Ambiance of Grace   4 comments

Forgiveness part 6: Grace-infused relationships

(I found my flash drive with my notes on forgiveness, so I’ll continue sharing my thoughts.  So far I discussed the need for mutual understanding and self-support in relational conflicts.)

Forgiveness seems like such a wonderful resolution to any conflict… until you forgive me for a lie I did not tell or a missing wallet I did not steal.  Here is the downside of forgiveness–it starts with blame.  I was raised in a family that believed every conflict or pain in relationship was someone’s fault.  If I feel hurt, it’s your fault or if you’re innocent, then I’m wrong to feel hurt.  Someone’s always guilty.  Every conflict was resolved by making the wrongdoer confess and apologize, a power struggle with a winner and loser (really no one wins, and the relationship suffers).  Forced apologies are a stipend of American families: “Tell your brother you’re sorry!”


Genuine forgiveness is only one part of a whole gracious worldview with which I perceive others and relate to them.  What others consider an issue of forgiveness is often simply an issue of acceptance for Kimberly and me.  We offer grace to one another (patience, understanding, benefit of the doubt) without making it a question of someone being right and someone being wrong–we are both flawed and we want to create an environment where we are accepted with our shortcomings.  We do this all the time in facing mild irritations—when she slams kitchen cupboards or I forget to empty the vacuum cleaner canister.  But even with big issues, I have learned from Kimberly that the path of blame and forgiveness is usually a misguided diversion from sorting out our problems with grace.


Using my family’s approach, I tried in our first few years of marriage to help her see her faults and correct them (shame her into goodness), but she would have none of it–it was not her deeds but my perceptions that were faulty.  She was right, we needed better understanding and acceptance, not better behavior.  Love certainly inspires us to change for one another, but it is the result of acceptance, not the basis for it.  She and I have unique personalities and values, fears and pleasures, histories and perspectives, so we experience the same things quite differently.  This does not make one of us right and the other wrong, one better and one worse. We are learning to appreciate our differences.



It’s true that Kimberly doesn’t tell me lies or steal my wallet, but neither do my colleagues or neighbors usually… not even most strangers I meet.  Certainly there is plenty of real wrong in the world, evil that needs to be identified, confronted, and forgiven. But to me, that is the relational ER.  For most of my daily interactions I want to foster a spirit of humble and loving acceptance and understanding.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy, and Lord knows I need a lot of it.



Posted June 17, 2013 by janathangrace in thoughts

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4 responses to “Ambiance of Grace

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  1. Best line in this piece: Love certainly inspires us to change for one another, but it is the RESULT of acceptance, not the basis for it.

    It’s such an important distinction!! And it serves to increase love, rather than resentment, as when change is the basis for acceptance. So, it’s “I love you, and so I want to do or become this, and I truly feel enriched for it” rather than, “because I love you, I’m supposed to do this so you can feel better about me, even though I’d rather just do or be what I’ve always been and done.”

    • Yes, we are always wanting to earn one another’s acceptance and love, and we feel as though the other person doesn’t love us unless they change. You taught me the unexpected truth that what I really want is the other person’s care and concern about my feelings and then what they do for me is much less important. We tend to think that cooperative behavior proves love, but it can just as well prove fear or pride or shame. True love springs most naturally from a context of acceptance rather than expectations.

  2. hmm. I think I see forgiveness as not at all about the other person – not something I say or “give” to the other person. It’s more like something I do inside my own mind about the other person – changing their status in my mind – changing their location in my mind – and deleting the location of anger or resentment or accusation or whatever negative place I had classified whatever I was feeling bad about them before. That seems like a process rather than a decision I think. Sort of a long erasing and moving of a house. It takes awhile.

    • Mardi, thanks for reading and commenting. I will eventually get to your idea that forgiveness is what I do for myself rather than the other person. I think that is primarily true, although whatever I do good, truly good, for myself will necessarily be healthy for my relationships. Especially when it involves my perspective of the other person, it can have dramatic effects. Still, that is a secondary result of the internal, private forgiveness. I think folks often, to their detriment, confuse forgiveness and reconciliation (as well as forgiveness and mercy). However, the public confession (“I forgive you”) of the private act can be very important in reconciliation, especially as a response to an expression of remorse or admission of wrong by the other party. In other words, reconciliation is usually carried on through dialogue, and I think (when it is appropriate and true) that it is important for both parties to agree that wrong has been done, and for the wronged party (if appropriate, true, and healthy) to express openly their granting forgiveness (“I hold no ill will against you in spite of your wrongdoing”).

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