Les Miserables opens with Jean Valjean completing a 19-year prison sentence for stealing bread to feed his starving nephew. As with so many ex-offenders, it is difficult for Jean Valjean to re-enter into society. A kind Bishop takes Valjean into his home, but is repaid when Valjean steals his silver and runs away. When the police catch Valjean and bring him and the silver back, the Bishop tells the police that he had given the silver to Valjean and makes a show of giving him the even more valuable silver candlesticks that he had ‘forgotten.’ The Bishop forgives Valjean, and challenges him to become an honest man.
Les Miserables is an incredible story of wild and extravagant forgiveness that is not expected, deserved or merited. The Bishop, having been wronged, extends his grace so that Valjean will not return to prison. Forgiveness is difficult, not easy, it is costly, not cheap, it is sometimes asked for and other times simply given.
Forgiveness is the essential requirement for repairing relationships that have been damaged through disagreeing badly. It begins with a realisation and recognition that something has gone wrong – “I realise I have hurt you.” The next step is to express remorse and regret – “I’m so sorry I didn’t intend to.” Thirdly it’s important to ask for restoration and restitution – “Please will you forgive me.” Finally, it offers reassurance – “I promise I won’t do it again.”
Sometimes these four steps to repairing relationships merge together. When there is significant hurt, then deliberately teasing out each step can help the journey of forgiveness. On some occasions, the assistance of a third party facilitator or mediator can help in the process of putting things right. There was a work situation where someone felt aggrieved by me, and so we used a mediator to help us hear each other and clear the air, which was a huge help.
Some people unfortunately make friends with un-forgiveness; they feed it, water it and nurture it. Just like a weed in the garden; the longer you leave un-forgiveness, the more it takes root and the harder it is to remove. It creates bitterness and resentment which makes positive relationships increasingly more difficult.
Disagreeing well is the best path. However, when you disagree badly, then forgiveness is the only healthy answer.