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Steven S. Billings

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Friday, November 7, 2008

FORGIVENESS TO A FAULT

I have two friends. I love them dearly. They don't get along, however; never have. This has caused no little stress over the years.

The younger of my two friends, I must confess, has been the greatest source of tension. She has lied, she has made it a habit to interject turmoil whenever peace has been too prevalent for her, and she has a history of conduct that has gotten her in trouble many, many times.

The elder of my two friends I have known as long as he's been alive. He's had his own issues over the years - haven't we all? - but he's worked hard to become a better man. He loves his family and wouldn't think twice about giving his very life for them. Is he perfect? Of course not. No one is. But he's a good man, a faithful husband and father.

By now you may be wondering how I can be friends with both of these people. It's because I learned a long time ago that no one is completely good or completely bad.

The younger of my friends can be very sweet, loving and giving. My older friend can be a bit closed-off with his feelings. So they both have strengths and weaknesses, and I love them. I tend to be very forgiving toward those I love.

This, however, became especially challenging recently, as my younger friend accused - falsely - my older friend of some really horrendous things.

My initial reaction was disgust and anger, but soon my personal default reset itself to an attitude of forgiveness. I thought: "What she really needs is someone who can lead her to understand the harm she's causing, so what I need to do is cultivate my relationship with her so that I can help her." And I worked toward that goal. Or so I thought.

Things came to light when my older friend discovered how I was interacting with my younger friend. Of course he was hurt. Naturally, he was angry. And I found myself in danger of losing one friend in favor of the other.

My internal reaction to this was: "But someone needs to help her." But, as I considered what was at stake, I had an epiphany. Yes, she needs help. Yes, she needs forgiveness. The trouble is she's not repentant. She’s not sorry for what she's done.

I must tell you that for those of us who are hard-wired for forgiveness, it's the most difficult thing in the world to withhold it. But when it comes to dealing with those who are unrepentant you have to.

Why? Because offering forgiveness to someone who is not sorry for their sins does a couple of really destructive things: 1) it enables the unrepentant to be comfortable in their sin - and therefore to keep on doing it! - and 2) it hurts those who have been victimized by the one you are too eager to forgive.

It comes down to this: Forgiveness needs to be offered only when the recipient is ready. You may be ready to give it - and thank God for that willingness, because you can get into all sorts of trouble by not forgiving when you really need to - but if you are too willing, too eager, you end up accomplishing the very opposite of what you're hoping for, while alienating the ones who really need and desire the compassion you so long to give.

And from a practical standpoint, you can't have it both ways. You can't be friends with people who are hurting others and the ones they’re hurting at the same time. If you truly want to be a friend to both, you have to confront the offending party and hold them to account for the wrong they are doing. You can’t afford to give them permission to continue in their sin because the friend they’re hurting will see that you are in fact preferring the offending friend over them, even if that’s not what you intend.

9:14 am est

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For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
(Philippians 1:21)

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