I believe it is very helpful to conceptualize forgiveness as the releasing of our right to make things even, no more than that. It is a very important part of healing relationships, but only one part. It does not remove the damage done. It does not remove the very realistic fear of being hurt again. It does not make us want to spend time with the person who hurt us. But it is what we can do as the injured party.

The party who has done the harm has work to do also. Theirs is the task of becoming a safe person. That is the task of the one who has harmed us. They may not succeed, in which case forgiveness has not become any less valuable. Forgiveness is the right thing to do even if we need to never allow the person who harmed us to be close to us again. But if the person who has done the harm has made an honest attempt to minimize the hurt and make amends (not to make it even but to demonstrate a desire to become a safe person) then reconciliation can move forward and there begins to be a chance or hope that a person can again become part of our life. Forgiveness alone does not do that.

Forgiveness does not make a way for people to intertwine their lives again. In fact it allows us the ability to have the sort of independence that is needed without an attachment based on retribution. Forgiveness allows us to go on in separate lives, free of compulsive acts of retaliation. Forgiveness does many things that are good for us emotionally and spiritually but it does not bring lives back together. It allows us to release our compulsion for payback. We realize in forgiveness that making things even is not a job for us but an aspect of justice that only God can truly accomplish.

When two of people have a goal of restoring the ability to be in each other’s life, it demands a task beyond forgiveness, but a task that cannot precede forgiveness. It is the task of restoring trust, becoming safe with each other, making a way for me to allow myself to be near you while also taking the proper responsibility to my own safety. It makes a way for you to do the same. We are moving beyond forgiveness to a mode of interacting where we demonstrate what we each need to reassure ourselves that we will are unlikely to hurt each other as we have in the past.

This is the path toward restoring a relationship. Yes, it starts with forgiveness, but does not stop there. Of course this path beyond forgiveness requires communication and interaction, something forgiveness does not require. It is riskier than forgiveness and is not the path that can always be followed. Some relationships end with forgiveness. There is no further path. But some go beyond forgiveness to restoration, a path that takes mutual desire and ability, a task that is not for the faint of heart.

What do you want? Forgiveness or more?