The final step in Monbourquette’s forgiveness model involves a free choice: you can renew or…end the relationship.
The advance word ‘frames this twelve-part series ‘ Growing together towards a new beginning ‘.
We are stuck
“All that talk about forgiveness is pretty nice, but if you’re hurt, it’s no use,” the woman said.
The attendant carefully asked what she meant by that.
“Incest,” the woman said flatly. “That’s what I mean. And it’s no use to me a church telling me to forgive someone like that. It’s taken me years to overcome the traumas of my childhood, and I don’t need anyone to come and tell me to forgive my poor old father and go see him again.”
Many people want to avoid forgiving because they think it means they should continue their relationship with the person who hurt them in the same way. They think that forgiveness means that they have to reconcile with this person and restore the old bond. Everything in them rebels against this thought: their sense of justice, their self-protection, their dreams for the future.
Monbourquette sees other possibilities, considering people’s existential limits.
Thus, his twelfth step in forgiveness offers a free choice: you can renew the relationship or… end it.
But is that real forgiveness? Isn’t reconciliation between the two parties always the final destination of the journey?
Forgiveness and Reconciliation
From his daily experience as a priest and therapist, Monbourquette went searching for the more in-depth meaning of concepts such as forgiveness and reconciliation. For example, he questioned some simplistic views on forgiveness and drew attention to the complexity of forgiveness. For example, forgiving does not mean that you take all the blows with a smile, but that you try to stop injustice, including injustice against yourself.
Forgiveness is a pilgrimage and not a moral achievement.
Forgiveness also means taking care of yourself and caring for the wound. Forgiveness is understanding who hurt you, not just apologizing to them. It is seeing and accepting anger and resentment in yourself. And so forth.
Furthermore, reconciliation can be placed in a wider context. Sometimes reconciliation is narrowed down to moving on again, almost as if nothing happened.
Reconciliation is a much richer concept. When we reconcile, we accept something or someone. We can reconcile with a loved one, but also with life, with our past, with God, with a new view of reality, with a state of health, … Continuing the relationship can be part of the reconciliation, but reconciliation is much broader.
Forgiveness Monbourquette sees as an inner path, which can be walked at any time and by anyone. On that road, we will experience some form of reconciliation.
Perhaps we will reconcile with God and find that God has been reconciled to us.
We can reconcile with ourselves, our past, and our present condition.
On the road to forgiveness, we also reconcile with the other person by learning to see him or her as someone who is seeking love, albeit perhaps in a very wrong way.
We reconcile with the other by being able to sincerely wish him or her a good future, even if that is a future of which we can no longer or do not want to be a part.
Continuing reconciliation in the sense of the relationship can grow. It’s great if that’s possible and happens, but it doesn’t have to be.
We can forgive someone and still end the relationship.
We can forgive someone and continue the relationship on a less intimate level.
We can forgive someone and continue the relationship on a deeper, more beautiful level.
Forgiveness and deepening the relationship
When we walk the path of forgiveness, we are patients, caregivers, and researchers at the same time.
We open ourselves to the healing grace of God. In the meantime, we take good care of the wound and also think about what exactly happened.
We stop to think about the person who hurt us and try to get into his or her skin and listen to his or her story.
Little by little, we also gain insight into our part in what went wrong. We get the chance, without putting ourselves down, to examine our attitudes and the way we react in a personal relationship.
When we have everything in order, the realization can grow that it is still possible to continue and deepen the relationship.
Sometimes we conclude that it is necessary to make new agreements.
A husband agrees with his wife that she will no longer humiliate him in conversations with friends and that if she does, he will alert her with a discreet sign.
A young woman decides to give the relationship another chance when her partner, after a situation of infidelity, seeks therapy.
Two friends agree to tell each other immediately if they don’t think something is okay so that there is no too painful release.
Parents decide to give the relationship another chance when the drug-addicted son promises to go into rehab.
An employer agrees with the unreliable employee that he or she will get another chance if he or she reports more regularly from now on so that such a situation can no longer arise.
Forgiveness in itself is unconditional, you cannot forgive ‘on the condition that because then it is not real forgiveness.
It is an inner path that any individual can travel.
Continuing a relationship is a choice people make together in an imperfect world. This choice often needs to be supported by sound, realistic agreements.
Luc and Jeanine ( ° ) have been happily married for over thirty years. Not that it always went smoothly, but their marriage boat has always continued to sail, and now that the youngest has also left home, they hope to enjoy a second spring in their lives: traveling, hobbies, dinners, … Then it hits. fate: Jeanine gets cancer.
Luc dedicates herself completely to her care and deep gratitude grows in Jeanine. Until then, she had never fully realized how much Luc loved her. With this realization comes the desire to be completely open to him. She doesn’t want anything standing between them anymore.
One evening she confesses to him that she had a brief affair with a friend of his twenty years ago. She asks him to forgive her.
Luc reacts furiously at first. Then comes a deep sadness. Nothing is the same. Jeanine’s honesty has completely changed his view of the past.
Jeanine is startled by his reaction. She had hoped that, after all these years, it might be of less significance.
After a time of detachment, Luc realizes that precious time of their togetherness is slipping through his fingers. He lets go of his pride and begins to speak openly to her. He discovers that he is not the great and only victim of what happened. Jeanine, too, had been deeply hurt by him when he left her alone with their large family for years, focusing all his energies on work. They promise each other that from now on, they will no longer accept painful things, but will speak openly about what is difficult for them. The ideal images of the past are shattered. But their love has survived. It is a love without illusions, but full of hope. The new openness makes them both happy. Luc feels relieved that he can say that sometimes the care is too much for him. Jeanine can tell how lonely she sometimes feels.
They love each other more than ever, just as they are, imperfect humans.
An experience of forgiveness and full reconciliation is one of the most beautiful things life has to offer.
Someone makes a mistake, but asks and gets forgiveness, and as if this weren’t beautiful enough, the relationship becomes deeper and more beautiful than ever before.
It is like in the Bible story of the father with two sons ( Lk 15:11-32 ). The younger son deeply hurts his father and sets out to do his own thing. When everything goes wrong, he regrets it and returns. He begs his father to be a worthy servant. He assumes that his father may forgive him, but that the relationship can never be restored to the way it was, he has done too much damage for that. But the father embraces him and showers him with gifts. He celebrates his return home with a party. The relationship is not less, but more than ever before. For the first time, it becomes a father-son relationship in which love flows from both directions.
We experience a love like that of the father as divine. This love is always there, although we don’t always experience it that way. It is present like the sun that always shines, although there are thick clouds in front of it. We need real repentance and real mercy to make it visible, then we feel this love flowing.
This Bible story wants to give us hope. This love exists, and we were created to experience this love.
However, when we start to use this story as a norm or as a moral duty, we get many reasons to be frustrated in our daily lives. Because often things are different.
Forgiveness and continuing the relationship with more distance
Often the relationship cannot be repaired, let alone deepened or reunited. We see examples of this everywhere.
Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. When there are children, the former partners are faced with the great task of investing, in addition to their mourning, in another, more distant yet good relationship with each other, in the function of the well-being of their children.
Or the trust has been badly damaged and there has been no conversation, no request for forgiveness that could restore it.
Or perhaps the request for forgiveness has been there, but everything indicates that there is no genuine repentance.
Karel ( ° ) is in his fifties and works in the advertising sector. He has been passionately committed to his company for over twenty years and has seen his department continue to grow.
He carefully selects the most talented employees and trains them with enthusiasm. He has every confidence in a young man, Bram, whom he sometimes calls ‘his crown prince’. He sees the same drive for creative advertising in Bram and expects that he will succeed as head of the department within fifteen years. Also on a personal level, we get along well, outside working hours the young and the older family meet as friends.
However, for Bram, 15 years of waiting is far too long. Once his training is complete, he begins to do small things that undermine the authority of his head of department.
When Karel becomes ill and the chances of a full recovery seem slim, Bram sees his chance. He convinces the general manager to give him the promotion to head of the department now.
Karel recovers and returns. He finds a severely thinned department, Bram has taken the best forces and most promising projects to his new department.
Nevertheless, Karel makes a positive decision after a short time: he wants to let go of all resentful thoughts and continue to work with Bram as constructively as possible in the interest of the company. He also wants to continue to see Bram’s many talents in his heart and wishes him the best. However, a friendly relationship is no longer possible.
Perhaps such a situation can still evolve into a recovery of the relationship. However, this requires healing of the wound, cessation of injustice, and sincere repentance.
Forgiveness and ending the relationship
You can walk the path of forgiveness on your own, carried by God’s grace. You don’t need the other person’s permission or remorse to go this way.
Continuing the relationship, whether on a deeper or a more superficial level, does require the willingness of the two parties.
When the other party is determined not to renew the relationship, there’s nothing we can do about it. We can only wish that person the best in silence and remain constructive. We can walk the path of forgiveness ourselves and must leave the future of the relationship in God’s hands.
Other reasons make a (further) relationship impossible. The other person has moved or is unknown, for example when we are hurt by an impersonal organization, or after a hit-and-run. Perhaps our aggressor has already died or has become too old or demented for a conversation.
Or maybe we want to end the relationship altogether because the person poses a real threat to ourselves or our family.
Can we then speak of forgiveness when we don’t want to see someone anymore?
We find the answer to this question in our hearts.
When we can think of someone with kindness and wish him or her the best, we have forgiven this person, even if we have broken off contact. When we recognize that person’s dignity, despite the pain that was inflicted on us, we can give him or her a ‘future’ again.
However, if we feel anger and resentment at any good news about that person, chances are that our pilgrimage to forgiveness is not yet complete.
I saw him on the street. I recognized him immediately.
Still the same swagger, still the same casual smile, and again with a hopelessly in love young thing on his arm. Where did he go to get those young girls? He must have been in his late forties by now. Somehow he manages to keep finding vulnerable girls. And then the violence begins.
We looked each other in the eye. I managed not to look away.
I must not have looked unfriendly, for he nodded, a little hesitantly.
And I nodded back. I even smiled a little.
‘Who was that?’ I heard the girl ask. Her voice sounded high and uncertain.
I hoped for her that he had changed. I hoped so for him.
And I moved on, happy with every step that I was a little further away from him.
Congratulations, you have come to the end of this road in forgiveness.
At least, you have reached the end of the 12 impulses written out about forgiveness.
In reality, it is a path that we will continue to take for the rest of our lives.
And no matter how hard that road is, along the way we see beautiful things.
We find good resting places.
And we discover that we are never alone.
STEP 12 IN A NUTSHELL Reconciliation is a broader concept than continuing the relationship.
We can forgive and continue the relationship on a deeper level.
We can forgive and decide to continue the relationship on a less intimate level.
We can forgive and conclude the relationship to stop.
STEP 12 AT YOUR HOME
Do you want to think for yourself whether you want to renew or end a certain relationship? Once you’ve taken the other steps on the road to forgiveness, it makes sense to ask yourself a few questions first.
You think soberly about yourself as a perpetrator and yourself as a victim.
Questions about your part in or wrongful conduct in the conflict:
How did I come to hurt the other person?
What was my deepest motivation?
What family or cultural history led me to commit such acts?
How can I change my behavior in the future?
Who or what could help me with that?
Questions about your victim experience:
What have I learned about myself?
Have I become a better friend to myself now?
Have I learned to speak softly to myself?
Have I replaced ‘I must’ and ‘I should’ with ‘I would like…’?
Am I able to respect my limits by answering ‘no’ to people’s questions, especially those I love? Can I express my annoyance or hurt at someone’s behavior with I questions?
Do I realize when I have unrealistic expectations of others?
Has my self-esteem grown through the forgiveness process?
Do I feel safe and loved by the merciful, just God? Dare I show myself as I am to the God who became a vulnerable baby, who was close to people, who healed the sick, and who died on the cross for me?
Considering these questions is quite a task that you shouldn’t try to finish in one sitting. It will show you how far you are in your path to forgiveness. It will help you to make your decision regarding the further course of the relationship.
Older children can already be in a lot of trouble with feelings of hatred towards a bully, a teacher, … After the road has been forgiven (stopping injustice, taking care of a wound,…), you can tell them that you have an important task to complete the road.
Ask them if they can find an object that symbolizes one or more qualities of the person who mistreated them.
Ask them to tell you something about their object.
Recognizing this person’s dignity and qualities makes them freer and happier themselves. Maybe you can also watch the movie ‘Dead Man Walking’ with older children (1995)
Dead Man Walking
This film tells the story of Sister Helen Prejean, who accompanies Matthew Poncelet, the murderer of two teenagers, as he awaits his execution. The lurid expression ‘Dead Man Walking’ refers to a convict’s last walk from his cell to the execution site. The father of the murdered teenage boy says this: ‘Forgiveness will never be easy. Every day I have to pray for it. Forgiveness may seem like a weakness, like condoning someone’s crime, but it isn’t. Forgiveness is a way to free and save your own life again.
Because if you don’t forgive, you wake up in the morning with bitterness and hatred and something like that eats you up, and fills you inside with rampant and ever-increasing hatred and revenge.
You then become a walking dead person.’Young children are often masters at forgiving and renewing relationships. Watch them as they do this. Make time to marvel at how they are once again playing diligently with the sibling they were yelling at an hour ago. Wonder how they do this.
Good to know
This twelve-part series on Monbourquette’s path to forgiveness is a project of the Interdiocesan Service of Family Pastoral (IDGP).
°: All names in the testimonials are fictitious, the stories are not.