Forgiving does not always mean reconciliation. Forgiving frees the forgiver from chains of anger, hatred, bitterness, or haunting memories. Reconciliation means that as forgiveness is granted, the previous relationship will be restored, if possible.
Previous blogs, Reconciliation Steps 3, 3.1, and 3.2, lay the foundation for this segment. Working through the acronym REACH, we conclude with the ACH segments in this blog. “A” stands foraltruistic gift of forgiveness. “C” for commit to forgive. “H” for hold on to forgiveness.
Altruistic gift of forgiveness.
This step is a reminder of earlier points made in the series on forgiveness. The offended doesn’t have to forgive the offender. It is a choice made through the offended’s own will that should not be not be coerced, cajoled, or forced in any way. Forgiveness isn’t given because the offender deserves it, but despite the hurt.
As Jesus would say it when he taught us to pray for forgiveness, we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others. That means we know that we, too, have needed forgiveness for our actions. When one accepts that s/he has needed and found great peace in being forgiven, s/he also finds the ability to forgive others, no matter how bad the hurt.
Commit to Forgive
I recall once forgiving a debt that a friend owed me. Unfortunately, what I remember is the SECOND time I told him to forget the debt that in my faded memory I thought was the first time I had done so. Can you imagine how embarrassing it is to both when you tell someone you’ve forgiven their financial debt and the other person has to reply, “Well, that’s what you told me a year ago. Why are you telling me again now?” I guess he must have been thinking I was rubbing it in or something. Actually, it was that I had not done the forgiving in a manner it deserved. Committing to forgive means doing a process where both the forgiver and the forgiven can move on with assurance that the situation is now done and in the past.
We suggest that forgiveness involve a ceremony. It doesn’t have to be public, and may be purely symbolic with only one person present. However, if it can involve both offended and offender, as well as others concerned, it can be a great method for letting everyone know that reconciliation has taken place. For example, a ceremony may involve the offender formally asking for forgiveness and the offended formally granting that forgiveness. Certain symbolic acts may amplify the intent. Burying a stake in the ground, burning a sheet of paper on which the offense is described, planting a flower together, or any number of things could serve as the symbolism. In the Old Testament they often piled rocks together as a sort of monument. The idea is that there is an action done at a specific place and time that indicates to everyone that the offense is over and that reconciliation has taken place.
If the offender refuses to ask for forgiveness, there still may be value in a symbolic ritual that the offended does without the offender present. That, of course, brings no peace to the heart of the offender, but it can bring great peace to the heart of the offended. My friend Jeff King tells of a man who went to his father’s grave to forgive him. Obviously, he could have had that same thought in his heart from any location, but the ceremony of going to his grave and speaking aloud made it extremely effective for the man.
By the way, the same type thing can work when you forgive yourself. Our Catholic friends have the concept right by having a ritual (a confessional booth with an authority figure to symbolically speak for God in giving forgiveness.) Sometimes the greatest peace can come when you confess your sins to a godly, mature person who in turn “speaks” for God and tells you of God’s love and forgiveness.
Hold on to Forgiveness
Inevitably, people fail. If a person attending Alcoholics Anonymous falls off the wagon and gets drunk, s/he comes to the next meeting and gets the right help to get back on the sober wagon. The group doesn’t throw a person out for a slip or fall. None of us is perfect and the Devil’s forces never, ever give up. When a person is forgiven, that does not make him or her suddenly perfect. There may be slips and falls along the way. However, realizing that a fall doesn’t mean that a person wasn’t truly penitent, and that a bad day doesn’t equal a bad heart, can change the way anyone approaches the future. Strive for perfection. Do the right things when you miss the mark.
Forgiveness and reconciliation makes neither the offender nor offend perfect. Each will continue to need mercy and grace as long as they live in this mortal bodies.
That is how to reconcile.