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Forgiveness and Trust Have Different Timelines

During our recent Naked and Unashamed Marriage Conference, my husband and I were sharing about living forgiven and forgiving. As the group we were speaking to wrestled with what forgiveness entailed, I was yet again reminded of how the practice is both familiar and foreign.

We know intellectually that forgiveness is a necessity to thriving, maturing, intimate relationships. We ask for it, wait for it, desire it, and even demand it, but as C.S. Lewis points out, “We all agree that forgiveness is a beautiful idea until we have to practice it.”

In my earlier posts (Forgiveness, The Great Exchange Part 1 and 2), I began to unpack the why and the how to forgiveness. This post continues the conversation by focusing on one particular nuance, mainly the relationship between forgiveness and trust.

Forgiveness and trust are assumed as occurring together. It’s expected that the later accompanying the former. But have you ever said “I forgive you” and still found yourself guarded, hesitant to be as open and vulnerable as you once were before the offense? Have you ever questioned and doubted your forgiveness? Or if, “I forgive you” was offered to you and wondered why they are stuck, not moving on and struggling to have faith in you especially after you’ve expressed sincere remorse?

If the answer is yes to any or all three scenarios, how are we to reconcile forgiveness and trust, when they seem to compete and be at odds?

Could it be, that both are true, that one does not negate the other?

This is where I’m led to wonder and infer that forgiveness and trust have different timelines. Forgiveness and trust are part of the same process of repairing relationships but they come to fruition at differing junctures.

Forgiveness is an intentional decision (in response to Christ’s forgiveness extended to us) for the purpose and hope of restoring a relationship. Where there is betrayal and harm, something of death and robbery whether trivial or significant, the absence of repentance and forgiveness would make trust foolish. Forgiveness invites trust yet trust is not an automatic, guaranteed outcome of “I forgive you.”

The word “trust” is rooted in the Old English word “troth” which literally means “truth.” Thus, trust flourishes where truth is. Trust can’t be rushed or hurried or shortened. It is not blind. It’s grounded on evidence and strengthened over time, over numerous truthful moments expressed, exercised, and experienced.

Without trust, a relationship is hindered from deepening in maturity, intimacy, and security. It is put on hold. That’s why some relationships can experience forgiveness but will remain wisely and appropriately cautious, guarded and at a distance. Full and deep restoration and reconciliation is not be possible, or at least not yet, not until trust is rebuilt.

In my next post, I’ll explore how rebuilding trust always involves risk.

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