Forgiveness vs. Reconciliation

December 16th, 2021

How do you forgive when there has been no justice for a wrong?  When you have experienced trauma, the body will always keep the score and tell the story.  

Forgiveness is: the act of granting pardon, as for a wrong, offense, or sin; remission of an obligation, debt, or penalty; pardon.

Reconciliation is: to reestablish a close relationship between. To settle or resolve. To bring (oneself) to accept.

I have some amazing clients and one in particular that is on a healing journey and is willing to share their heart in hopes to speak encouragement for someone else who needs to hear.  Holidays can be joyful but they can also be a trauma trigger, especially when boundaries are skewed.  I pray this message gives you encouragement and some clarity:

I grew up in a Christian home that, from the outside, looked like most. We attended church regularly. Everyone was put together in our Sunday best. As a teenager, I was there every time the doors were open to our youth group. All signs pointed to the ideal church-going family. But internally, my world was dark and full of pain. At the age of 8, my childhood came to a halt. I was abused for the first time and the abuse continued for years… even to the point of being known among the household. Despite the discovery, I went unprotected. Years passed and no one told me what was happening was so terribly wrong, let alone put a stop to it. It became our family secret. At the age of 8, while still developing and learning how to trust and form relationships, I learned that my role was to keep quiet and act normal. I was even told that if anyone found out, *that* would break up our family as if “finding out” was the problem, not the abuse itself. Layer on top of that, shaming me for wanting accountability which was viewed as being unforgiving. I had to choose. Was I going to be a good forgiving Christian or was I going to choose to fight for justice?


This point right here was a huge stumbling block for my healing process and, quite honestly, just kept me in the cycle of abuse; this time it was emotional. Was there not a way to have both? I believed the lies that it was my job to be a peacekeeper, not a peacemaker… that my job as a Christ follower was to forgive and forget. But as I’ve learned… “the body keeps score.” The pretending just allowed the trauma to wreak havoc on my body. Everyone else lived their life free of any consequences while I carried the pain deep within me.


As an adult, I finally went to my first therapist to seek help. I worked through some aspects of my abuse and family of origin. But I was still in contact with them. After all, “forgiveness” was key and they’re family. I chose to forgive those responsible for my abuse and those who covered it up. The problem is, we treat forgiveness as a one and done thing. But that simply isn’t how trauma works. Trauma creates triggers and those triggers can send you right back to those moments of abuse and feelings associated with it… and you have to choose all over again to not harbor hate, bitterness or ill feelings toward those who hurt you. 


Through years of therapy, both talk and OT, I have learned a new way. I have learned that forgiveness is a process; it’s a choice you have to keep on making. But most of all, it’s important to know that forgiveness deals with your own heart. Choosing to forgive is about setting yourself free from bitterness… setting yourself free from anger. Forgiving is choosing to not let that hurt, that trauma, define you or steal one second more of your joy. That does not mean it's easy. That’s why I say it’s a process. 


Forgiveness is not, however, for the other person’s benefit. It is not a tool to manipulate an outcome or avoid consequences. We have been taught since we were children to ask for forgiveness, but what were we really asking for? Were we asking the person we hurt to let go of the bad feelings toward our actions for their benefit? Or for ours? Were we wanting forgiveness or reconciliation? We have to separate those two words. Healing depends on it!


Forgiveness and reconciliation are NOT synonymous and the Church has done a disservice to those hurting to suggest they are. Forgiveness is something you can work toward regardless of anyone else’s efforts or actions. It only depends on you. Reconciliation requires repentance and accountability for the wrong. It requires the other person to make the changes necessary to be in healthy relations with you. This is outside of your control.


So what happens when you choose to forgive but there is no justice? What happens when you choose to forgive but there is no accountability? How do you continue to choose forgiveness? You do that by letting go. You do it by setting boundaries that prioritize your health. If accountability has yet to happen, reconciliation is not possible.


I’ll leave you with this thought: Jesus came to Earth to forgive us of our sins. He loved us so much that He made the choice, while we were yet sinners… Christ died for us. It was not conditional on anyone or any action. It was a matter of His heart. He died for every single person’s past, present and future sins. This alone was not our salvation. Our salvation takes repentance. It takes action on our part to admit our wrongs… to admit our need for Him and to turn from our old ways. Forgiveness means He no longer held our sins against us, but it took our action to then move toward Him for reconciliation. Forgiveness is always possible, reconciliation however may not be. It is never His heart for us to stay in abusive situations. Remember, He hurts when we hurt. You deserve to heal, you deserve to experience the life and joy God has planned for you. And sometimes that means letting go…


May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.  Romans 15:13

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:18