Forgiveness does not equal fondness.
Forgiveness does not equal friendship.
Forgiveness does not even equal fellowship.
You don't have to be fond of people who have hurt you, you don't have to forget they hurt you, and you don't have to invite harmful people in. Forgiveness is only one part of opening the door for reconciliation, but it doesn't require us to delve into a relationship with unrepentant offenders. Some people you need to forgive may not immediately be ready for fellowship with you, much less ready for enduring friendship with you. Forgiveness is one thing, reconciliation is another. Restoration of the relationship requires both forgiveness and repentance. An unwillingness to respond with repentance is an unwillingness to restore the relationship. Acts 5:31 tells us both forgiveness and repentance are granted by God. If you're on the receiving end of someone's harmful actions, showcasing God’s love means displaying the gift of forgiveness God granted you. But, when you're on the offending side of this equation, as we all will be at some point or another, showcasing God's love also means displaying the gift of repentance God granted you. Reconciling with others and authentically fellowshipping after a relationship has been harmed requires both, but God grants us all we need to be restored.
Extending forgiveness does not mean extending trust. For deeper wounds, even when someone says sorry, trust must be earned, and that takes time. Inviting people who have harmed you to resume relationship with you, when they have not changed their behaviors or shown themselves to be trustworthy, is an invitation to chaos. No one can pry God’s peace from our hands, but we can choose to give it up if we want to. If I invite you into my home, and you tracked mud everywhere, the next time you come to my doorstep, forgiveness opens the door to potentially rebuild a relationship, but this time, I'm checking to see if you have mud on your shoes. Forgiveness is the willingness to go to the door, and once you've healed enough, it's an invitation to a relationship if the other person has removed the muddy shoes. If you still see behaviors that would amount to muddy shoes, like drama, negativity, gossiping, shaming, or any other toxic behaviors, the kind, and loving thing to do, is to value the peace Christ paid for, and refuse to allow people to invade your space with muddy shoes.
So why even go to the door? Why even consider extending a relationship, knowing the person who harmed us could have on muddy shoes and harm us again? We go back because we value the will of the father express through Jesus Christ: that we dwell in unity with one another because it reflects the unity of the Godhead. Forgiveness does not mean letting chaos in. Forgiveness is answering the door again, even if we have to wait for the other persons to remove their muddy shoes, to change their behaviors, and to be ready for a healthy relationship. This type of sustained unity requires repeated forgiveness. Unity can only happen by practicing the command to forgive over and over again, 70 times 7. To this end, the saying shouldn't be, “Forgive and forget.” It should be “Forgive and repeat.”
This article was adapted from The Book on Forgiveness: Small Steps for Big Change.