Harm. Abuse. Accident. There are any number of ways that one human or an institution can harm another. Some “harm” is intended, others unintended. Some completely accidental, others planned and still others the result of unthinking and self-focused neglect.
How you feel about the harm likely has something to do with your assessment of the motives and intent behind the harmful behavior. Now, imagine for a minute that you were about to meet with someone who harmed you in a significant way. Do you know what their motives were at the time of the harm? Do you know how they think about it now? Further, do you know what you think about concepts such as forgiveness and reconciliation? Repentance?
It is my experience that we sometimes rush individuals to meet and reconcile with someone who has harmed them before gathering some important data. Before you meet with someone who has harmed you, consider the following questions in order to clarify what you think and believe:
1. Of the person who harmed me:
- the intention behind their harmful behavior and their intention behind this meeting (if they requested it)
- Did they intend to hurt me?
- Do they want to apologize? Do they want to blame me?
- their understanding of harm they caused and their current feelings now
- Do they really believe they caused me harm?
- Are they remorseful?
- Have they made changes in their life so this won’t happen again?
- their current relationship desires and expectations
- Are they looking for me to forgive them? To forget? To take ownership of a portion of the problem?
- Do they expect me to act as if it never happened?
- Do they want me to release them from the consequences?
- Do they want an ongoing relationship? Do I have the freedom to choose?
- Am I ready to speak the truth in love?
- Am I tempted to sugarcoat the truth? Rage?
- Am I tempted to offer forgiveness too quickly, too slowly?
- Do I see the offender as no different from myself, in need of mercy?
- Do I know what outcome I desire?
- Am I willing to give a fair hearing rather than prejudge?
- Do I know the difference between justice and revenge?
- Do I know the differences between reconciliation, restitution, restoration, and repentance?
- Do I know what forgiveness looks and feels like (and what it does not look and feel like)?
- Do I want to forgive even if the person asking for forgiveness doesn’t seem to get how badly they hurt me?
3. Of the system
- What are the human system consequences of meeting/not meeting. Similarly, what are the consequences of reconciling/not reconciling, forgiving/not forgiving?
- What are the system pressures/expectations on me?
- What promises does God provide in the kingdom system? What protections? What comforts?
- What expectations does God place on Believers? Does the command to forgive mean to forget or live as if it never happened?
It is important to be prayerful as we answer these questions. The intensity of the meeting and the swirling emotions will make it hard for us to evaluate ourselves, the offender, and the system. The more preparation, the better shot we will for being at peace with our responses to a difficult situation.