I find that in the Christian community, toxic relationships can be more conflicting to manage than in other communities. These types of relationships can be with anyone: a close friend, a romantic partner, or a family member. We’re familiar with the importance of loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, even at their most unlovable. We’re familiar with the importance of mercy and second chances. Consequently, choosing to remove someone’s presence from your life comes with a lot of guilt.
It’s easy to equate forgiveness with reconciliation; however, I think it’s important to distinguish one from the other.
Forgiveness is an inward discipline of mind, heart, and soul. It’s refusing to allow your thoughts and actions to be controlled by hate or vengeance. Most importantly, the Bible warns us not to set limits on how many times someone can earn our forgiveness. When Peter asks how many times he should forgive someone who continually hurts him, Jesus replies, “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times”. (Matthew:21-22) Even as the 76th offense leaves its sting, we are called to set aside our frustration and react with grace.
Reconciliation, however, takes two people. In order to re-enter into a previously harmful relationship, the relationship needs to be reconstructed to support each person’s needs. That part requires both people’s cooperation and effort.
While reconciliation requires forgiveness, forgiveness does not necessitate reconciliation. Your capacity to forgive does not depend on anyone or anything but the grace of God. You do not require another person’s cooperation to forgive them.
You do require another person’s cooperation if reconciliation is to take place. If a toxic relationship cannot undergo this transformation, then resuming the relationship may cause even greater damage. I’m not encouraging you to spontaneously give up on someone who relies on you. Relationships take hard work, and any relationship with history deserves time, conversation, and attempts to identify and heal the broken parts.
But forgiveness is not just existing in a relationship that continues to cause harm. If the relationship continues to cycle through the same problems without change, it will only serve to fuel contempt. Forgiveness does not require you to accept the role of the victim. You can continue practicing forgiveness without subjecting yourself to the same abuse. You don’t need your offender’s approval to forgive them; sometimes the most powerful form of forgiveness occurs when it is done silently and without declaration or approval.
Residual resentment is nearly unavoidable after a relational breakup. Forgiveness becomes extra important when reconciliation is not possible. Forgiveness means replacing that resentment with a prayer for that person when you bump into them. Forgiveness is protecting the reputation of someone who has hurt you by being mindful of how you talk about them. Forgiveness is surrendering vengeful thoughts to God with trust in His control of the situation.
So, work hard at your relationships. Reconciliation is not a one-way street, so if you’re asking for change, be willing to make your own changes. But ultimately, do not let yourself be so consumed by a relationship that you cannot focus on edifying pursuits and people. Invest in those who push you closer to Jesus rather than compromise your pursuit of Him.
Brianna is a junior majoring in business administration and communication.