The first column discussed cheap forgiveness (easy to obtain, but like anything cheap, it has almost no value and little durability).
The second column discussed refusing to forgive (an option that has considerable wear and tear on the person). The third discussed acceptance (an alternative when forgiveness doesn’t seem to be a viable option), and finally in this column I will discuss forgiveness.
Unlike acceptance that does not necessitate the participation of anyone, forgiveness is a shared undertaking, an exchange between two (or more) people who are bound together by a violation. This means for genuine forgiveness to take place, pardon cannot be granted unilaterally by the hurt party. As the old song goes, “It takes two, baby.”
Unlike cheap forgiveness, genuine forgiveness must be earned. This means that genuine forgiveness isn’t free. It comes with a price that the offender must be willing to pay. In exchange for this willingness, the hurt person must be agreeable in allowing the violator to settle his debt. If this sounds like hard work, it is. It is work that both parties must be willing to do.
As the violator works hard to earn forgiveness through genuine, generous acts of repentance and restitution, the hurt party works hard to let go of his/her resentment and need for retribution. If either one fails to do this required work, genuine forgiveness can’t take place.
A couple of examples come to mind. A man cheats on his wife. When his wife discovers the affair, he admits it and tells her, “It’ll never happen again. I don’t want to talk about it. Just accept that it’s over, it’s ancient history.”
Such a response leaves her with little recourse. How can she genuinely forgive him unless he is willing to enter into her pain, help her work through the violation of trust, and rebuild the relationship? She can’t.
Another example. A teenager sneaks off one night with the family car. He is arrested for reckless driving under the influence of alcohol. When his parents arrive at the police station, they find their son defiant and hostile. Although they can continue to love him in spite of attitude and actions, genuine forgiveness isn’t possible until the rebellious teen is not only truly sorry for his actions and the pain he has caused, but also willing to take whatever steps are necessary to rebuild the broken relationship with his parents.
With genuine forgiveness, both of you address the question, “What am I willing to give in order for forgiveness to take place?” In some cases, it is the violator who is unwilling to give, in other cases the hurt party is unwilling to give, and in other cases neither party is willing to give.
When both parties are willing to enter into the process of forgiveness, a transformation can take place. Both the violator and the hurt party acknowledge the transgression, work through the pain of the transgression, learn enough never to repeat the transgression, and allow healing to take place. Intimacy is restored and the relationship continues at an ever more meaningful level of intimacy.