God believes in relationships. He loves us so much and wanted a relationship with us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus the Messiah, to prove it. His own people, the Jews, rejected Him (John 1:11). How do we build relationships with people, especially people who have rejected us or “cut us off” from their lives? Those rejecters could be adult children, siblings, parents, or friends. How do we reconnect with them?
Before I answer those questions let me say upfront that forgiving someone does NOT necessarily mean we are reconciled and in a relationship with them. We can forgive people with God and forgive the offender but reconciling with them is a different and often more difficult step. We may choose to forgive someone and no longer carry anger and bitterness toward them but NOT want to be reconciled to them. We may not want to have anything to do with them. Perhaps they were abusive to us or our children or addicted to drugs or alcohol. Whatever the reason, what I’m saying is that we can forgive someone without being reconciled and in a relationship with them.
Dr. Everett Worthington is an expert on forgiveness and reconciliation. In his wonderful book, “Forgiving and Reconciling: Bridges to Wholeness and Hope,” Dr. Worthington illustrates reconciliation as a bridge of planks laid from both ends (see illustration). Let me summarize his thoughts:
Each of us may have forgiven one another but have not yet been reconciled. We start by standing on our positions (position #1). We are convinced that we are right and the other person is wrong. They are the offender, not us, and so we stand firm in our position on either end of the bridge.
The second step is one of the most difficult. We must decide to reconcile (plank #2). We must decide that the relationship is worth the effort and the risk. Pride and stubbornness rear their ugly heads here more than on any other plank. If only one person decides the relationship is worth the effort, that won’t work. Both need to decide.
Once that plank has been laid on the bridge, then a face-to-face meeting is planned to discuss the conflict which poisoned the relationship (plank #3). I say poisoned because relationships can be poisoned by words or behaviors. This, too, is a hard step. It is important to come to the discussion humble and owning 100% of my part in the conflict. It may be more one person’s fault than the other but each must own 100% of their part.
Plank #4 is called detoxify because this is the plank in which we confess to the other our part in the conflict and ask for their forgiveness. This is the cleansing plank.
Finally, plank #5 is the plank of devotion in which we put in place the boundaries and practices which will maintain the relationship for the future. By laying this plank we meet in the middle of the bridge and are reconciled. As we go forward it is important not to bring up the past in the future. Forgiveness means that the offenses of the past have been buried in the depths of the ocean and are as far apart as the east is from the west. That’s how God views them. So should we.
Is 2016 your year to reconcile with someone from whom you’re separated? There’s hope, help, and healing with the Lord Jesus Christ. He came to reconcile us to His Father. We can do this.