Do I have to tell the person who hurt me that I have forgiven him? I don’t ever want to see or talk to that person again. He’s scary, and although I’ve forgiven him, I want nothing more to do with him.
This is a “that depends” kind of question, and there is more than one answer.
Sometimes, the person we need to forgive is already dead. Perhaps it was an abusive or extremely critical parent that you have finally been able to forgive; however, that person is already gone, so there is no need to confront.
In some cases, your process of forgiving someone else is just between you and God. If you are convinced that telling a person you have forgiven him will do nothing but bring more pain down on you, then no, I don’t think you need to face that person. Forgiveness, you’ll remember, is simply giving up your right to demand justice. It does not require you to continue to be hurt by someone who is unrepentant and feels he has done nothing wrong. You can forgive from a safe distance.
I know of a situation in which the offended person did face her tormenter. She told that person that she had come to a place of forgiving her, and wanted her to know that she held no malice. The guilty person, however, laughed until the tears flowed. “YOU have forgiven ME?” she asked. “Oh, that’s rich. That’s really funny. I never did anything to you that you didn’t deserve. If you hadn’t been such a twerp (yes, that’s the word she used) you wouldn’t have gotten any trouble from me!”
Often, people who hurt us feel it was their right; in fact, they feel it was necessary. They believe they were justified in their words and actions, and have never felt a moment’s regret for anything. There’s not much future in trying to reconcile with that kind of attitude, and you’re probably far better off just to walk the path of forgiveness and keep it between you and God rather than to stir up another opportunity for the offender.
This is difficult if it’s someone you have to see often, such as a family member who lives nearby. With time and patience, though, it can be done. I tell my clients that they don’t have to shut the person out of their lives, although the desire to do so may be strong. But clear boundaries can be established, and should be. When something starts between you, you can simply excuse yourself and refuse to participate. You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to.
If you have an overwhelmingly interfering parent, in-law, or sibling, you must draw strong boundaries and then be willing and able to enforce them. If you don’t, the person will continue to be a thorn in your flesh. It is possible to calmly state that you do not choose to continue the conversation, and to walk away or hang up the phone.
If you do desire to continue a relationship with the person you are forgiving, then you must be prepared to have to choose over and over to forgive and let go. I think you probably should tell the person that you have forgiven her for past hurts. If she is a reasonable person, such a statement can lead to a conversation that will reveal hurt on both sides, and can be restorative.
We are called, as followers of Christ, to reconciliation and restoration. We are to love others as we love ourselves, and we all do love ourselves. Impossible to reconcile or restore? The person is so toxic that you simply can’t allow him back into your life? Yes, that can be the case, but forgiving removes the poison from your heart and soul and makes it possible for you to have contact with him without being tied up in knots.
The person is unrepentant, won’t admit she’s ever done anything wrong? Fine. Forgive anyway, keep it between you and God, and get on with your life.
The most satisfying thing, of course, is when an offender comes to you seeking forgiveness and you are able to offer it freely. That’s the ideal. In my experience, it doesn’t happen that way very often, When it does, you need to treasure it and be thankful, and enjoy an renewed relationship with someone who cares enough to take the first step toward restoration.
As I said at the beginning, this is not a question for which one answer fits all. Seek wisdom from God, but forgtive in your heart no matter what.
Next week, what forgiveness is not.