“[Reconciliation] is a risky undertaking, but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation
with reality can bring real healing.” — Desmond Tutu
Last week a lady tearfully told me that her husband was now mending a long-term broken relationship in his life. She was clearly so proud of him! She said he was using the 6 reconciliation guidelines in my book STUCK. Those guidelines seem to be resonating with many people. That is incredibly humbling.
Today, I want to share the guidelines with you. If you know someone with a broken relationship, consider sharing these guidelines with them.
The great paradox of human relationships is that we are created to heal each other from the hurts we inflict on one other. But before we jump into the reconciliation guidelines, let me offer one caution.
RECONCILIATION IS NOT REQUIRED
Reconciliation is not entirely up to you. In fact, it may not be possible or even recommended. Reconciliation is not an option if:
- Your offender is abusive and reconciling would cause further injury
- Your offender has died
- Your offender does not want to reconcile
- Your offender is unrepentant
It only takes one person to forgive, but it takes two people to reconcile. In Romans 12:18, the Apostle Paul reminds us, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (emphasis added).
You are only responsible for your behavior. When it comes to living at peace with others, do your part. But your offender also has a part. If you are the only one making the effort toward reconciliation, then it’s unlikely to happen. If they are unwilling to do their part, reconciliation is not required.
If reconciliation is appropriate, here are the six guidelines I recommend:
Guideline #1: Depend on God
Do you remember the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel? Do you know why they were battling? Because, after a twenty-year separation, Jacob was about to try and reconcile with Esau. So, Jacob wrestled with an angel demanding God’s blessing for what he was about to do. As Genesis 32:26 tells the story, “Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’” (emphasis added). Despite his wisdom and wealth, Jacob was dependent upon God.
Constant prayer helps you maintain a dependent heart throughout the reconciliation process.
Question: When was the last time I prayed for this person and about our broken relationship? It might be wise to stop right now, and ask God for His wisdom and grace.
Guideline #2: Aim for Peace
Peace is much more attainable than trying to fully restore a broken relationship back to where it was. In Romans 12:18, the Apostle Paul reminds us, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (emphasis added). The goal of reconciliation is peace.
Maybe you want to reconcile with a parent, child, former spouse, former boss, or former friend. A deeper relationship may eventually develop, but begin by aiming for peace instead of bowing under the pressure of trying to restore a friendship.
Question: Am I hoping things will be like “the good ol’ days”? Or, am I aiming for peace?
Guideline #3: Seek to Understand
Seek to understand the other person’s perspective instead of presenting your side. Prov. 18:13 “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.” Resist the urge to present your case or defend yourself.
Instead, quietly listen, then restate the other person’s perspective. Ask them if you’re understanding their perspective accurately. Real progress can be made when they agree that you understand their perspective.
St. Francis of Assisi, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Question: Am I ready to hear their perspective without defending myself?
Guideline #4: Don’t Accuse
If it’s appropriate, share your perspective, but avoid finger-pointing or accusations. One rule-of-thumb is to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For example, instead of saying, “You betrayed me,” you could say, “I felt betrayed.” “I” statements allow the other person to respond without feeling defensive. Use “I” statements to help you share honestly but without accusations.
Having an objective person present to help you “stay on track” may be helpful.
Question: Who will help me stay on track sharing my perspective vs. defending myself?
Guideline #5: Apologize Early
Early on in the process, find something for which you can offer regret or an apology. An early apology will go a long way toward rebuilding trust and it reveals your humility and commitment to reconciliation.
James 5:16 reads, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
Question: What am I specifically and genuinely ready to apologize for?
Guideline #6: One Issue at a Time
Deal with one issue at a time. There may be one major issue of disagreement. However, most broken relationships include many smaller issues of disagreement. In order to accomplish Guideline #3, Seek to Understand, you’ll need to address each issue individually. Make sure the other person feels completely heard and understood on each issue before moving on to the next one.
Question: Am I willing to patiently hear their perspective on each issue?
If you’re thinking about initiating a reconciliation process, I know you feel fear. I sure did. Maybe it will encourage you to read someone else’s reconciliation story. Here’s mine.