Boundaries in Forgiveness

January 9, 2008, 4:00 pm; posted by
Filed under Articles, Chloe, Featured  | 3 Comments

I recently had a conversation with a good friend about forgiveness. She had a painful childhood, but she’s found a way to forgive those who hurt her — forgetting. She remembers who hurt her and the general idea of what happened, but she can’t remember specific fights, words or wounds. She’s moved on, and used the results of her broken childhood to become a brilliantly insightful writer and poet.

Nevertheless, my friend still receives pressure from her extended family to forgive her parents. They believe that forgiveness means making contact with her father, going back to her mother’s house on vacations, etc. Essentially, they want her to act like the sins were never committed and submit herself to the possibility of being hurt again.

I know another woman who had a difficult life, somewhat due to her family. She claims to forgive them, but daily brings up specific incidences when they hurt her. She believes that one can forgive without forgetting, and sees no problem with rehashing those wounds, both with her family and with other people.

These are three different concepts of forgiveness, three coping mechanisms for conflict in the human brain. Jesus instructed us to forgive infinitely, but did he tell us how to treat the people we forgive? Is it healthy to forget? If not, what do we do with those memories? Where do we set up boundaries against those who have hurt us, or should we set up boundaries at all? Take a moment to think about it, and then please leave your comments and experiences, as well as any verses you find particularly applicable.


3 Comments to “Boundaries in Forgiveness”

  1. Steve on January 9th, 2008 8:59 pm

    I think it depends on the event. Some things are so awful that, even after we have forgiven the person who committed them, it would probably be better to avoid them forever. Other times, like perhaps the third situation, it seems that unforgiveness expresses itself through self-pity. If the events are over, yet constantly play on our minds, there must be something more to address — inside us, rather than the other person.

    I don’t think forgiveness ever requires us to allow people to continue to hurt us in the same way. Not only is it psychologically unhealthy to serve as a doormat, it does nothing to spur the necessary growth in your tormentor(s).

    I’ve never been able to hold a grudge, but I can think of a few times when I had to make a choice to change the way I thought about and dealt with a person, to avoid being hurt. I find that changing the way you think about someone can rob their memories of the power to cause pain. In the end, we are responsible for our reaction to whatever someone does to us, and I believe God can give us the strength to handle whatever that might include.

    Fundamentally, I always try to think of the parable of the unmerciful servant, and how, in light of the all-encompassing grace of God, we really have no right to withhold our own forgiveness.

  2. David on January 9th, 2008 9:45 pm

    One verse is Jesus saying “be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves”. You have to protect yourself while not being malicious back.

    Another section with great insight —bear with me here—is how they dealt with leprosy in the OT. All the tests laid out to perform were used to determine whether the leprosy was still active or not. If the leprosy was active the person was banished, the house burned, etc. If the sin that someone sinned against you to hurt you is still active in the person who hurt you there can be no reconciliation. Forgive them yes, forget and act like nothing ever happened? Not until you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the person has repented and been delivered from that sin! Should you still bring it up all the time. No I wouldn’t think that to be very healthy.

    We are counseling a young lady like your friend right now and her Mom sent her a picture from Christmas with all the family gathered together—including her and her husband photoshopped in! The best thing this young lady can do is stay away from them because her family still has not dealt with the issues that destroyed this girl and they just want to gloss them over and control and manipulate her again.

  3. Connie on January 11th, 2008 2:16 pm

    After having worked for over 10 years in Freedom Ministries, I know a little about this issue. Your first friend sounds like she’s dealing with things in a healthy manner -except for one thing. Maybe it’s just a phrasing detail – but it could make all the difference. You cannot FORGIVE by forgetting. You can only forgive by verbally issuing forgiveness -although it doesn’t have to be “to” the abuser(s). It only needs to be said – or done. Period.

    I can tell you that the specific abuse (no matter how heinous -and believe me I’ve heard heinous) isn’t the issue in these cases. The real issue is that the abuse caused unseen wounds that cannot be healed except by our forgiveness. If we don’t forgive, as hard as we try to forget, the wounds do not get healed -only covered up. We learn to justify them and can cope around them. They manifest in our lives as anger, or fear, or stupid unexplainable habits or “personality quirks” that drive others or even us -crazy.

    Why? Because – unforgiveness BINDS you to your abuser, and like a ball and chain on your ankle -only you feel the effect. But when you obey God’s command to forgive -it’s you that reaps the healing benefit. Remember, Jesus says we are forgiven AS we forgive others (in the Lord’s Prayer in Mt. 6:12). When we forgive, we are saying we no longer hold this person in judgment for their actions against us- BECAUSE we trust God to be their final Judge in the matter. They actually do not even have a part in the entire thing.

    I learned this firsthand when I was asked (at a Healing Conference) to forgive my Father for years of physical and emotional abuse. It seemed fruitless since he had died over 10 years earlier. But as soon as I did it, years of bitterness and pain dropped off of ME instantly – I was HEALED from my rejection wound. And I could not remember that pain or feels its effects even when I rehashed it while teaching at our annual Freedom Seminar. It was glorious!

    As an important note, we should also ask Him to forgive us for any way in which we may have sinned in our wounded states. Striking out at others, abusing various substances, becoming seclusional or promiscuous -there are many things we choose to do to mask or medicate our pain. Most of them involve “justified” sin of some sort. This is why it’s so critical to forgive and be healed. There are few things more dangerous than a wounded animal. The same goes for people.

    As a final point, it’s important to remember that healthy boundaries are critical to our continued progress, especially when our abuser is still present in our lives. I think your first friend is wise to keep distance between them. Unless and until SHE is ready to have them be back in her life, it’s the wisest course. The other friend you mentioned sounds like she still needs healing. It all begins with facing the wound (WITH Jesus), and forgiving. She will be AMAZED at the result.

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