Ruptured relationships are stressful and distracting. The strained relationship may have started with a difference of opinion, or ill-chosen words to express a contrary view, or actions that were damaging to another person’s standing or throws doubt on the person’s character. It hurts. The resulting stand-off, or wall of silence, in damaged relationships are difficult enough to observe, but very painful to experience. Forgiveness is like a healing balm which avoids further rancour or bitterness.
What is the formula for this balm of forgiveness? It’s hard to define the word ‘forgive’ without using the word ‘forgive’. Try it and see! Forgiveness is when both parties recognise a genuine change of heart that makes reconciliation possible. Three ingredients make the balm: the restoration of an attitude of love, since wrongdoing is not a reason for not loving the wrong doer; the working through of pain, anger and alienation until both parties sense that the repentance process is satisfactory; the reopening of a future that is met with trust and good will which permits the risk and possibility of further failure of conflict.
Forgiveness is vital to making relationships work. If someone is unwilling to forgive you for a wrongdoing, then all that you can do is to forgive the other person’s attitude and continue to pray for them. Yet, we must also recognise just how deeply a person has been hurt. We must consider with sober reflection what caused a loss of trust in us and maybe how there were other things that caused hurt. Perhaps the unwillingness to forgive is due to the other person thinking that we’ve trivialised what they see as deeply hurtful. Maybe putting ourselves in their place and ask: ‘How would I have reacted?’ and also, ‘how would I have wanted to be treated?’
We’ve recently been learning from Joseph’s life of faith as recorded in Genesis. There are many sinful actions, tensions, and jealousies in the family. It is clear that Joseph must have truly longed to be reconciled over many years, since he was prepared when he met with his estranged family. The Psalmist prayed: ‘Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting’ (Psalm 139v23-24).
If someone does not seem prepared to forgive us, then we must humbly come to the Lord with the same prayer as the Psalmist. We are not to give up praying for the other person, since only the Lord can change hearts and bring about reconciliation. In the meantime, we are to communicate our sorrow for our wrong to them. Meeting face to face may be a way off, or hard to set up, but writing a note can be significant in expressing our wrong.
Most importantly we are to seek the Lord’s forgiveness for what we have done. He paid the highest price to make forgiveness possible: ‘For Christ died for sins, once for all; the righteous for the unrighteous to bring you to God’ (1 Peter 3v18).
Let’s pray that we show loving kindness to others and also to practise forgiveness when relationships are under strain.