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Forgiveness & Reconciliation

It's not easy to have a healthy mutually giving relationship that we enjoy with effective conflict resolution, is it? It's tricky because we cannot help the family we are given as children which shapes our perception of "normal" and "healthy" ways of relating and being with others. If our early family system has a higher degree of dysfunction and unhealth, that affects the relationships we choose. Perhaps we are in cycles of unhealthy relationships--codependent, enmeshed--with family and friends, which have caused a breach in relationship, and we are uncertain as to how to move forward.

Foundational to our faith, God IS reconciliation and restoration--He sent Jesus so we could be reconciled to Him and we are constantly being restored to Him through confession of sin, through receiving grace, through living out the abundant life he has for us. He has created us to be in relationships--some we are born into and some we choose. Whether with family or with those relationships we choose, conflict, hurt, and misunderstanding are inevitable. It is how we choose to respond that sets us on a trajectory for the relationship pattern and cycles so let us choose well, wisely, and Biblically.

One relational element that we are continuously called to engage in and that is necessary to live out healthy Christ-centered relationships is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a difficult calling; forgiveness is not about the other person, but rather, between us and the Lord. It is a calling to lay down our "right" to the offense and to give the offense and the offender to God.  We give all of that up in exchange for grace and healing directly from God. Of course, many situations call for both parties to personally confess and ask for forgiveness from the other; this is always encouraged as this aids in the healing process. And in order to reconcile in a relationship, forgiveness is a necessary step for both parties. You can't trust your partner if they don't confess and repent of the breach of trust.

Some folks have misgivings about forgiving and misunderstandings about what extending forgiveness means.  To clarify, forgiveness is NOT:
1. Forgetting what happened: sometimes we totally do forget what that fight was about or why we got offended, but we can't forget if our business partner stole money from us or if our parent ignored our plea for help as we were being sexually abused. We can still forgive while acknowledging the pain and move towards healing.
2. Excusing the behavior: forgiving someone doesn't mean we are saying what happened didn't matter. It absolutely impacted the relationship and the breach of trust, but again, we can forgive while acknowledging the pain and move towards healing.

Once you have forgiven that friend, spouse, or family member, and have had a meaningful exchange, we are in the healing process. Now is the time to consider reconciliation, but how do we know if the relationship--if we as people--are healthy and ready to restore the relationship? I believe a few indicators will inform your decision to move forward in relationship:
1. Repentance: Repentance means change. Has there been a shift, a change in heart? Has there been clarity? Have both parties observed and experienced a difference?
2. Boundaries: Sometimes boundaries need to be set as we live out the healing process. Are both parties able to agree and respect the designated boundaries? ie the wife has an affair so each goes to individual therapy and marriage counseling, they live apart, have agreed upon co-parenting duties, etc. Is everyone following through on the therapy, the living arrangements, the co-parenting?
3. Growth: We should always be moving toward health and healing, especially in a season of relational upheaval; this can look a myriad of ways depending on the mental, emotional, spiritual health of the individuals involved. We are always growing and transforming, and in relational strife, it is an apt time to take inventory of areas of development and growth. Some examples include joining a support or recovery group, seeking out pastoral counseling or a spiritual mentor, reading through some spiritual formation books on your inner life, committing to fasting and prayer, etc.

This is by no means an exhaustive "check list" of indicators--wise counsel is always suggested, along with much prayer. I impart hope to you and your relationships--no matter how difficult or dysfunctional they are--God can make a way, He can change hearts because nothing is impossible for Him.

A couple of suggested resources:
The Bait of Satan by John Bevere
Beyond Boundaries: Learning to Trust Again in Relationships by John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud

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