Forgiveness vs. reconciliation

March 7, 2012

Forgiveness  happens inside of you. You can forgive someone all by yourself, with no involvement at all required from the person you are forgiving. We all must forgive because it is through forgiveness that we let go of anger, pain, resentment, and other negative feelings towards another person which are eating us alive. So we forgive first of all for our own sake, and only secondarily for the sake of the person we are forgiving. Reconciliation, however, is a two-way street. You cannot be reconciled to someone who does not wish to be reconciled to you. And the fact that someone seeks reconciliation with you does not mean you must permit it.

This means that forgiveness sometimes must occur without reconciliation. If someone has wronged you deeply and insists on reconciliation with you even though they have never admitted to their wrongdoing, reconciliation will be nearly impossible. You can forgive them and wish them well, but still refuse to be reconciled. After all, a person who will not admit to having harmed you is quite likely to harm you again and you do not have to expose yourself to this. It is critical for you to forgive, but you are not obligated to reconcile.

In writing this I am not minimizing reconciliation. It is always important to reconcile wherever possible. But reconciliation involves two parties, admission of wrongdoing, the seeking and granting of forgiveness, and a promise from the wrongdoer not to repeat the offense. Any wrongdoer who demands reconciliation but seeks to short-circuit this process is asking more than they  have a right to ask. If, as wrongdoers often do, they use God and religion to guilt-trip you into reconciling without them accepting responsibility, then they are even more deeply broken  than you had realized. Forgive. Let go of anger and resentment in your heart. Then draw your boundaries and lovingly stand firm.

  • Irma

    A very timely post…  Thank you for your insight.  I have been struggling with this myself.  Someone told me once I forgive “to a fault” and though that may be true, the down side is that once someone has maxed me out, I hit the wall, right or wrong, and I don’t know how to come back from that.  The same behaviors, repackaged or represented, and especially, the part of an apology I dread “Can you ever forgive me?  I only did it because…”  or “but…”  It makes me cringe.

    • thefallencleric

      Glad you found it helpful. You might also find this documentenormously freeing. I have written a post on that before and will soon be
      writing another one. Peace to you.