“He said I am sorry, but it’s at least the tenth time! I don’t know what to do. I know it’s my Christian duty to forgive and Lord knows I’ve tried! But each time I forgive him, he changes for a little while, and then returns to the same behavior. I have this gut feeling I am handling things the wrong way. He never really changes and I just become more angry.”
What should I do?
Unlike forgiveness, reconciliation of a broken relationship is a process conditioned on the attitude and actions of an offender.
Those who commit significant and repeated offenses must realize that their responses and actions affect the timing of the process. Those who are genuinely repentant will accept this fact with brokenness and humility.
Forgiveness and reconciliation should occur together in relation to minor offenses.
Relationships shaped by the gospel are ones where, “love covers a multitude of sins” (i.e. offenses)” (I Peter 4:8). People who withhold restoration over minor offenses are lacking genuine love based on God’s grace and forgiveness (see: Ephesians 4:32-5:1). Immaturity and manipulation will repeatedly threaten unity where this love is absent.
When we’ve been deeply or repeatedly betrayed, forgiveness does not necessarily require that one immediately grant the same level of relationship back to an offender. Even when God forgives our sins, He does not promise to remove all consequences created by our actions.
Being forgiven, restored, and trusted again is an amazing experience, but those who deeply and repeatedly hurt others must understand that their attitude and actions will affect the process and timing of rebuilding trust and restoring a broken relationship.
In the act of forgiveness (which is always required by God), we surrender the desire for revenge. We do this in the presence of the God who said, ““It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” (Romans 12:19). Forgiveness is first about God. Forgiveness is an act of worship.
When forgiveness is genuine, an offended person will be open to the possibility of reconciliation. Forgiveness requires us to offer a repentant person an opportunity to demonstrate repentance and to regain trust (unless safety is at risk).
But when a person has repeatedly behaved in a hurtful and irresponsible ways, he must accept the fact that reconciliation will likely be a slow and difficult process.
Three considerations in the timing of reconciliation
- The attitude of the offender
- The depth of the betrayal
- The pattern of the offense (repeated offenses)
When an offended party works toward reconciliation, the first and most important step is to confirm whether the offender is genuinely repentant (Luke 17:3). An unrepentant offender will resent a desire to confirm the genuineness of his confession and repentance. He might even resort to lines of manipulation.
- “I guess you can’t find it in yourself to be forgiving.”
- “You just want to rub it in my face.”
- “I guess I should expect that you want your revenge.”
- “I am not the only one who does wrong things, you know?”
- “Are you some kind of perfect person looking down on me?”
- “Some Christian you are, I thought Christians believed in love and compassion.”
These lines of manipulation reveal an unrepentant attitude. Don’t be manipulated into avoiding the step of confirming the authenticity of your offender’s confession and repentance. When relationships are broken badly, it is best to seek a wise counselor to assist in reconciliation (but only a counselor who understands the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation explained here).
Carefully and prayerfully use the seven signs of true repentance listed below. Words alone are not enough to restore trust in such cases. True confirmation can be found in the seven signs of true repentance below.
7 signs of genuine repentance
- Accepts full responsibility for his/her actions (Not, “Since you think I’ve done wrong…” or “If I have done anything to offend you…”).
- Accepts accountability from others.
- Does not continue in the behavior or anything associated with it.
- Does not have a defensive attitude about the wrong he or she has done.
- Does not have a light attitude toward the hurtful behavior.
- Does not resent doubts about sincerity or the need to demonstrate sincerity (especially for repeated offenses).
- Makes restitution wherever necessary.