Why sometimes it is okay to do more than just turn the other cheek and walk away from a friendship.
“As Christians we should be forgiving, but not stupid.”
These words rang in my ears as my friend repeated them to me after hearing them from his professor. Forgiving, not stupid. Though I was slightly taken aback at how harsh the words were, I soon realized how much weight they carried. There is a large difference between the two, and as Christians sometimes we struggle to find the line. However, I believe it is clearer than we make it seem.
There is no easy solution to being hurt in this harsh world. The only guarantee that is afforded to us is that we will be hurt at some point. Far too often, the things that hurt most come from those who are close to us. Typically, the closer the person the more pain they cause. As a college student and a Christian, situations in which someone hurts you can be hard. What do you do when you are hurt by the person who was never supposed to be the source of your pain?
The Gospels are arguably some of the most quoted books of the Bible, particularly Matthew. From this Gospel comes the famous “forgive seventy times seven times,” and the concept of turning the other cheek when someone hurts you. These words have been the leading argument for those who believe that forgiveness is the only way to deal with those who hurt you. The main argument for these verses is that you should forgive someone even though they have hurt you because you have been forgiven. Always forgive and continue with the friendship.
But there are toxic people in the world. There are people that we should not be letting back into our lives once we’ve let them go. Sometimes, we are so big on the idea of forgiving people that we forget to take a step back and notice all the verses in the Bible that talk about guarding your heart. Proverbs 4:23 tells us explicitly, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” This means that you are supposed to make sure that you are always able to love because every action ought to be from your heart. Never let your heart be so hardened that it is difficult to love. So, what are we supposed to do? Protect ourselves and walk away or forgive and forget?
This problem is one that has been faced for generations. When does the hurt become unforgivable? In the world we live in, everything is a dichotomy, but only because we make it one. We must always guard our hearts, but we are called to forgive as we have been forgiven by the Lord for our trespasses. Sometimes that means loving another person from a distance.
Though we may forgive, we must learn that there is a level of hurt that is unforgivable and that it is okay to walk away from the pain. Sometimes, people are simply too toxic for our own good.
Marisa Donnelly of Thought Catalog puts it best in saying that “Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you allow them a free passage back into your heart. It doesn’t mean that you open the doors to your life and give them the key…Forgiveness means you accept what wrongs have been done to you, you let go of those wrongs, you calm your heart with God’s love and patience, and you begin again—with or without that person.”
Forgiveness is not the same thing as acceptance. It does not mean that everything has to go back to the way it was or that you forget everything that has happened. It is okay, in fact it’s healthy, to realize some people must be kept at a distance. Not everyone was meant to stick around forever.
From the other perspective, not everyone deserves to be punished for every little wrong thing that occurs. Though there are times in our life that we should learn to walk away, as a generation we reach that point all too soon. While forgiveness does not require that the person become our best friend again, the alternative does not have to be constantly restarting our friendships. The only way to get to a stable relationship is to work for it, whether that relationship be romantic or friendly.
Filip Stoeckle for the Good Men Project writes, “Younger generations tend to break up with each other as soon as the first rain comes. Then they go out looking for the next partner, and the same scene happens again, and again. They think that changing the person they are with will resolve their issues; blind to the fact that the same problems lay ahead.”
We have begun to take the advice of guarding our hearts to the extreme by cutting out anyone at the first sign of hurt. While we should not be willing to consistently be hurt by anyone, we should not run at the first sign of pain.
Neither extreme is a good option. As Christians, we should always strive to find the middle ground in guarding our hearts and forgiving. We are supposed to be slaves to nothing, yet grudges make us slaves to the people who hurt us.
Ed Chinn from Focus on the Family suggests that “Forgiveness requires us to deal with our past–not our present or future. We have to let go of our past in order to fill up the present and bless the future.” I believe this is the only way to move on.
We must always forgive one another 70 times seven, but it is okay to not let people back in. Do not suffer indefinitely simply because you two used to be close.
After being hurt so many times in my life, I have learned a thing or two about what it means to walk away. “Healthy” looks different for every relationship. If the person is not positively influencing your life and making you a noticeably better person, or at least not hindering you in any major way, it may be time to walk away. If the person has done you wrong on accident and they still obviously want the best for you, that relationship might be worth working on. Being hurt over a simple lack of communication or a little fight is not worth giving up. However, if their morality and personality have changed in such a way that the person does not add to your life, then maybe it is time to let them go.
Friends will fight and need time apart. If we are always striving to be Christ-like we should always strive to put each other first. Forgiveness will go both ways and we will always be bettering each other.
As Matthew 10:16 suggests, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Turn the other cheek because you are told to. Be kind. Be loving. Forgive because you were forgiven. But always know when to turn the other cheek and walk the other direction, not to let yourself be slapped again.
Be forgiving, not stupid.