It was a simple enough statement — the kind you could easily overlook in a conversation — but it shot right through me, taking me from “how isn’t it?” to “whoa, wait — we need to talk through this” in a matter of seconds. It was a simple one-liner, but one I won’t forget any time soon.
“Forgiveness is not reconciliation.”
The statement didn’t make sense to me first. Wasn’t reconciling your differences a key part of forgiving someone? Aren’t they basically synonyms? Is everything I know a lie?!
I’d been reading a book on forgiveness, The Freedom Factor by Bruce Wilkinson, with a group of people when one person made that statement. She’d been through years of counseling to try to heal an old wound, and over time, she’d learned that truth again and again.
Here’s the difference: Forgiveness is the act of releasing the pain that person caused you. It’s something you do for yourself, so you’re no longer tormented by the person’s wrongdoing, and in the process, you relinquish the need for repayment — be it vengeance or that feeling that the other person owes you an apology. You probably deserve one, but you can’t control that person; you may never get the repentance you crave, and so, in the process of forgiving, you’re saying, “hey, what you did was messed up, but I’m not going to let it define or control me.”
Reconciliation is the act of trying to make amends, repairing your relationship to what it once was — or something close to it. The big difference here is that while forgiveness is mandatory to move forward with your life, without clinging to bitterness, reconciliation is optional. And it’s not always your best bet. Reconciling, in some cases, means opening the door for someone to hurt you again and again.
You know that whole adage “forgive and forget?” It makes sense in the context of forgiving someone, and in doing so, ceasing to hold what they did against them. But that doesn’t mean you should necessarily be as close to that person as you were before. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is take a step back; forgive, and keep your distance from that person going forward.
It’s worth trying to live in peace with everyone you meet, but that doesn’t mean you should put yourself in harm’s way.
Photo: Tomas Jasovsky/Unsplash