Perpetual Offenders: When to Stay and When to Walk Away

Forgiveness itself is hard enough, but what about those wounds that continue to occur? I don’t have an easy answer for this one, except to say, according to the Bible, there’s no disclaimer on forgiveness. I don’t read, “Forgive, unless the person is unforgiveable.” Or, “Forgive X amount of times, then, if the person refuses to change, walk away.”

Now, there may be times when you indeed need to walk away, if, as my mentor puts it, the person is toxic. Meaning, if their behavior causes harm. For example, if you are with an abusive husband. Then, forgiveness still must occur, but perhaps without reconciliation.

Other times, God calls us to forgive and endure, as He does with us. For me, it helps to bring it back to a human level. By this I mean, first, I remember my actions toward God. Perhaps someone continually rejects me or pushes me aside. Standing as the offended, it’s easy to walk away from the offender. Standing as the offender in the presence of a Holy God, however, alters my perception. The pain of the situation may remain, but it is colored by understanding.

Second, I remember the extent of sin.

According to the Bible, unregenerated man is sinful to his core. And even the regenerated man still fights against the flesh, not always victoriously. We operate from a sinful nature, often causing pain to ourselves and others. When I view people through this biblical lense, their sinful behavior and callus actions are less likely to catch me by surprise. To the contrary–I come to expect them.

Let me illustrate. A few weeks ago, I volunteered in our church nursery. The children ranged from infants to toddlers, and a few toddlers in particular had a bit more of the terrible twos than others. Imagine my frustration if I’d expected them to act like miniature adults!

False expectations often cause just as much pain, perhaps even more, than the actual offense itself.

A few years ago our daughter transitioned from homeschool to institutionalized schooling. This was a very difficult transition for her. Not only was everything done in cursive (which I never taught–I spent more time teaching typing and computer skills. grin.) But she also had to learn to manage homework, learn the expectations of teachers, assimilate with other students, and the list goes on. Initially, she messed up, forgetting to turn in papers, completing the wrong math assignment, things of that nature.

One night as I tucked her in, she cried and said, “It feels like I never do anything right! It feels like I’m always getting in trouble.”

To which I replied. “You’re a kid. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”

Now, don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying I want her to fail, nor that I don’t train, set boundaries and provide consistent consequences when boundaries are broken. What I am saying is I approach parenting with an understanding that she’s going to mess up. She’s a kid–it’s in her nature. This enables me to deal with each situation from a more rational, less-reactive stance.

I believe that is the same approach we must have when we view others. Humans are going to fail us, gauranteed. We are to love them anyway. We are to seek reconciliation anyway. Unless the individual poses a threat to us or someone we love, God wants us to forgive 70 X 7 times, and I don’t believe He intends us to keep a tally, washing our hands of the matter after the 490th offense. When God says 70 X 7, I believe He means, however many times are necessary. In the Bible, seven is a number of completion and perfection–forgive perfectly, to completion. Forgive fully.

Forgiving, however, does not mean inviting others to tread on your back. In the story I shared, although I forgave our daughter, I still set boundaries. Sometimes we need to do the same in our relationships. This is often the case when dealing with family. Often in dysfunctional families, family members behave in predictable patterns, ourselves included. If an offense continues to occur, we may need to evaluate our role in it and set boundary lines accordingly.

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8 thoughts on “Perpetual Offenders: When to Stay and When to Walk Away

  1. Wow, Jen, you are speaking to my heart. I have had to deal with this “perpetual offender” situation in my family with three different people. How I have had to deal with each one has varied, depending mostly on the relationship. Now, I have a very large family, lest anyone think it’s the whole group. Two family members, I have finally realized, have to be kept at an arm’s length, due to their inability to have healthy boundaries with my husband and I. I have prayed (often) and tried to discuss the problem with them individually without resolution. For the welfare of my sanity and my marriage, I now limit contact with them. The third person was different. This is someone who, according to the Bible, I must honor. I have endured criticism from this person my whole life and continued to endure until very recently, when God began to do His work. Miraculously, changes have finally occurred with healing resulting in our relationship. It is truly a work of God, the result of prayerfully leaning on Him. It has not been easy but the forgiving is sweet. Thank you for dealing with this heartache that I know many endure.

  2. Excellent discussion. Avoid the contentious man. And Isaiah 51:23 says, “you have made your back like the ground to be walked over.” I agree–there are times when we should no longer allow abusive and (love your word) toxic people access to our hearts and lives. I have had to cut people off for a season to protect my family and myself. Sometimes they learned how to behave civilly and were welcomed back, and others, not so much.
    The Bible says to guard our hearts. That’s one excellent way.
    Thanks for this great series, Jennifer.

  3. Jennifer,
    I was very touched by this post, so much so, that I will be sharing it with my readers on “Blog Hopping Day” next Wed.
    Thanks for this great series on the topic of forgiveness especially during this Lenten season. At this time, we are very much reminded of the true sacrifice of Christ for the forgiveness of sinners. Blessings to you and yours!

  4. Elaine and Kathleen, I’m always blessed to hear how others have walked through these things. And since each situation is different, I believe hearing different testimonies of how God guided you both helps readers navigate their way through similar struggles.

    Dolores, I am honored. Thank you! And Amen! Blessings to you.

  5. Pingback: BLOG HOPPING DAY ~ Perpetual Offenders: When To Stay And When To Walk Away ~ April 6, 2011 by Jennifer Slattery « A Woman's Voice

  6. Jen,
    I found your blog from a link from Dolores’ post.

    Very well written. Forgiveness is one of the hardest things we do. Our “self” does not want to let go. We cling to feelings that make us feel better (which really don’t but we think it feels good). We get mad and that anger builds. Forgiveness can be such a release – a freedom. Forgiveness requires much work, constant prayer and a faith that God can help us.

    Jan

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