From the looks of cryptic facebook status updates and conversations with people, I get the feeling that most of the time people think these two words are synonymous; that once you forgive someone, then the relationship should be the same, or otherwise you didn’t really forgive them.
Oh, how I have watched so many people with deep hurts struggle with this. Until recently I have thought these two words meant two different things, I never really struggled with it, but going through a deeply hurtful situation caused me to struggle and to spend quite some time re-thinking the whole thing.
The fact that someone I love dearly, who deceived and hurt me deeply, was hurt so much by the fact that the relationship just couldn’t be restored in an instant, troubled me. I have struggled for months and months in what I believed about forgiveness and restoration, studying it, praying about it, and questioning it. SIDENOTE: Sometimes restoration isn’t the answer (unhealthy relationships - that’s for another post later).
When I’ve forgiven someone there is something inside of me, in my spirit, that changes; it’s how I know I’ve forgiven someone. I’ve been able to forgive people who have never asked for it, because forgiveness is for me (not for the other person). I like this definition of forgiveness: “To cease to feel resentment against”. Once I’ve forgiven someone I don’t feel angry towards them, I’m able to let go…it changes me.
With this situation it took me a week or so to forgive. Until that moment I was angry and hurt and mad, but as soon as I chose to forgive them, that all went away. But here’s where the struggle came in. I wasn’t angry and I wasn’t mad anymore, but I was not ready to go back to “the way it was.” The love was still there, but the friendship, the closeness couldn’t come back. The main reason: There had been no restoration. The offender had made no effort at restoring the relationship.
One time I had a friend (we were in our early 20’s) who let a big group of people down. I remember him standing before the entire group immediately after it happened with an “I’m sorry,” and then a reference that as Christians, “We have to forgive and move on.” Even then, I thought, wow, it’s just not that easy.
With this more recent situation I thought, I’m a Christ-follower, I should forgive and move on, why am I struggling so much. Then I started questioning myself, if I’m supposed to be Christ-like shouldn’t I just move on with this? But then I started exploring and remembering that Jesus forgives us completely when we ask, but there is always consequence to sin.
Then one day a wise friend told me to look at the story of Zacchaeus. So I pulled down Luke 19 and read it. I’m going to post it here for you to read because it’s short and sometimes we get tangled up in the stories that have been told about Zacchaeus in which details may or may not have been biblical.
19 Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. 2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. 3 He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.
5 When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”
6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. 7 But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.
8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”
My friend was very wise. When I look at Zacchaeus’ story, I see that he is changed by Christ and chooses to work towards restoration. He says, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” He could have just asked forgiveness from Christ, and he would have been forgiven and had to endure the consequence of sin in his life. He could have just left that between him and God. But instead, he chose to restore his wrongs to the people he wronged, and not only paying back just what was owed, but paying back MORE than what was owed. I admire that. I feel paying back four times was his way of acknowledging the depth of the wrong he had done. Just giving back what he took wrongly would just be a payback, but giving back four times I think means, “I’m very sorry, I acknowledge how much I hurt you and the side effects of what I did to you.”
I believe that is restoration.
I wish I could hear “the rest of the story,” with Zacchaeus. I bet he became a beloved person even to the people he wronged and the relationships were deeper because of it.
So dear offenders, one thing you should know: the level you are able to hurt someone is equivalent to the depth of love they have for you. Please don’t ever forget that. You are SO loved. You cannot deeply hurt someone who doesn’t love you dearly; they just aren’t affected by it.
And you are probably forgiven. But there’s some work to be done for restoration to happen between those who love each other deeply. And that’s ok. And it’s ok if it takes you awhile, but the ball is in your court.
Offendee’s (this is my made up word), I can only imagine how hard it will be for the offenders to make that first step towards restoration. So be open, let them know you are open for it. Let them know they are loved even from a distance. And if you haven’t forgiven, then forgive; your heart will be set free.