Monday, October 26, 2009

Forgiveness, Trust, Restitution, and Reconciliation

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


  1. Growing up Catholic, I did not have much support when I wanted to leave my abusive 15 year marriage. I finally was pretty much on my own, and found support through reading. there was no Internet at the time.

    I ended up in a second abusive marriage, and Lundy's book was my constant companion. It is so well written, and made so much sense. He also said that feeling sorry for them, will not promote them to get help. Mine chose not to get help, and instead would pour on wonderful words to skirt around it. My more than Catholic family member believed there was truly something wrong with me, that I once again wanted out. I told him that I learned it from watching our mother and father. He told me all we needed was marriage counseling.

    I love your blog, and would love to read your book.

    Keep writing.

  2. Anonymous,
    Welcome to my blog! I am sorry you suffered so much abuse in your first marriage, and then your second husband chose to abuse too. You do not deserve that.

    For quite awhile I seemed to be an abuser magnet. It was as if I had "You can take Advantage of me, abusers are welcome" written on my forehead. I was blessed to be able to see the abuse before I started dating them.

    I started to look for what I was doing that gave them that impression. Perhaps its my posture, perhaps its my preference to not fight. Whatever it was, I learned to be more concerned about my emotional/mental health than their feelings, and eventually abusers stopped acting as if I was a magnet. (or maybe I just got old enough, and they wanted someone younger.)

    Many abusers are able to hide their ugliness very well for the entire dating period of time. I felt embarrassed that I had been so deceived that I married a man like my husband. But before and during the divorce proceedings, I realized a school principal, teacher, and counselor (the latter had won honors for his astuteness and his amazing work) had all been duped by my husband. They thought he was a great dad and a wonderful person. If professionals were deceived by him, I didn't need to feel so bad that I had been deceived by him.

    I suggest you tell your family that at the beginning of a relationship abusers go out of their way to give you the impression they are relationship builders and very loving. Perhaps if they read my novel they would be able to see it more clearly.

    Is there abuse in your family member's home, too?

    "Mine chose not to get help, and instead would pour on wonderful words to skirt around it. My more than Catholic family member believed there was truly something wrong with me, that I once again wanted out."

    It sounds like your second husband poured those wonderful words on in the hearing of your family member. Abusers are so good at that! They can make themselves look so good in public. It tells us they really do know what they are doing is wrong.

    Stay safe and God bless you!

  3. Thank you for your response. My father was controlling, and my mother was sumissive. My first husband was so cruel at home, but very outgoing and funny in public. The life of the party. My second husband was cruel at home, but shy and very helpful in public. It makes you crazy, because people just can't believe that they could be anything else. Thank you for sharing some of your past. Those things always help me.

  4. Anonymous,
    Wow! Your second husband was apparently so different from your first husband, but the same at home.

    This summer a friend and I were marveling at how abusers choose the same behavior. It is as if they have an "abuse manual" they follow. We concluded they do have a "manual." They get their promptings from the same source--Satan.

    I forgot to respond to your earlier comment: "I love your blog, and would love to read your book."

    I'm glad you like my blog.

    You can order my book through Amazon at,

    through my website,@

    or through any bookstore (tell them to order through Ingram.)

    Or you can read pages 8-57 on Google preview @