Almost every day there are people who are encouraged to reconcile with someone they hurt or some person who hurt them. But reconciliation is more than just saying, “I’m sorry.” The basic element of reconciliation is “restoration.” That is, restore friendly relations. This is the action of making one view or belief compatible with another.

If one person is injured by another, we could say that the two persons are “pushed apart” by the injury, and so, if they are to become friendly again, this gap between them must be repaired—they must be reconciled. Reconciliation comes from the Latin words re-, meaning “again,” and conciliare, which means “to bring together,” so reconciliation means “to bring together—or to make friendly—again.”

Psychologist Dr. Ryan Howes offers what he calls the “Four Elements of Forgiveness” that must come first in order to achieve reconciliation. These are elements, not steps, as it’s not a completely straight- line process. People need to go through points A-B-C-D in whatever order they deem necessary, even repeating them until satisfied. A lot of people want to leapfrog the feelings and rush to letting go, that’s a problem he often sees. But bypassing these elements does not allow a deeply satisfying process to take place.

First is “Emotion.” Whatever the misdeed or injustice or violation, the forgiver needs to fully express how it made them feel. If the transgression elicits anger or sadness or hurt, those feelings need to be deeply felt and expressed. Trying to hide them or pretending they really don’t bother you is like building a dam behind which water begins to pile up. Once that dam breaks, only the good Lord knows how much damage will be done to what was once a good, friendly relationship. If it’s possible to express it to the one who hurt you, great. If not, a stand-in, empty chair, heartfelt letter, or yelling in the car with the windows rolled down might suffice. Are you expunging all the feelings? Probably not, but enough to allow you to focus on the other areas.

Second is “Understand why.” Our brain will continue to search for some explanation until it’s satisfied. It doesn’t mean getting to know each tiny detail but finding out the intention or motivation for the act. In doing so, you may help the other person find out what needs to be settled in their own mind and heart. Maybe you won’t agree with the rationale, but you need some plan that explains why the act took place. In some situations, even an acceptance of unintentional harm can be a sufficient model to explain.

Third is “Rebuild safety” The forgiver needs to feel a reasonable amount of assurance the act won’t recur. Whether it comes in the form of a sincere apology from the perpetrator, a stronger defense against future attacks, or removal from that person’s influence, safety needs to be re-acquired. To a reasonable amount, of course, because we are never 100% safe. Even so-called domesticated wild animals can sometimes turn vicious and wreak havoc on a relationship. Don’t think that by putting a chain around the other person’s neck will guarantee safety. In other words, do not restrict their access to you by phone, or at certain times of the day, or keeping their distance. Reconciliation never results from such action.

Fourth is “Forgiveness.” This very difficult step requires a decision. Letting go is making a promise to not hold a grudge. In the case of a relationship, it means one partner won’t refer to that past transgression again. It’s resolving to refrain from lording the transgression over the other in the future. When it comes to forgiveness, the victim holds all the power. Letting go means surrendering this dominant role; a stepping down from the powerful position of victim to allow equality again. In addition, letting go is making a promise to yourself that you’ll stop constantly dwelling/replaying/pondering/holding on to the bitterness of the injustice. If letting go feels impossible, it’s probably because the elements that precede it were not sufficiently completed.

Forgiveness can be a scary concept for a lot of us. When we hear that we “should forgive” someone who has deeply hurt us, many of us find ourselves not wanting to go further. We start thinking that, if we forgive them, we excuse what they did to us. We think that we are condoning what they did. Maybe the other person isn’t really even sorry for their behavior. Should we let them off the hook that easily? Most of all, we worry that if we let that person back into our lives, that they will hurt us again.

I’m sure God did not think that way when He forgave us. Jesus was quite clear on the subject of reconciliation. He said that if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.[1] Our Lord also offered a method to use when attempting reconciliation. He tells us that if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you an outsider.[2]

The Apostle Peter told his readers that time is running out; therefore, take control of yourself and be clearheaded about the situation, especially when taking your problem to the Lord in prayer. But above all, keep loving the other person with sincerity because love helps in forgiving a multitude of wrongdoings and hurts done to you or by you and brings reconciliation.[3]

And the Apostle Paul reminds us that we are all a new creation through the Anointed. We’re not what we used to be, there is a new “me” living inside of us. All of this is God’s word, who through the Anointed reconciled us to Himself, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.[4] Paul also said that while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.[5] And to the Romans, Paul said that by the other person’s rejection of forgiveness and reconciliation, it opens the door for new relationships.[6]

Always keep in mind, reconciliation is a two-way street. The person you are forgiving must be able to feel your earnest and sincere love in forgiving them. Also, by being forgiven by them. They must be no leftover doubts about this coming up again when another incident may occur that calls for forgiveness and reconciliation. Whenever you keep reminding a person of something they did in the past, it is like throwing gasoline on a fire.

Whatever you said or did may be for the first time. However, when they angrily say, “You’re always doing that!” it hurts. It signifies that they have some bias or see some fault in you that they don’t bother to point out. It may even involve doing something they feel is part of their responsibility or territory. Instead, one of the best ways to initiate forgiveness and reconciliation is to say to them, “Here, let me show you how to do that a better way.”

It’s amazing that the thief dying next to Jesus on the cross was reconciled with God simply by believing that He was the Son of God, the Messiah. Sometimes, reconciliation does not connect because the other person does not feel you believe them, or you don’t feel they believe you. When a person apologizes or asks forgiveness, a simple hug and the words, “I believe you” can bring about reconciliation at that moment. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

[1] Matthew 5:23-24

[2] Ibid. 18:15-17

[3] 1 Peter 4:7-8

[4] 2 Corinthians 5:17-18

[5] Romans 5:10-11

[6] Ibid. 11:15

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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