BUILDING relationships is the halcyon satisfaction of life. We were built to belong, to believe in the good, and to behave in a way that conforms to society’s norms. We were made to fit in. We were made to feel capable of doing our relationships well. We were also made with the capacity to forgive and forget — to give those that hurt and disappoint us the grace of a second, third or ninth chance. Indeed, Jesus commended his believers to forgive and to keep on forgiving.
The trouble is we find ourselves hurt and disappointed beyond our ability to bear.
We tend to hold our leaders to a higher standard of care than we do for others. But, just the same, we’re prone to hold anyone we interact with to a standard of care represented in Matthew 7:12 known as the Golden Rule — “treat others in a way you would want to be treated.”
Many times we who hold others to the Golden Rule standard are able to abide by such a standard, yet there are always times when we fall short. And this is the problem; if we interact often enough with those who are different to us, ultimately we will be disappointed or hurt. (And they will be, too.)
We know we must forgive, but where does trust come in given that the lines blur?
Yet, even forgiveness seems too hard. We wonder if a person who’s hurt us deserves to be let off the hook. We wonder if we’ll expose ourselves if we forgive. We may wonder if there will be a repeat of the problematic behaviour. And we may wonder if our forgiveness will backfire on us! Sometimes we’re fearful. Forgiveness is a justice issue. And, yet, sometimes it’s also about safety.
Most of us know that forgiving someone doesn’t mean we have to trust them. This is where boundaries come in. If justice is to be withheld overall, the person to be forgiven must be forgiven, but the person who feels vulnerable for their safety is not compelled to trust someone they feel may repeat the offence.
If the person forgiven has not repented of their action, they can’t always be assumed to understand their potential of threat to the person who’s forgiving them.
The important thing for the person needing to forgive another person is to do their forgiveness in a way that is irrevocable and unequivocal. What helps the process of letting go, of course, is, where there are repeated instances of transgression, the person forgiving another person is not compelled to trust them. They have the option of instituting a safe boundary.
Boundaries are about maintaining a reasonable safety and justice. Boundaries make forgiveness easier, and indeed, sometimes possible when it may not be otherwise. We may forgive when we know we don’t have to trust someone who we feel may still be a threat to us. But we must still forgive them. Love causes us to want to have goodwill toward everyone.
Boundaries of trust and forgiveness only blur when we feel we must trust someone we’re forgiving. Yet, it makes better sense to forgive without feeling we must trust a person we feel might repeat an offence i.e. we don’t feel genuinely safe. (It needs to be said, however, that we ought to be very honest before God; do we genuinely feel unsafe? Are boundaries really warranted? No problem if they are.)
Letting go of a matter of bitterness is easy when we know we can move on; when we can put some distance between you and them. It’s not so easy to forgive a person we must soon trust again.
We must respect the fact that when boundaries of trust and forgiveness blur, forgiveness will be harder where an offending party is required to be trusted. It’s better if the offending person actively empathises with the person who’s hurt for the hurt they experienced.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.