When we truly forgive, the debt is paid, just as our debt was paid when Christ died on the cross. As I stated in the first part of this series, we can only reach healing when we forgive those who have hurt us. And, for those of us who are Christians, it is also part of our faith to try to forgive others just as Christ forgave us.
Our forgiveness is not filled with contingencies. Giving forgiveness should not be based on getting anything in return from those who have hurt us. First of all, besides an apology, what could anyone possibly give us to repair the hurt or damage? And second, we may never get an apology or even an acknowledgement that we were harmed or hurt in anyway. In fact, if we were to tell a person that we forgive them, their response could be anything from remorse to indifference…and everything in between. Forgiving is not about what we get. We forgive because it sets us free!
But, being forgiving does not mean we can’t put boundaries in place. It doesn’t mean we have to accept the unacceptable not does it mean we are willing to accept abuse. As Christians, we are to love unconditionally. But, boundaries have nothing to do with our love for an individual, even if we may not be liking them very much. Establishing boundaries means that we acknowledge our value and worth as God sees us.
Boundaries are critical to moving forward. And boundaries are critical to keeping safe. I mean…what good is there to healing from prior hurts if you allow someone to hurt you all over again?
Some boundaries are obvious. In cases of sexual abuse, boundaries may mean limited access to you and your family. Unfortunately, families frequently wear blinders and refuse to accept that the abuse ever happened. If you were abused as a child, there is no way that you would ever leave your own children alone with the predator. And, while other family members might not understand why you aren’t just moving on, ultimately, you need to protect your children.
Another obvious situation where boundaries are needed is when a friend betrays you. While it is important to forgive them for both your sakes, it is highly unlikely that you will ever trust that ‘friend’ the same way again. Nor will you ever return to your former intimate closeness.
Other situations requiring boundaries may not be so obvious. Sometimes we have to limit people’s access to us simply because of the mess they have made in their own lives. And, if they aren’t even willing to acknowledge that mess, we may feel the need to become completely unavailable to them. Our love for them doesn’t change; we just have to restrict them from our lives simply because of the damage that spills over because of their drama. I think women, particularly, have a problem with this. Although it is said that men need to fix things, I find it is women who want to fix relationships.
When I decided to forgive my father for the years of physical and verbal abuse, that also meant that I redefined our relationship. Even though I was adult in all other aspects of my life, I realized that when dealing with my father, I became a little girl again. My reactions to him were immature and willful. And I was disrespectful as well. When I was a child and living in his household, I had no control over my life. I certainly couldn’t openly disagree with him because I feared what he would do to me.
When I reached adulthood and lived on my own, I knew he could no longer physically hurt me or ‘punish’ me, so I took every opportunity I could to push his buttons. What I didn’t realize was that in acting immaturely with and toward him, I did nothing to earn his respect. And, so despite my thinking otherwise, my father continued to punish me by withholding his love and approval. Regardless of how much I claimed to hate him, I really did want to know my father loved me.
In this case, the boundaries I set had more to do with my behavior than it did with his. While I wanted my father to respect my abilities and my decisions, I needed to also recognize when I was acting with disrespect, my father shut me out. He was then incapable of hearing any truth in my words, regardless of how well informed I might be. It took a lot of self-restraint on my part. And, a great deal of biting my tongue!
In the end, boundaries really have to do with trust. The less we trust someone, the stronger and bigger the boundaries need to be. And, whether or not the boundaries ever come down is not dependent on time or distance…it should only be dependent upon whether trust is restored.