Jane and Mary had always been great friends, but one day when Jane went to speak with Mary before church, Mary tossed her head back and marched out of the room.  Jane wasn’t sure what she had done wrong, but it made her angry that Mary had refused to speak with her.

After church, when Mary tried to speak with Jane, Jane ignored her out of spite for Mary's snooty behavior earlier.

Several months later, after lots of whispering and side-taking between Jane and Mary and their respective friends had hardened into a major church conflagration that divided family from family, the pastor called for a meeting with the two women to effect a reconciliation.

Discussion indicated that it came back to the morning when Mary threw her head back and marched out of the church, refusing to speak with Jane.  The pastor asked Mary to explain.

“I remember that morning,” Mary said.  “I threw my head back because my nose had suddenly started bleeding and I didn’t want to ruin my dress.  I rushed to the rest room because I didn’t have a tissue.”

We might think this is the exception for breaches in relationships.  I believe it’s the rule.  There was no intentional malice here.  There was misunderstanding.  After forty years of public speaking and written interaction, and having spent many hours in counseling and conversations, I have concluded that misunderstanding is the default of communication.

We don’t always say what we think we said.
We don’t always hear what we thought we heard.
We don’t always read body language correctly.
We easily read into what we’re reading and therefore misread it.
We even misinterpret punctuation and emojis!  ("You put the smiley face there to be sarcastic!")

When there is a breach in a relationship, I have found most people want to resolve it by properly assigning blame.  I prefer to start by searching for where a misunderstanding may have occurred.  If we understand how we misunderstood (or were misunderstood), and if we can grant that we all do this (and do it easily and often), then we arrive at a proper understanding and the breach is healed.  Or at least it should be.

Understanding, not forgiveness, is required.  The need to exercise forgiveness comes into play after a probing into misunderstanding fails to be fruitful, either because one or both parties refuse to acknowledge that a misunderstanding occurred, or because one or both parties straightforwardly admit that there was no misunderstanding -- that they intended harm.

That is when forgiveness is required, and that is what makes forgiveness difficult.