Does Forgiveness Forfeit Protection?

Today we’re addressing another myth of forgiveness … If I forgive, I lay down any right to protect myself.

The Follow Up to Forgiveness

Just like the myth before it, “If I forgive, I’m letting my offender off the hook of responsibility” there’s both truth and myth in this belief.

The myth
The idea that if I forgive, I’m laying down my right to protect myself, is often not a conscious thought, but more like the “background noise” running in our head—especially if we’ve been in an abusive relationship with our offender or someone else in our past.

But even if we haven’t been in an abusive relationship before, this belief seems more consistent with the “letting go” we’ve done in our hearts as we’ve forgiven. Ultimately, it just doesn’t “feel” right to require boundaries once we’ve softened our hearts and made the choice to forgive.

Sadly, this may be the very reason we resist forgiving!

Additionally, even if we don’t feel this way internally, our offender is likely to throw this one up in our face for good measure. *He may feel like “if we’ve truly forgiven him,” this should be the end of the matter, and “no conditions” should be required or defined. That somehow moving forward with boundaries indicates that we’re still holding a grudge or dangling our offender’s offense over his head.

If you’ve given yourself over to this myth, remember …

Forgiveness is about releasing the anger and hurt to God—seeking a pure heart—and not about tying our hands for our offender to reoffend us.

Christ’s truth
If we look at Matthew 18:15-17, we’ll find Jesus describing how to confront a “brother” {or fellow believer} who sins against us. He gives step-by-step instructions or protocol on how to handle this.

  1. Go to your “brother {or sister}” and talk privately to him/her about the sin.
  2. If he won’t listen, take one or two other believers along to discuss and negotiate further.
  3. If he refuses to listen, bring it before the church.
  4. If he refuses to listen to the church, then “treat him as you would a pagan.” In other words, withdraw from this person until the person repents and changes.

This passage makes it clear that Christ doesn’t equate forgiveness with blindly trusting our offender. Christ acknowledges and even expects that sins will be committed against us, but establishes how to follow up our forgiveness with measures that don’t leave us, others or our relationship vulnerable to further injury.

“Boundaries are like a brace or cast that help us heal & protect, not just our hearts, not just our relationship, but also our offender’s heart.”

When we avoid the painful part of addressing the sin {yes, this is often why we don’t do it!}, we’re enabling our offender and weakening our relationship at best, and becoming a stumbling block to his, as well as, our faith at worst. I’ll be dealing with our offender’s response or “lack thereof” to being confronted next week!

Bottom line –
If we hope to reconcile and restore our relationship, we must remember that …
[Tweet “Forgiveness is granted, but trust and reconciliation must be earned.“]

What other reasons have been barriers for you in releasing and forgiving your offender?

 

What has been helpful for you to do or remember when you’ve confronted an offender and set boundaries?

 

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Joining with  Works for Me Wednesday, Marriage, Motherhood and MissionsTo Love Honor and Vacuum, Whimsical Wednesday and Wholehearted Wednesday

To go to the previous post on forgiveness in this series click here.

*For simplicity’s sake, I used the masculine pronoun to refer to the offender, but both men and women can be our offenders.

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  • Thanks, Beth for hosting today. I will try to get back in the morning as I am having a hard time linking up. It is giving me error notices and won’t bring the picture up. I tried going through my computer documents but am not doing well there either. So sorry.

    • Yes, I’ve noticed that. I can’t access your website even when I try the main URL. I’d like to link up with your bloghop as well!

  • Hey, My Friend … I love that you’re talking about boundaries here because it’s such a misunderstood concept. When we set boundaries with those who haven’t been safe for us in the past, we can’t be surprised when they don’t burst into applause. We should expect some push back, maybe manipulation or resentment, or whatever they tradiitonally have done to hurt or punish us.
    If we’re not surprised by their response, we’ll become more confident in our choices and not be swayed or deterred in our efforts to build healthy relationships.
    This has been a remarkable series. That you are putting this all out here for us while you’re in the midst of treatment is truly a testament to the strength of who you are deep in your soul.
    Hugs to you …
    ;-}

    • Amen, Linda! You’ve added some important thoughts and insights to the discussion. I always say to “expect that push back or you’re not doing it right!” ha! Thank you for your sweet words. They mean a lot to me and so do you! Can’t wait to see you in person. Oh, and grateful that tomorrow’s my last day of treatment! Woo hoo!

  • Nan

    This has been such an awesome series, Beth! And once again, you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    When setting boundaries in order to protect yourself the other person often WILL say that you really haven’t forgiven them, you really don’t trust them, you keep bringing up the past, etc.

    It is much easier for THEM if they can turn the situation around and put the blame on you. That way, they don’t have to accept any responsibility that there may be consequences for their actions!

    Thanks for hosting.

    • Yeah, the offender in our life who we’re having trouble forgiving is probably a repeat offender who doesn’t get what they’re doing wrong or sinful. And I’m so glad that Jesus doesn’t say we should let them continue to hurt us. Even Jesus was a BIG boundary setter and confronter, especially with the Pharisees. Thanks so much for your insights here in the comments, Nan. You always highlight or deepen an important thought!

  • My husband often says forgiveness does not mean “we must walk together or remain friends”. If the person is no longer trust worthy or we no longer have common grounds, we should forgive but allow the necessary distance. Thanks a lot for writing on this very fundamental topic Beth, and thanks for hosting us too, do have a super blessed day!
    Love

    • Oh yes, Ugochi! We are called to “love” people but not necessarily to trust them. Our trust is in the Lord and He gives us the wisdom we need to confront and the grace we need to forgive. Thanks for your support here, my friend! You are a true sweetheart!

  • Mary

    There is such a great lesson to be learned through the process of forgiveness. You continue to unfold and dispel my beliefs about forgiveness and have given me more to ponder today. At first glance, my thought would have been to break all boundaries so there can be freedom in forgiveness but as I read and understood your words about boundaries I am able to understand that boundaries are there to protect us and our offender and this is okay. Thank you for your perseverance in continuing this series and your knowledge in letting us learn what forgiveness is about. Blessings today and for the rest of the week!

    • I’m so glad you feel like this has helped give you clarity on forgiveness, Mary! That’s a real blessing to me because one of my passions is helping others to understand how to forgive. It’s been an area that God continues to work with me on. I may know much of what God’s Word says about forgiveness, but it’s still a hard path that God calls us to. Praying for you, my friend … just added you to my list this morning!

  • JViola79

    Beth – This is a wonderful & insightful post. So much to be learned. Just this past week, I stated there has never been a time when I have forgiven & lived to regret it. The Lord has always shown me where to maintain boundaries along with compelling me to forgive. Such truth in the statement…”Forgiveness is granted, but trust & reconciliation is earned.” I am grateful to have joined you this morning! Blessings!

    • Yes, forgiveness forms the foundation we need in order to set healthy boundaries and call our offender to account. We can’t set these boundaries before we forgive them or they will immediately sense the insincerity and shut down any movement toward reconciliation or repentance. I have never regretted forgiving my offender either, Joanne. God’s grace fills that gap that was left by my offender’s sharp and penetrating offense. When that happens I’m actually strengthened in my faith rather than weakened by the offense!

  • Kim Adams Morgan

    Beth, So glad you are covering this in such depth. It is so important and you are going to help so many people. I know a few people close to me who have learned the difference and have been able to (or are in the process of forgiving). They were not able to before as they felt it gave their offender a free pass. God bless you for unlocking so many others. I read the book on boundaries a few years back and it transformed the way I thought about many things. I almost felt more free to let God do His work instead of trying to control things. Wonderful Wonderful Post…passing it on.

    • Yes, the book, Boundaries, is a classic and very helpful in figuring out just how, what and why to set boundaries, Kim. But there are so many other resources since then that could be added to that list–which makes me feel like I should’ve included more links to those resources! Thanks for that! And thanks so much for your kind words and I totally agree–we are “freer” to love and live when we forgive. Hugs to you!

  • SimplySaidMom

    Beth- great post today! This is a topic I typically try and avoid, forgiveness doesn’t seem to be my thing. My biggest issue in this area is parental forgiveness, not my own but of my parents. I’ve been thinking more and more about how to approach the subject, but the parent I need to confront is non-present in my life – kind of makes things hard. Thank you for the encouragement and the speaking of God’s truth!

    • Yes, Shannon, I agree that when our offender is not present or unwilling to own any of their part of the problem, this can become rather messy, confusing and discouraging. But with that said, I still feel it is worth our time to seek God’s wisdom on how to forgive that hard to forgive person in our lives. God wants us to forgive for His sake, our offender’s sake and our own sake. But when our offender doesn’t cooperate in our boundary setting or attempts to reconcile, we must learn to trust Him to deal with our offender’s heart and find ways to release our ongoing bitter thoughts daily to Him. Stay tuned for future posts on this, my friend! I think that at least some, if not all, of your concerns will be addressed and explained as we continue this series.

  • Emily Davis

    Great post Beth. Truly – forgiveness is freeing in many ways. I learned what you are saying in my 30’s. My mother is an alcoholic and has borderline personality disorder (BPD). I had to break from her mentally and physically at a young age. Many of my siblings are back in touch and have a problem with my not being part of her life. They don’t think I have forgiven her. But they are wrong. So wrong. Forgiveness does not mean ACCEPTANCE! I forgive her, but without change, there can not be a relationship. Sigh. Communication is KEY in all relationships. Again – I am glad you brought the truth to light for so many people. Blessings!
    Em

    • Oh, yes, Emily! Sometimes it comes down to removing yourself from that person’s life. Are you familiar with Leslie Vernick? She had an emotionally abusive mother and is a well-known author on dealing with emotionally abusive relationships and marriages. Google her name and you’ll find her site. But it sounds like you’ve learned much from a painful situation. Isn’t that like life–the harder things we face are the very things God uses to refine our hearts and deepen our faith. I wouldn’t trade those for any moment of pain-free living! Thanks so much for encouraging me, my friend!

      • Emily Davis

        Oh yes. I’m a genius on the topic. HA! The good news is, like with all trials, God is using my childhood and young adulthood angst for His glory. So there is a means to an end.
        Blessings,
        Em

  • JosephPote

    Beth, God has truly given you wisdom in this area of forgiveness. I love this series you’re doing, and find myself continually sending people to your blog.

    In today’s post, this particularly stood out to me:

    “Forgiveness is about releasing the anger and hurt to God—seeking a pure heart—and not about tying our hands for our offender to reoffend us.”
    So true! And so freeing once fully grasped!
    Thank you, so much, for sharing!
    Joe

    • You humble me, Joe! I consider that high praise coming from you who knows and handles God’s Word with such depth and care. I am grateful for all that God has taught me in this area over the years. Believe me, I’ve needed this understanding to weather some of the relational difficulties I’ve faced throughout the years! (Being in the ministry is one of them! ha!) Thanks for your encouragement here, my friend!

  • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    I tend to be pretty forgiving, and will overlook a lot, but there’s a point beyond which I find forgiveness not difficult, but impossible. Such as for parents who drowned the kittens of one’s sibling in the toilet…that’s a bit hard to get past. And there was worse.

    I honestly don’t feel that unforgiveness, in this case (and others) has been a burden for me. It’s different from sustained anger, which is harmful. I just have no wish to see these individuals, in this life or the next. My attitude may be a block to their healing, but I don’t care.

    This may condemn me, but to say that I forgive the folks when I don’t would probably be even worse.

    I can see a theoretical forgiveness, in an elevated theological sense, and I’ve worked to that end. But I’m not sure it connects with the visceral forgiveness that Christ is talking about.

    http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com/2014/02/vacationing-with-your-mate-make-it.html

    • I can tell from your comments here, that you’ve faced some horrendous moments of abuse. And if you are saying that forgiveness requires you to be free of any hint of hurt or anger, then perhaps I should add that to my list of forgiveness myths. Maybe it’s semantics, but I believe forgiveness is more than just calming our hearts and removing anger. Even Jesus felt (righteous) anger when dealing with the Pharisees and others who refused to repent and confess their sins. I agree, that sometimes we cannot reconcile and must set the boundary of removing ourselves from that person’s life. The Bible addresses these areas as well. Stay tuned!

    • Actually I DID write on this, Andrew! I forgot, since I’ve had so many issues I’ve addressed in this forgiveness series! You can go to that post here – http://www.messymarriage.com/2014/01/myth-1-2-forgive-and-feel-better.html

  • Gaye @ CalmHealthySexy

    I am late linking up today! I am running to fast this week – I probably need to say “no” or “not anymore” to something.

    This has been a great series – very insightful. Thanks so much for sharing it.

    • Aren’t you funny, Gaye! I appreciate you making the time to come by and link up though! I love having your blog represented here on Wedded Wed! Now, go rest, my dear! It sounds like you need it! 🙂

  • Nannette Elkins

    Oh Beth, this entire series is so good. I am trying to work through something myself…from long, long ago…I struggle with all of these feelings of forgiveness but I can’t forget. 🙁 You have helped me tremendously. Thank you. (And Woot! Woot! on your final treatment! ♥)

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  • i really love this Beth, i think its something many of us miss when it comes to walking that road of forgiveness. It’s something that the offended has to work through in their hearts in order to be able to stand in the face of possible opposition to boundaries. Such a great enlightening series!