Prior to my first seizure and revelation of Goliath, I was dealing with a difficult situation in my life. Some people who were extremely close to me, made some poor decisions that resulted in a breakdown of trust and left me feeling betrayed. These are the types of things that lead to bitterness. (See one of my recent posts for a deeper discussion of bitterness). I knew that this was not the path for me. The next step was forgiveness (again see my recent post on forgiveness for more information on how that process works). For me, the question I had was what’s next? What comes after forgiveness? In terms of dealing with these individuals, how do I act around them? What is our relationship supposed to look like? I didn’t have an answer that made sense to me. Often times I have heard people say “the bible says that we are required to forgive, but we are not required to reconcile.” I will be honest, I struggled with this statement as for me, the entire concept of Jesus, is that through him, we can be forgiven and reconciled to God. The reality is that we are all sinners, we all make mistakes, we all screw-up. But we have hope in Jesus, that even in our weakness and when we are at our worst, we can be restored and made whole. Through him we can be made into new creatures.
“Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things are passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
I kept asking myself, would Jesus ever forgive, but not reconcile? So I did some reading. Keep in mind that I am not some scholar, I am a CPA, a numbers guy, I am not a psychologist. In fact I am a person with brain cancer – so I am not an expert on this topic by any means. So upon my reading of the bible, I did not find a place where the bible directly links forgiveness and reconciliation together. However on the flip side, I did not find a place in the bible that says that the two are not linked. So I am not sure that I would agree with the comment that that bible says that we are required to forgive, but not to reconcile. Omission of something, in my mind, does not mean that something is confirmed.
The closest thing that I found was this:
New International Version (NIV)
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
New International Version (NIV)
Warning and Encouragement
14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
Basically from my point of view we are commanded to make every effort to live a peace with people to the best of our abilities. The truth is, when it comes to a relationship, it takes two people not just one. Our requirement is to fulfill our end of the bargain. But we are only one side of a two sided equation.
I view this as we are asked to try and reconcile, where it is possible. Now I will be frank, there are some times in which reconciliation is not OK, there are times when reconciliation should not be present. The most obvious case is abuse. In a relationship where abuse is present, forgiveness is not a good enough reason to reconcile. Safety must be present. This is critical, in an unsafe relationship, reconciliation should not occur. It may lead to a continued cycle of abuse, which is not right, nor how we are intended to live.
In my circumstance, abuse was not present, nor were their any issues of safety, it revolved around a lack of trust and betrayal. But I would argue there is a part of emotional and mental safety that is still important. As I went through the process of being truly able to forgive, I really struggled with the “what now” question. Now that I have forgiven these people, how am I supposed to act? How am I supposed to be when I am around them? This was a difficult situation for me. I knew that I need to have a buffer of emotional safety in future interactions, but what does that look like. If I am excluding these people from events and functions in which they were once welcome and then asking others to exclude them from events and functions all on my behalf, is that truly an act of safety? Or am I mixing in a little bit of punishment. I am using my need for “safety” as a justification for inflicting pain?
Granted we all have a price to pay for our sin, that is not something that forgiveness excludes us from . There are consequences that we must pay for our transgressions. However if we truly have forgiven someone and they have paid for their transgressions, I think that if we keep looking for ways to punish them, then we really have not truly forgiven them and we are fooling ourselves to think that we have really forgiven them. We can’t claim to forgive, but keep looking to punish. The two cannot coexist. That was my huge struggle, I felt like I needed to protect myself and be safe, but I had a very difficult time figuring out where safety ended and punishment began.
I knew that I didn’t want to be one of those people who would claim to forgive, but be out the next day speaking poorly of the people that hurt me or be the person who cited the virtues of forgiveness and the cross, but was still looking for ways to punish and judge the people who had hurt me. The truth is that as people at some point we will all screw up, we will all hurt someone deeply. I know that I have done it, and will probably do it again. I would like to live my life as Christ did, which means not being a hypocrite. I did not want to be like the pharisee in the parables of Jesus. Saying one thing, but then living another way. But at the same point I wanted to make sure that I was safe and would not open myself up to be deeply wounded again. I knew that I needed to reconcile, but how to do that?
One of the concepts that I thought about was the fact that forgiveness is provided by grace. Whereas reconciliation is something that is earned. The person who committed the offense does not need to do anything to be forgiven, but if they desire reconciliation, there are things they must do to earn it. They have a path to walk out, if they desire reconciliation. In some cases the offender does not desire reconciliation – they are not willing to walk the difficult path. In that case, we need to forgive, but their will not be any reconciliation, as again it takes two.
I came up with some ground rules for myself to follow during this process of reconciliation. Here they are:
1. Repentance: This is the first step. The offender must truly realize what they did was bad and truly be sorry for what they did. When my boys get into arguments, many end with me intervening and then asking one of them to say they are sorry for there actions. After one of them says they are sorry, a common phrase from me is “OK now say it like you mean it.” Too often we say that we are sorry because we are supposed to or because that is what is expected. But really we are just sorry that we got caught. We aren’t truly sorry. If this is how the offender feels, than their is no reconciliation. The first step, to me, is true repentance. The offender must understand the true depths of their actions. If this does not occur, then I do not think reconciliation should or could ever occur.
2. Change: This is the part of the process, if the offender truly wants to reconcile, then they need to seek assistance to try and fix the issue that lead to the problem. For example if someone is causing breakdowns in relationships because of an addiction problem such as drugs or alcohol. It is imperative that that person seeks assistance for their problem. I would also say that this assistance needs to be from an outside source. Too often we think that we can fix ourselves. But the truth is we can’t. If the offender is not willing to get help, then again I don’t think that reconciliation should or can proceed. In some cases, the change could be quitting a job or moving to get away from the temptation or influence that led to the transgression. It can be a lot of things, but it must be the active choice of the offender to resolve the underlying problem. They need to get to the root of the problem and get help in most cases that is beyond themselves.
3. Boundaries: The next step is the boundaries need to be developed and implemented. Boundaries keep us safe and this process is critical to the restoration of trust. Most of the time, trust is broken due to the lack of boundaries, someone crosses a boundary and it destroys trust. So to restore trust, boundaries must be made and the offender needs to respect and follow the boundaries. During this process the boundaries can be adjusted at any time if the offended deems it necessary. One key is that no matter how silly these might seem, if the offender truly wants to reconcile, they must respect and honor these.
4. Time: Time is key. The offender must walk out the above items over time. In many cases, that is not an easy task. The old rule of thumb is that it takes a few weeks to form a bad habit and months to break it. Trust works the same way. It takes years to build, but can be destroyed in a few minutes. Time is required to re-build that trust that was broken and so a path that the offender is willing to walk the walk for a while. Each person will have their own time table and in each case, time is something that can’t be rushed.
5. Expectations: This is important as well. The offender must be willing to walk out the above items without expectation of anything from the person they hurt. This is not a situation where a tit for tat mentality can be present. In some cases, trust may not be restored, despite the offenders best efforts. Also the truth is that no matter what, the new relationship will have new rules, new boundaries. It can never be the same as it was before. The relationship will forever be different. I am not saying that it can’t still be a wonderful relationship, but it will be different. It will have different boundaries, different rules. Thus both parties must know that things will be different and should not bring future expectations into the process. The only appropriate expectation is that the boundaries will be followed.
This the game plan that I have chosen to use. Granted it won’t work for everyone. But it has for me.
Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son. It is one of those stories that we have all heard. The son who asks for his inheritance ahead of time. His father grants his request and gives him his share of the family fortune. The son takes the money leaves home and then proceeds to enter into a life of friends, partying, and free spending. Soon he finds himself broke and rummaging just to find food. As it looks at stealing food from some pigs, he realizes that he royally messed up and decides to go home and admit his failures. He figures that he could be at least a laborer on his father’s fields and he would eat better than he is now. He realizes his folly, reaches a moment of true repentance. Then he makes a change in his life and heads home to is family. Upon his return, his father runs out to meet him and claims that his son was lost, but now he is found. His father could have met his son with anger and bitterness. He had ever right to be angry and upset. However his father greets him with forgiveness and reconciles and restores his son to the status of his son and then decides to throw a huge party to welcome him home. He could have allowed him to work in his fields and to live on his property again. Most would have found that an acceptable resolution. But no, the father restored his son, back to the status of his son. This story is in Luke 15 11:32 To me is shows what the process of forgiveness and reconciliation look like.
It is a process that takes two people working hard to make it happen. It is not an easy process and is something that for the most part, our society will not understand. Most will think we are crazy to offer forgiveness and reconciliation. Must we look to seek revenge and would want to continually extract payment from the offender. But to me that is part of what is so powerful about grace. It is something that we don’t deserve, yet it has amazing powers of love and healing.
Reconciliation is not always the correct course of action based on the circumstances. Nor is it an easy process when the circumstances are right for it to occur. But I can say that when the situation is safe for it to occur and it does the results can be pretty amazing. I guess I look at it like this: I know that at some point in time, I will completely screw something up. I will separate myself from God and Jesus due to my sin. When this happens, do I want a to have a Jesus that reconciles coming to my rescue? Or do I want a Jesus that does not reconcile? Do I believe in a Jesus who invites me back to his party, after my sin – assuming I am willing to change, or is Jesus one that only lets me watch his party from the outside, looking in through a window due to my sin? I know for me I believe in the latter.