Forgiveness is not, however, the same as reconciliation.
To be reconciled with someone that has wronged you, means that trust is re-established. As John Visser writes in his book When Dreams Come True, it means that I can "safely put my life back in your hands without fear of being betrayed, taken advantage of or hurt all over again...Trust once broken is very difficult to restore. It almost inevitably involves a period of testing to make sure that you really are who you say that you are."
While I'm the first to admit that I have trouble with the forgiveness aspect, I have even more trouble with the reconciliation part--because it involves involves trust.
Wounded hearts do not lightly let go of the pain they have experienced or the injuries they have sustained.
John Visser writes, "Many people cannot learn to trust because their hearts are wounded and they are bonded to their pain. When they see other people living in community, loving and being loved in return, they say, 'Yes, I want to be part of that. I want to...belong.' Hesitatingly, they step out and try to find people that are safe, always testing, always secretly feeling they are going to be disappointed. And sure enough, that is exactly what happens. Sooner or later, someone will let them down and reinforce all their fears that people are not to be trusted...
Wounded hearts are like a bottomless pit. No matter how much love you pour into them, it is never enough.
"You can do it right a thousand times but the first time that you fail, you're in the doghouse. No one can fill a bottomless pit. It needs to be healed. And the only one who can truly do that is Jesus. As we embrace our pain, take personal responsibility and turn it over to Jesus, He will do the work of healing that needs to be done. As we embrace our fears and step out in faith and obedience, we get stronger and are able to do relationships properly.
"For many people that is a very scary business. To expose one's heart and take the risk of rejection when that has been the story of one's life is contrary to every natural principal of self-preservation. Everything inside of us wants to run away from such pain. Bit as we persevere, as we take the risks...we discover that He is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think. The benefits of living in community far outweigh the cost of getting there."
With the help of God, forgiveness is always possible. Because God reconciled the world to himself and did not count our many sins against us (II Cor 5:19), we too, should always strive for reconciliation. But reconciliation can only happen with trust. And just like forgiveness, repairing trust takes time.
1. The offender truly understands what he/she did wrong.
2. The offender is determined to do something about the wrong he/she did.
3. The offender can demonstrate over a period of time that true change has taken place.
This doesn't always happen. Which is why there are many people with whom I am not yet reconciled. Some do not understand the gravity or the significance of the wrong they did. Some do not wish to make make amends or even acknowledge what they did was wrong. Some have not showed any change at all on their end. In those cases, forgiveness on my part is made all that much more difficult. And reconciliation? Impossible at this point. It is not wise, nor safe, to begin trusting them.
Living in community does not mean we live with our hearts wide open for just anyone.
My wounded heart can only take so much. So while Colossians 3:13 instructs us to "forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another...as the Lord forgave you," I like the reminder of Proverbs 4:23: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." Just because we forgive someone, doesn't mean we automatically let them back into our lives in the same capacity as before. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Reconciliation requires cooperation on the part of both parties, and is not possible without trust.
Right now, because of my wounded heart, it's hard for me to trust. But I'm working on it. Sooner or later, we all hurt each other. Because we're all human. And even though sometimes the wounds have been too deep, and the betrayal too great for reconciliation to take place, a sincere apology and acknowledgement of the hurt goes a long way in the process of healing me.
"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Romans 12:18), and walk in forgiveness. But be careful who you trust.