Diana Murdock recently did a post on her journey to forgiveness that sparked a lot of discussion and has had me mulling over the issue the past couple weeks. Everyone who has ever been wronged and sought how to forgive has come to it in different ways. Everyone’s journey is personal and unique.
I have realized, however, that in our discussions and perceptions of forgiveness and reconciliation, one key ingredient has been missing.
But first, forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. Forgiveness is something you do, in your own mind and heart, a one-way street. Reconciliation is a two-way street. But here’s the really important piece you need–the one who committed the wrong must be repentant. There can be no rebuilding of the relationship without it.
True repentance comes from acknowledging that you did something wrong and actively making changes so you don’t do it again. It is not an apology. “I’m sorry” does not begin to cover the multitude of hurts and wrongs people can inflict upon each other. Even more superficial is saying you’re sorry because you got caught, not because you know what you did was wrong. And what good is an apology if the behavior continues?
Forgiveness is the sole responsibility of the wronged, but repentance is all on the person who did the wrong. Reconciliation is a two-way street with both parties looking deep within themselves and having a change of heart. We have our perceptions backwards. We forgive for the sake of the wrongdoer; we repent or apologize for the sake of the wronged, when really these actions are internal and only benefit us.
Forgiveness releases the hate and the desire for personal vengeance. This doesn’t make life easier for the person we forgive; it heals us. It lets go of the stress and the angst twisting in our gut. Forgiveness doesn’t fix the relationship; it heals our hearts.
Repentance accepts responsibility. It mans-up and refuses to hide behind excuses. This doesn’t ease the pain of the one who was wronged; it frees us from this bondage to lies and pain. When we repent, we can start again, working to be better. It also doesn’t repair the relationship, but it heals our lives.
Only when the above occurs on both sides can reconciliation happen. We do not resume the relationship as though nothing has happened. We do not “forgive and forget.” But, starting anew on both ends, we can rebuild. It’s a slow process, but when both parties are actively engaged, when the transformations are taking place in their hearts, the relationship can be mended.
What about you? What have you thought forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation meant? If you’re willing, share your story. I love hearing from you!
What an amazing post. This immediately made me think of my estranged sister and I. She’s said and done some nasty things to me over the years, and I finally got enough. We never had much of a relationship anyway, so my decision to cut her out of my life was a relief. However, I’d be open to forgiving her if I could trust she was truly repentant, and if she treated me different. Words are incredibly powerful, but they don’t always cut it.
Thanks for sharing your story, Stacy. Yes, words don’t cut it in these situations; actions do. I’d encourage you to think of forgiveness as something that happens in your heart. You don’t need your sister’s involvement in order to forgive her; you don’t even have to tell her! Forgiveness is all about you. Reconciliation, however, isn’t always wise, especially if it’s going to put you back in a hurtful relationship.
Oh, and one more thing about forgiveness–it’s rarely a one-time, done and over with act. I wish you the best on your journey, wherever it leads you. 🙂
Angela – Bravo for processing this and coming to the conclusions that you have. I am in total agreement with you. There is definitely a misconception that “I’m sorry” (in my opinion one of the most over-used and useless phrases in the English language) and “I forgive you” will fix things. It is all a very personal and individual journey that no one can help you with. It is a challenging process and sometimes painful one (which is probably why true forgiveness and repentance is often avoided). But insight is powerful and though you walk this road alone, we are just a word away when and if you need us. Much love to you, my sister.
Thank you, Diana. Right back at you. 🙂 Yes, insight is powerful, and coming to these realizations affirms that the pain isn’t wasted, that something good can come from it.
This was a very thought provoking post! I took a few minutes to ponder it before commenting. Everything you mentioned was absolutely right. The only thing you left out was revenge. Whether it be in fiction or real life. People do seek it as a way to deal with the wrong committed against them. For instance, if my husband does something to make me upset, I find a way to get him back. Then I feel better and can forgive him.
One example would be when he was at the doctors office. He told the doctor that I was rubbing strange creams on him and “implied” that they could have been harmful. The man completely failed to tell the doctor that it was Vics vapor rub and that I broke the seal right in front of him just after coming back from the grocery store to buy it! I was just trying to help him get better with his cough and that was how he thanked me. By convincing her I might be putting harmful substances on him.
So, as revenge, I pulled a little trick of my own, which gave him quite the scare. See my latest blog post, as it would take too long to explain here. I felt much better afterward though 🙂
Hey Susan, loved your roller post. I don’t believe revenge is a healthy option, though in your case, your revenge seems to be more in good humor. But for deep, emotional hurts, forgiveness is the only option that will leave you with peace. Revenge only relives the hurt and feeds the fire. It never satisfies, and never leads to reconciliation.
It sounds like you and your husband have an interesting relationship. And remind me never to play a trick on you. 😉
Hey Angela, I agree revenge isn’t the best option. Even if I do find it very satisfying for the small stuff. On the bigger issues, though, it is a much more painful process.
One of the main reasons I brought it up is that there are stories where revenge is a character’s motivation for doing certain things (and real people too). Through writing, you can give them the deep seated need to pay someone back, and later teach them how hollow the concept really is. It shouldn’t be said revenge is the way to go, unless it pertains to my husband who needs it with all his stunts, but there are lessons be learned from it. A person has to learn to let go of the past, but it is the journey to do so that is the hardest and the longest.
As for my tricks, that is nothing. Just ask Kerra (from my blog) what her parents do to each other. She has some outrageous stories. Even their cars aren’t off limits. NyiNya (the woman who did the cat review) suggested I stick an egg under my hubbies gas peddle as a joke. She thinks up some dirty stuff though, lol. For the most part, I think doing the (mostly) harmless ones doesn’t hurt anything.
I agree with what you’re saying here. I have a deep, deep hurt that has to do with someone who died 13 years ago. I’m still angry. I would like to find a place where I can forgive this person, but I don’t imagine I ever will. The stuff was just too intense, too bad. Perhaps someday? I do think I’d feel better. Thanks for such a thought provoking post. 😀
Catie, I hope you find your way there. I struggled for a long time on what forgiveness actually looks like. There are probably many ways to approach it, but I think one of the key steps is relinquishing your right/desire for vengeance. I don’t think it means having warm fuzzy thoughts towards the person, but maybe letting go of the hateful ones, becoming almost indifferent? I really don’t know, but I hope you find peace. Thank you for sharing your story.
My Mom and Dad never ever said they were sorry for anything. Everything was explained away and was the other person’s fault, someone outside of her and him in some way or another. There is a really good book about narcissistic mothers and the fathers who support them no matter what and it helped me “see” them better. Luckily, I broke the cycle by marrying an open honest, wonderful man who calls me out on my stuff when necessary. I do the same for him. I craved honesty and found it. We forgive, we reciprocate, we laugh at our shortcomings A LOT. I’m lucky. I’ve “forgiven” my parents they don’t know and wouldn’t get it, (that’s the problem with narcisism) and I’ll continue to help them as best I can now that Mom is in a nursing home and Dad is 88.
Thank you for sharing your story, Kate. It is so good and encouraging when people can break the cycle. I’m glad you found a loving husband who will work with you on all levels. 🙂
Wow Angela. I feel like you hit the nail on the head. I tell my kids this every day when they blurt out “I’m sorry” without much meaning behind the words. It should run so much deeper than that.
Every time a subject like this is brought up I think of an ex-boyfriend I still struggle to forgive. He was in my life at a very bad time and he made some terribly poor choices that not only caused me pain but my parents as well. I know holding on to that anger or irritation I feel with him/for him only causes me suffering, and so I am working to let it go every day. I think I would have already succeeded if it did not all revolve around my sister’s death. But I have faith that I will someday let it go and I think that day may be very near. I am determined. Although I am not saying we would ever be friends again. LOL That is just not in the cards.
Hi Debra. Forgiving some of the worst hurts really is an everyday decision. It’s never an over and done with kind of deal. One thing you don’t hear a lot but I think should be discussed more is you don’t have to, and probably shouldn’t, try to reconcile with someone who is going to hurt you all over again. That’s where the repentance is lacking. Thank you for sharing your story, and I hope your journey continues to bring you peace for *you*.
This is a biggie! But when I think about all that God has forgiven me for I can I not do the same for others. Is it hard- absolutely. Does it cost me something- certainly.
Reconcilation follows right behind my forgiveness; the two walk hand in hand.
Hey Tamika, it’s true that God calls us to reconcile with each other, but I don’t believe we should do so if it will victimize us all over again with a person who will continue to hurt us. That’s why repentance is so important. For several years, I’ve thought reconciliation was my responsibility as the one doing the forgiving, and it has caused me a lot of grief. It’s not all my responsibility, and if the other party isn’t repentant, there can’t be true reconciliation.
Thanks for stopping by. 🙂
Unfortunately people can be pretty nasty to each other, like you say and it is so hard to let go of that anger inside… hence forgiving is an easy thing to do, but inside it takes a while to really forgive, repent and reconcile…
Hey T.F., yes, it is a long process, and forgiveness is rarely a one-time act, but a conscious decision we have to make every day. It’s true what they say about trust taking a lifetime to build, a moment to shatter. Thanks for stopping by!
This was an interesting post for me. I was raised by two narcissistic parents and have little relationship with either. As the oldest of two, I paid most of the price through the nasty divorce when I was five, and after, while they played games using me as the pawn. I ended up in various placements at 15, on my own and pregnant at 16, and boy do I have some stories to tell. Finally got to college and graduate work/degrees in my 30s, and finally have let go of the anger at those two clowns for so selfishly continuing to be children, but still can’t bring myself to like or respect either of them. And of course the reason is their lack of repentance. Big step though – my father and stepmother are coming to Dallas to go to the state fair next week with me, my daughter, and my granddaughter. They are excited and I am glad to be finally to a point where I can offer this to them all. I am practicing steering conversation back to safer water when necessary, determined to not discuss all the imbalances and the lack of repentance, and determined to do the right thing so my granddaughter can see a tiny glimpse of an intact extended family. At the end of the day, I know I have much more than his money can buy (they are very wealthy) – fulfilling work helping people (clinical social work), a good relationship with my daughter and granddaughter, and I was blessed some years back to develop a relationship with a wonderful couple, about my parents’ ages, who love me and whom I love, and who feel like family to me. This writing made me wonder how my life might be different if my original parents had been able to repent … though I do understand that with malignant narcissism, they simply can’t. I luckily understand now that blaming them for this would be like blaming a person without legs for being unable to walk. So I do what I need to do to protect myself (very little contact), and I offer what I can (an occasional phone conversation or outing to something like the state fair). It seems like all that can be done and it feels workable. For a long time I wished things could be different, but I think now there has been enough water under the bridge that I know they cannot. And so I look forward to a day at the fair, and to looking beyond the shortcomings of these very sick people. And I feel so blessed to finally have arrived at this point – it was a long journey.
Hi Daria, thank you for sharing your story. I am so glad you were able to become a stronger person in spite of your parents. I think it’s commendable that you know how to protect yourself, yet still be open to them in small ways. I hope the day at the fair goes well. 🙂
Wow, this post and ensuing comments have a visceral impact. Diana’s post got me thinking about my family and how I respond to them and this post is pretty much what I came up with as well.
Except… with one relationship I know I will never get the reconciliation that I so desperately want because the person will never ‘get it’, never repent. If they even thought about me enough to think they’d done anything wrong, I’m sure they would still find a way to blame me. Because of this, I’ve forgiven them and we have a relationship, but it’s superficial at best. Which kills me, but it’s the only option available.
Hey Tameri, I can definitely relate to that superficial relationship. It is so hard, but you’ve done all you can. Thank you for sharing your story.
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