When my oldest daughter entered first grade, my wife and I anxiously attended Mrs. White’s first grade back-to-school night to hear her philosophy of classroom management and her expectations for the students. Partway through her lecture, Mrs. White directed our attention to two small chairs facing each other at the side of the classroom.
On the back of each seat hung a sign that read Talk About It Chairs. “I believe children need to learn early on how to resolve their differences,” Mrs. White said. “So whenever a conflict arises, it’s my practice to send the children involved to the Talk About It Chairs to work through their problem. Once they are finished, they can leave and go back to their classroom duties.”
“What if they can’t work it out?” I asked.
“They stay there until they do,” Mrs. White replied.
Then another parent joked, “We’re the ones who need those chairs.”
I think if we adults are being honest, we know that we could have Talk About It Chairs in every room of our lives and we’d still choose to live with not forgiving. The reasons are obvious: We’ve tried the Talk About It Chairs and we don’t like them. Or we’re afraid we won’t. They’re uncomfortable—too hard, and they hurt our backs. The process takes too long.
Not forgiving is the path of least resistance. It’s part of our human nature; we do what we think will cause us the least amount of pain. If it were easier to express anger appropriately and genuinely listen to others, accepting responsibility for our actions and pain as part of the human journey, we would choose the Talk About It Chairs. But it’s not, so we choose living with not forgiving.
For most people, finally going to the Talk About It Chairs with the person who hurt us will be a key part of the process of forgiveness. But what if that person is unwilling to go there with us? What if going to the chairs would cause a tremendous amount of unwarranted pain for me and my loved ones? What if attempts at reconciliation would end up causing more harm than good? God’s answer is simple: don’t attempt reconciliation.
Forgiveness and reconciliation are two similar but unrelated actions. You can have one without the other. Forgiveness is something you can do on your own; reconciliation takes two parties. Forgiveness is unilateral; reconciliation can’t happen if two people won’t sit down at the chairs. Forgiveness is commanded in Scripture (Colossians 3:13, 14). Reconciliation is not commanded but is highly suggested if possible (Romans 12:18).
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