Being “ghosted” by close friends has been one of the most painful experiences on my Christian journey. For me, the experience is one where life feels like all is normal and secure, and then– poof… your circle of friends are gone.
Christian ghosting is something that feels like enduring several divorces all at once– divorces that you didn’t see coming. The devastating impact of being ghosted by your Christian social circle is something that’s quite difficult to exaggerate.
I honestly wish that “Christian ghosting” was something that only a few of us knew about and had experienced, but the other day when I wrote my first post on the topic, I quickly realized this was an experience that so very many of us share in common. Often I’d feel good and accomplished when a quarter-million people read just one of my posts in the span of a few weeks, but this time, it made my heart sink– because the reality that my experience was a common experience, stung inside the deepest parts of me.
So, I figured this was a topic that perhaps we should explore more. First up, is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation, after you’ve been ghosted.
No matter what topic one is talking about, the issue of forgiveness and reconciliation is one that I feel evangelicals and progressive Christians fail to handle very well. Both sides, at times, have a propensity to blend these two concepts together in ways that are less than helpful. Evangelicals often come across with an attitude towards forgiveness that sounds like, “You have to forgive. Forget about it. Move on. Stop harboring bitterness. Treat them normally like it didn’t even happen.” On the flip side, progressives often blend the two concepts together and have a way of sounding like, “How *dare* you tell someone to forgive people who hurt them so badly!?”
The reality is, both sides get it wrong– and it’s because they’re blending two different concepts that are not the same. This is why, as I reflected on the pain of being ghosted by close Christian friends, I wrote, “there is forgiveness, but there will never be reconciliation.”
For those of us who have a continued commitment to following Jesus, it’s true that forgiveness is a command, not an option. Jesus actually painted this in pretty strong terms, saying that if we forgive, we will receive forgiveness, but that if we refuse to forgive, we’ll experience the very same thing we refuse to give others (Matthew 6:15, Mark 11:26). Thus, no matter how painful the wound or how unjustified people were when inflicting it, I know that for me– one committed to following Jesus– I have to forgive.
And so, I do. I pray, “Father, forgive them” as often as I can.
However, I can forgive while also saying, “no” to reconciliation– because they are not the same. We are never commanded to reconcile with people who are unrepentant, people who will likely continue a pattern of harming us, and who take no responsibility for their actions or express a sincere desire and commitment to change. We can obey the command to forgive them, without placing ourselves in a position to re-play old patterns of behavior that are painful and destructive.
For example, after being abandoned by friends in a way that was not only deeply painful for myself, but the rest of my family, why in the world would I go back and join their church and put myself or anyone else in the position to experience the same thing all over again? Nothing about that is smart, wise, or biblical. Reconciliation is something that’s never automatic– and the only way a path can be found to reconciliation is when the offender is first deeply repentant.
But yes, I can forgive. In fact, to faithfully follow Jesus, I have to.
When we look at the flavor of the word “forgive” in biblical Greek, we don’t see a word that reminds us of reconciliation– in fact, we actually find the opposite. The actual word for forgive means to “release” and to “send away.” This understanding of forgiveness actually makes it much easier to forgive– and it helps me see why forgiveness is not really for them at all, but a gift God wants me to give myself.
To forgive those who inflicted the pain of Christian ghosting, I don’t reconcile at all– I send away. I let go. I move on.
To forgive, I say: “Okay God, I’m moving on. I’m no longer going to wake up every day holding onto this pain as if it’s a prized possession. I release this life event to you, and trust you to handle it.”
I forgive because Jesus commands me to. I forgive, because it frees my heart and emotional energy to move on with life and invest that energy into other things.
I forgive not out of some obligation to them, but out of love for myself.
But I refuse to reconcile, because reconciliation involves the one who wounded to first be repentant, and requires them to willingly and fully enter into a process of change, so that a relationship with them would be safe again. We can’t do that part for people no matter how much we may want to, only they can.
Until or unless that unlikely process happens, we can love ourselves by sending the situation away (forgiving) and also using the God-given wisdom that says, “It’s okay to not put yourself right back in a situation where they could do that to you all over again.”
So, for those of us who have been deeply wounded by Christian friends who have ghosted us– I pray you’ll forgive.
Not for them– but for you.
Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com.