5. Misunderstand forgiveness and reconciliation
Healing from abuse is a very long and difficult journey. It takes courage to be willing to walk through the valley and out into the sunlight on the other side (Psalm 23). An integral and necessary party of recovery is to grieve the losses and then face what it means to forgive. Forgiveness is an attitude that the victim comes to desire. It does not require an apology from the offender as the victim is able to choose forgiveness at any time.
Forgiveness is not something that you can give immediately after being assaulted. Your brain and body needs time to process the situation and begin to heal from the trauma. Every abuse victim in recovery, has to go through a grieving process. She must grieve the many things she has lost. Loss of anything comes with some level of grieving and losing a relationship, regardless of how abusive it was, has to be grieved. She may grieve her loss of dreams, her loss of hope, her loss of innocence and even her loss of herself. There is no prescribed method to grieving and there is not a predetermined or required way in which each person will deal with hurtful things that come up. Eventually, though, all victims will have to face the big question of forgiveness.
It is vitally important that the church not rush forgiveness. Forgiveness comes after many of the other stages of grieving has been dealt with. Forgiveness is something that comes from the willingness of the spirit and that only comes when some amount of healing has already taken place. It is a process that takes time and effort. For the church to insist on immediate forgiveness only opens the opportunity for the victim to return to the abusive relationship and for the abusive cycle to continue. This might be what the church wants her to do in order to ‘save’ the marriage, however, pretend or superficial forgiveness will also lead to superficial repentance since the abuser has not had the opportunity to really feel the effects of his sin, if indeed he ever will. Forgiveness never means that she has to return to the abuser.
“Forgiveness means I carry no more resentment. It doesn’t mean I tolerate more abuse.” Elizabeth Esther
Forgiveness does not mean an immediate reconciliation between the abused and the abuser. It doesn’t mean a reconciliation has to happen at all. Reconciliation also does not require that the couple reunite. To reunite, means that a level of trust must be established. She must be able to trust that he will treat her respectfully and safely. Trust and forgiveness is not synonymous to one another. They are entirely different issues. The Bible never encourages us to trust the untrustworthy. In fact we are instructed repeatedly to flee from evil doers and to be wise as serpents. Proverbs 6:16-19, Proverbs 4:15 , Romans 16:17 Forgiveness and trust are not the same thing. Once trust is lost, it is lost. It is up to the person who has been harmed to choose whether she wants to give the offender the chance to earn her trust back. We are not required to trust or reunite with an abuser. Again, trust is not the same as forgiveness and reconciliation is not the same reuniting.
Forgiveness is intended to heal the heart of the victim. It really has nothing to do with the abuser himself. He is responsible for his actions and his consequences. Since he is responsible for his own consequences, forgiveness therefore does not absolve him from legal ramifications, from losing his relationship, from losing his children or from losing his membership in the church. Her forgiveness releases her, not him, from the weight of hatred, obsessive thoughts, uncontrollable grief and the need for revenge. God offers complete healing for her heart when she offers complete trust to Him. To forgive is to “let go and let God”. He offers her healing and wholeness and He also offers her help in her willingness, ability and her journey to forgive.
*Source: Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion Barbara Roberts