Our Founder, Ken Sande, has a very insightful post over at his Relational Wisdomblog. I wanted to share a bit of it here, since it’s so good:
…As soon as I saw his face, I knew my explanation was worthless. No explanation was going to change his perception of my failing him or soften the pain I’d caused. Besides, I knew that an explanation would only seem like I was trying to justify or excuse my actions … which is exactly what I longed to do, but which would be of no help to my friend.
So I simply said, “I really failed you during the reorganization. I should have come and talked to you right away. My absence and silence must have hurt you deeply. I have no excuse or explanation. I failed you as a manager and I failed you as a friend. I was wrong, and I’m so very sorry. Can you please forgive me?”
His eyes softened as he said, “That’s all I needed to hear. I know you didn’t mean to let me down, but it helps to hear you admit you did. Jesus has forgiven me far worse things, so yes, I gladly forgive you. This is behind us; let’s move on.”
And that was the end of it. No explanation. No excuses. Grace flowed.
Last week, Steve Cornell at The Gospel Coalition blog posted some really great insight into the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. They also offered up some excellent and biblically sound steps in dealing with a situation where an offending party is hesitant to reconcile.
Here he summarizes a key distinction:
It’s possible to forgive someone without offering immediate reconciliation. It’s possible for forgiveness to occur in the context of one’s relationship with God apart from contact with her offender. But reconciliation is focused on restoring broken relationships. And where trust is deeply broken, restoration is a process—sometimes, a lengthy one.
and then he continues to explain why recognizing the difference is important:
The process of reconciliation depends on the attitude of the offender, the depth of the betrayal, and the pattern of offense. When an offended party works toward reconciliation, the first and most important step is the confirmation of genuine repentance on the part of the offender (Luke 17:3). An unrepentant offender will resent your desire to confirm the genuineness of his confession and repentance. The offender may resort to lines of manipulation such as, “I guess you can’t find it in yourself to be forgiving,” or, “Some Christian you are, I thought Christians believed in love and compassion.”
Such language reveals an unrepentant heart. Don’t be manipulated into avoiding the step of confirming the authenticity of your offender’s confession and repentance. It is advisable in difficult cases to seek the help of a wise counselor, one who understands the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.
His ten guidelines for those hesitant to reconcile are rooted in scripture and, I think, incredibly helpful.
1. Be honest about your motives. 2. Be humble in your attitude. 3. Be prayerful about the one who hurt you. 4. Be willing to admit ways you might have contributed to the problem. 5. Be honest with the offender. 6. Be objective about your hesitancy. 7. Be clear about the guidelines for restoration. 8. Be alert to Satan’s schemes. 9. Be mindful of God’s control. 10. Be realistic about the process.
Paul Trip wrote a great post over at The Gospel Coalition blog all about the need for pastors to pursue a culture of forgiveness in their ministry. Pastors (and anyone serving Christ) have a choice:
You can choose for disappointment to become distance, for affection to become dislike, and for a ministry partnership to morph into a search for an escape. You can taste the sad harvest of relational détente that so many church staffs live in, or you can plant better seeds and celebrate a much better harvest. The harvest of forgiveness, rooted in God’s forgiveness of you, is the kind of ministry relationship everyone wants.
Then he describes three ways forgiveness can shape your ministry. I’ve listed them, but you can read how he explains them in detail.
1. Forgiveness stimulates appreciation and affection.
2. Forgiveness produces patience.
3. Forgiveness is the fertile soil in which unity in relationships grows.
He closes with this exhortation:
So we learn to make war, but no longer with one another. Together we battle the one Enemy who is after us and our ministries. As we do this, we all become thankful that grace has freed us from the war with one another that we used to be so good at making.
The most difficult math problem in the universe, it turns out, is 70 x 7. Perhaps the hardest thing to do in the Christian life is to forgive someone who has hurt you, often badly. But Jesus says the alternative to forgiving one’s enemies is hell.
One of the reasons this is hard for us is because we too often assume forgiving a trespasser means allowing an injustice to stand. This attitude betrays a defective eschatology. At our Lord’s arrest (Matt. 26:47-54), Jesus told Peter to put his sword back into his sheath not because Jesus didn’t believe in punishing evildoers (think Armageddon). Jesus told Peter he could have an armada of angelic warriors at his side (and one day he will). But judgment was not yet, and Peter wasn’t judge.
That’s the point…. A prisoner of war who forgives his captor or a terminated pastor who forgives a predatory congregation, these people are not overlooking sin. Nor are they saying that what happened is “okay” or that the relationships involved are back to “normal” (whatever that is). Instead they are confessing that judgment is coming and they can trust the One who will be seated on that throne.
A good reminder that our view of eternity has a clear effect on our view of forgiveness. Let’s all remember who is on the judgment throne as we are called to forgive.
While my husband sees six (yes, six!) Thanksgiving dinners as nothing more than a chance to chow down, I see it as a huge reminder that my parents and my grandparents are divorced. All those turkeys just represent failed marriages to me.
Don’t get me wrong—it has been twenty-one years since my parents divorced, and by God’s grace, I am fully healed of the resulting pain. But I still have to navigate my complicated family situation every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Whether this issue has touched you or not (and there are fewer and fewer of us where it hasn’t), it doesn’t take long to see the pain and fallout from divorce many years after the fact. (My wife had three sets of parents to figure out where to seat at our wedding.) And if you scroll through a few of the comments on this post, that will be particularly clear.
This much is clear: forgiveness is a key component to navigating the holidays for any family. Where would we be without the forgiveness we have through Christ that we can, in turn, extend to one another?
A short but really great post by Ed Welch over at CCEF on what reconciliation looks like 10 years after adultery. In what’s surely one of the most painful relational devastations that can occur, God’s grace can still be at work in remarkable ways. Here’s a bit of the meat of his post:
The growth process might look like this.
At first, the lines are clear: there are victims and there are adulterers. Victims deal with suffering, those who were unfaithful deal with sin.
As time passes, the lines blur. Victims continue to find comfort, but remember that they are sinners too (Matthew 7:3-5). Unfaithful ones begin to see more of the sin beneath their sin. That is, they see how lust and adulterous desire are ultimately driven by spiritual adulteries, by wanting to be separate from the True God. And, God, in a startling response, invites these hurt and sinful people to return to him with displays of compassion and love.
Then victims become more open to seeing change in the unfaithful spouses and begin to lay down any self-protective shields.
After a while, couples look from a similar vantage point at the past adultery. Instead of the clear lines of victim and adulterer, there is a circle that surrounds the couple. They are one again, rather than two. The adultery is no longer one person against another but a sad intrusion that leaves both spouses sad that sin persists in this world.
Forgiveness may be described as a decision to make four promises:
“I will not dwell on this incident.”
“I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
“I will not talk to others about this incident.”
“I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”
By making and keeping these promises, you can tear down the walls that stand between you and your offender. You promise not to dwell on or brood over the problem or to punish by holding the person at a distance. You clear the way for your relationship to develop unhindered by memories of past wrongs. This is exactly what God does for us, and it is what he calls us to do for others.
Do you sometimes find yourself breaking (or tempted to break) one or more of the Four Promises of Forgiveness sometime after you make them? That’s a very normal experience–and, believe it or not, it’s an invitation from God to draw closer to him. The key is remembering and applying Hebrews 9:22. That verse tells us that in the universe there is only one source of durable forgiveness: the Cross of Christ. “Without the shedding of blood,” the verse says, “there is no forgiveness.”
For a time, we may be able to forgive someone out of our own willpower or our human desire for reconciliation, but eventually even our best efforts will buckle (yes, even when they’re buoyed up by the Four Promises). If we want our forgiveness of others to “stick”, we ourselves need to “stick” continually–to the Cross. So when you sense a long-buried hatchet rising to the surface, don’t dwell on those thoughts. Instead, dwell on Christ’s forgiveness of your own sin. The more real that becomes for you, the less real temptations toward unforgiveness will be.
Since we’ve been sharing quite a bit of videos lately, I thought I’d just continue the pattern with this morning’s post. I ran across this video while skimming my feed reader and it got a good giggle out of me — You really have to hang in for the twist at the end.
Where I work, I get the opportunity to see this lived out again and again, almost to the point that I forget how amazing it is when it happens. That is,when both people involved in a conversation chose to take a U-turn from the downward spiral of communication breakdown they’ve been on.
The truth is, often an authentic apology and a commitment to true forgiveness can change the course of a conversation and even the course of a relationship. It’s like Ken says:
Through forgiveness God tears down the walls that our sins have built, and he opens the way for a renewed relationship with him. This is exactly what we must do if we are to forgive as the Lord forgives us: We must release the person who has wronged us from the penalty of being separated from us.
I occasionally get asked for advice about being a new husband or a first time dad. Since I got married young and had kids young I have “experience”, I guess. By “experience”, of course, I mean battle scars and bruises from my regular encounters with my own idiocy and penchant for mistakes. I must look like a weathered veteran or something.
When the question is put to me “what piece of advice would you give to a new husband/dad” I always want to come up with something that would make Solomon jealous and Confucius plagiarize. Instead, all I have ever been able to come up with is this: “Always apologize first.”
Somewhere along the way I was given this piece of advice (or pieces of advice that added up to it) by a particularly wise counselor, and it has been an astoundingly prescient word by which to live. It falls under the banner of “A soft answer turns away wrath.” It enforces humility and self-examination. And it douses the flames that threaten to burn bridges between wife and husband or father and children.