"Dear Vonnie" Forgiveness

Dear Vonnie,

I have a question about the definition of forgiveness. Months ago, ... one of my neighbors "verbally" attacked me through an email. We had a seemingly good relationship and I hadn't noticed any animosity from her, but apparently this had been brewing for a while. I tried to respond in a kind manner while standing by my own opinions. She responded even more viciously, tearing into me until I was reduced to tears just reading it.

After a couple days, I wrote and apologized for anything I had done that had offended her, but told her honestly that she had hurt me and I was still crying even then. She wrote back and said she was sorry that I "misunderstood", but I honestly don't think I did.

She wants to act like it never happened, but I told her that I was going to have a problem trusting her and I needed some time. She hasn't really respected this. Now, when she emails me, I cringe before I open them and often don't feel like responding. I just can't erase the thought that it will happen again if I do something that offends her in the least way, and I am afraid to trust her.

I don't call her anymore, though I would answer the phone if she called me. I didn't buy her a Christmas gift (although I was planning to cut back on gifts anyway), but I did make a bag of goodies for her and her family. I just don't want to put myself out there around her anymore.

My question is, have I truly forgiven her? I feel like I have, because I don't hate her for it or anything. But does not completely forgetting it and going back to the way things were mean I'm holding it against her? This has been bothering me for some time now, but when I ask myself if I've forgiven her, I always feel like I really have. But then why is it still bothering me???
I hope you can help...

--Confused Person

Dear Confused,

I have been in a similar situation. I was hurt by someone who had been like a sister. I also wondered if I had completely forgiven her. I didn't feel I could teach my Sunday School class about forgiveness, if I still had distrust in my heart. I talked to my pastor about it, and he said there is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.

Forgiveness is your own feelings about another person of letting go of the hurt, whether they are sorry or not. It cannot be conditional. Reconciliation is a mutual restoration of both parties, putting differences aside to give the relationship another chance. Most of the time, we must forgive someone without a full restoration.

I think once there has been a break in trust, there is always a scar of remembrance. The Bible tells us that God doesn't remember our sins anymore. We don't have that ability. I wish we did.I wish I could just forget it ever happened. Only God can overcome this fleshly hindrance.

I think a true test of forgiveness is to be able to love that person again in such a way that you are able to make yourself vulnerable again. I know of spouses who have forgiven an unfaithful husband or wife. I'm sure there will always be a tender spot, but they are willing to be hurt again for love's sake.

I can't know your heart. Only you and God know if you have completely forgiven this person. Have you come to the place that you can open yourself to them again, with the risk of being hurt again. Jesus said to forgive seven times seven, or until we have lost count, until there is no bitterness left at all.

Dear Lord, this pricks my heart too. I know there are areas that I feel the head of bitterness rising in self-defense. Teach us to love others as You love us, unconditionally and patiently. Let us see our sin as You see it and ask for Your cleansing. In Jesus' Name, Amen

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