I am enjoying our Lenten study on forgiveness. This is a most essential and yet perhaps most difficult of all spiritual disciplines. The Lord has commanded us to forgive, even teaching that our own forgiveness is tied up in how we are able to forgive others.
In conversation with others, I am struck by a common misunderstanding of forgiveness: it is NOT the same thing as reconciliation. It is important to remember that forgiveness is a solo endeavor. We can forgive someone who is dead, someone who never asks for forgiveness, or someone we never speak to again. Reconciliation is more than an individual venture; it requires two (or more) participants seeking to restore and renew relationship.
Psychologist Ryan Howes writes these helpful words: "forgiveness is an internal process where you work through the hurt, gain an understanding of what happened, rebuild a sense of safety, and let go of the grudge. The offending party is not necessarily a part of this process. On the other hand, reconciliation is an interpersonal process where you dialogue with the offender about what happened, exchange stories, express the hurt, listen for the remorse, and begin to reestablish trust. It’s a much more complicated, involved process that includes, but moves beyond forgiveness." *
Both forgiveness and reconciliation are important practices for the Christian believer, yet it is vital to discern between the two. Forgiveness is always the answer to every situation; reconciliation is sometimes not possible, and sometimes not recommended (think spousal abuse, for instance). All of this is hard work, but thanks be to God none of us engage in this alone. God is with us.