and strangers different levels of access to our hearts. Sometimes in the aftermath of conflict we need to reassess the level of intimacy we have allowed someone.
- People and relationships are valuable. People are not disposable. Yes, sometimes we need to redefine or reassess boundaries, but we need to be cautious about cutting people out of our lives. It may be necessary to limit contact with an individual for our own safety and health, but those situations should be rare. If we run at the first sign of conflict, we miss out on the blessings of intimacy earned by weathering storms together. Friendships and family are worth fighting for. We need to remember that sometimes we are the ones in need of grace. How would you want the other person to respond if the situation were reversed?
Botttom line, we need to ask God to show us the next steps. If God throws open the door for reconciliation, rejoice in that. If reconciliation isn’t possible, ask God to show you what appropriate boundaries and responses look like in your situation. You may need to periodically revisit that question. But be open to surprises. God does amazing things when he redeems.
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