The truth about forgiveness is that it does not erase our pain. Instead, we choose to bear the pain and release the one who caused it by no longer demanding payment from them and by letting go of our anger and refusing to seek revenge.
Consider a person whose loved one is killed by a drunk driver. Will forgiveness actually take away the pain of loss? Will the person stop missing their loved one? Hardly. That pain will be there for many years. Forgiveness in this case means the person is not going to try to get even, but chooses to let go of all anger, resentment, bitterness, and malice against the person.
Does forgiveness mean the person is going to try to protect the drunk from the consequences of his behavior? No. To do so would actually be a disservice to the drunk, and may result in another unnecessary death at his hands. However, testimony against the drunk must be truthful and neither understated nor embellished. It is the responsibility of those who administer the law to punish the drunk.
Therefore, while forgiveness does not seek revenge, neither does it protect from consequences. Further, although a person who forgives may have to distance herself from or even divorce the one who wronged her, she will not administer punitive consequences by her own hand, unless that is actually the harmed person’s responsibility because she is the offender’s parent, or otherwise carries the responsibility to punish the wrong-doer.
How does forgiveness look in real life? In the case of unpaid debt, the wronged party may choose to stop associating closely with the one who did the harm, and may even take steps to hold the wrong-doer accountable by reporting him to the authorities and testifying in court if needed. However, the wronged person will not slash the wrong-doers tires, spray paint hateful words on his garage, nor leave key scratches in the paint on his car. Instead the wronged person will pray for his/her trouble-causer, and with a loving attitude do what he/she can to restore him to right thinking/behaving if opportunity arises and if it is safe to do so. Here I add that what is safe for one person, may put another at risk. For example, it may be safe for a large man to associate with an abusive husband, but totally unsafe for the abuser's wife to associate with him.
When the person says he is sorry, the wronged one can express forgiveness and cautiously offer relationship if it is safe to do so, leaving room to back away again if the repentance is not genuine. However, in some cases, especially when there has been repeated harm done as in domestic abuse, a person can accept a statement of apology, extend forgiveness, and remain distant until such time as trust is reestablished through the offender’s restitution and long-term trustworthy behavior.
In the case of domestic abuse, the abuser is often the first to point out that if the abused party does not take him back into her full good graces, she has not forgiven him. This is totally false. In actuality, the ball is in the abuser’s court. Because of his repeated trampling on his wife, he must not only show that he will no longer stomp all over her, he must take responsibility for his behavior by paying restitution.
Lundy Bancroft, in his book “Why does he DO That?” puts it this way. (I repeat this in my own words without looking it up recently, so I may miss some points and add thoughts that are my own.) The harm done by domestic abuse is similar to the harm done when a man cuts down his neighbor’s beautiful shade tree. Most abusers think an “I’m sorry” will make the relationship OK again. But it does not. How does the neighbor know if her prize rose bush is safe from her neighbor’s chain saw? In fact, although it is impossible for him to restore the shade tree, he must do his best to restore as much as he can. He must buy as large a shade tree as he can find to replace the tree he cut down, it must meet with his neighbor’s approval, and he must hire a tree moving service that plants large trees to plant it. He must water and feed the tree faithfully for several years to make sure it survives and grows. Since even this does not restore his neighbor’s property to its original condition, he must look for other ways to make amends, to beautify his neighbor’s property or benefit his neighbor in a way that the NEIGHBOR deems appropriate.
This obviously requires genuine repentance, humility, loving concern for his neighbor, and an attitude of selflessness. When these qualities and actions are missing, it is impossible to restore the type of trust that brings true reconciliation.
Only when the abuser makes full restitution and shows himself trustworthy over a long period of time—at least a year—can he expect his wife’s pain to begin to diminish and her physical and emotional ailments to begin to heal, which will allow her forgiveness to grow into trust and then into reconciliation.
Instead of pushing the wronged party to forgive, trust, and reconcile, it is high time we push the offender to take responsibility, pay restitution, and BE consistently trustworthy for the rest of his life.
Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel,"a story about a woman who grapples with her husband's demands that she submit--no matter what. Please visit www.wanetadawn.com
Chronically Self-Centered Spouse Series - Nope, I'm not doing this series. Nope, Visionary Womanhood is not doing this series. But I do thank Natalie for linking to it over there a couple years back...
4 months ago