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.