Category Archives: reconciliation

For The Love of God

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The husband had really messed up and he knew it. He sat there with his eyes downcast as he told his story. His wife had a real right to be hurt, angry and upset. But his story was not just a defensive explanation by someone who got caught in his misdeeds. It was a raw revelation of early pain, mistreatment and trauma that had been locked away for years. As he finished his story his wife put her hand on his arm and with tears in her eyes said “None of those things should have ever happened to you. You didn’t deserve any of it.” He broke down in tears and began apologizing in honest heartfelt words.

The above story is not one person’s story – but a composite of many that we have witnessed. The offenders have been both wives and husbands, men and women. But it does not always go so well. Sometimes the pain of the offense is too great to let go of in the moment. Sometimes the defensive walls are up too high to scale. But when there are soft hearts on both sides, the atmosphere is ripe for a relationship miracle.

Romans 2:4 “Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”

I love the above scripture. Perhaps I can rework it to fit what I am trying to communicate.

“Do you not know that a spouse’s kindness can lead to their partner’s repentance?”

Kindness is grace in action. In situations like the one described it is an undeserved gift. It becomes an opportunity to radically change a marriage. But I need to add, it requires true sincerity and real change. It must not perpetuate a cycle of abuse or other sinful behaviors. You are not “off the hook.” Grace is not an unlimited “get out of jail free” card. Repentance means to “turn away from” – in this case, from the hurtful and harmful behavior.

How does an offended spouse choose to offer kindness in place of anger or rejection? It does not seem like a normal human reaction, and it isn’t. The most common reaction would be to pull back or strike back in pain, disgust or fear. I would say that it is only for the love of God that we can achieve this. If we truly understand our own failings that God has forgiven, we are more likely to be able to offer it to others.

Forgiveness is much easier for small offences, the ones that don’t affect our lives in any major way. When a serious one comes our way, that is when the strength of our faith and the softness of our heart is on the line. Yes, sometimes we have to pull back first and absorb the wound and work with ourselves with God and others. But if we can first forgive and then go and confront those who have hurt us, we are much more likely to offer kindness instead of shame or blame. Can you do that? For the love of God?

Bitterness

There are times as a counselor when I feel a deep sadness along with a large dollop of frustration. I expect to feel sad as I hear of people’s pain. It is just plain hard to listen to the results of sin, regret, and/or natural or unfortunate circumstances in the lives of people.
But my frustration comes when progress is blocked by a client tenaciously holding on to something of a destructive nature that yields no possible benefit.
Bitterness is one of these with disastrous relational results.
Bitterness separates parents from children, husbands from wives, and congregants from churches. It can rip close friends apart from one another leaving both lonely and dissatisfied. Why would we hold on to such a destructive force as cold resentment when we are quite aware of how it hurts us and others?    
The answer is not very pretty: It is power that can be used to control or punish others and justify our bad behavior. I give myself permission to withhold love and approval. I build a fortress of protection from relational risk. But I am also out of the will of God.
There are times when it is appropriate to set boundaries with people in order to stop or prevent damage. But these boundaries must be set with love with a goal towards restoration, if possible. How can we move towards reconciliation if our heart is cold and hard?
In bitterness spouses will withhold conversation, friendliness or sex, or communicate only in anger, sarcasm or irritability, needlessly maintaining walls of separation. The results are a loveless or shallow marriage. Children will become rebellious and disrespectful and parents will deny the nurturance that all sons and daughter need to become healthy adults.
The Bible says that forgiveness (as opposed to reconciliation) is not an option. And the truth is that often we are the only one that suffers as our heart shuts down. The ability to forgive is both an act of the will and an act of obedience. It is also a supernatural occurrence because the truth is that I rarely feel the strength or the inclination. Can I really utter the words “not my will but thy will be done” in my humanness?
It is with love that I write these words because my joy is in seeing reconciliation and restoration in the lives of people I care about. It is always difficult to be the one who takes a risk and makes a first move. Often that first move is internal, allowing God to work on our hearts. It is a surrender to love that far surpasses our ability to comprehend it. Only God can effectively remove our bitterroot judgments. And only with our cooperation will He do that.
Eph 4:31-32 (NLT) Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

My Sacrifice

As we are right in the middle of a Resurrection weekend I was thinking of what might be somewhat equivalent in our relational lives to what Christ has done for our spiritual lives.
Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice out of love for us, but what might be an ultimate relationship sacrifice?  
Forgiveness
What a powerful word. Letting go of hurts simply because we can is a sacrifice. Everything inside of me rebels against this concept when I am in pain over a real or perceived offense. And many offenses are not only real, but severe and overwhelming.
I think the hardest times to forgive are when the hurt is ongoing or when the person who has hurt us is not fully acknowledging the offense. This puts us in a tough place. Why would we even want to choose forgiveness in these situations? Why would we want to make this kind of sacrifice?
Primarily, unforgiveness hurts me. It festers inside me like an unhealed wound. It leaks poison and makes me sick. My resentments keep me from feeling at peace.
Secondly, it hurts my relationships. Holding on to offenses may cause me to withhold love, respect or kindness from relationships that I value. Even if the other person is unrepentant I can choose to forgive because it opens the door to restoration. And sometimes that will lead to a softening in the other person that might lead to repentance.
Thirdly, God requires it. To whom much is given, much is required. Do you feel you have been given much? Matthew 6:15, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, is a powerful admonition:
“But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
I do want to point out a few things, though. Forgiving is not forgetting – it is letting go. Forgiving is not accepting the offender’s behavior as okay – maybe far from it. And forgiving does not require us to move towards reconciliation – especially when it would be unhealthy to do so and open us up to ongoing damage. Some people are just plain unsafe.
I like to say I am taking someone “off my hook” and putting them on God’s – and let Him deal with the person. In doing so I am free.
This Easter weekend perhaps you can examine your relationships and determine if there are places where you need to make the sacrifice of forgiveness.   
Ephesians 4:32. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.