Last week I shared that my former pastor and I have reconciled. However, reconciliation is not always a good idea.
This is a guest post by my friend and colleague Clare Rice.
Clare is the Director of Care and Recovery at Bible Fellowship Church in Ventura, CA. She recently completed her graduate studies at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine Law School. Clare is a trained mediator who first felt called to work as a reconciler in December 2001 while working with her dad in Kashmir. Her international reconciliation work has taken her to Kashmir, India and the Middle East. She lives in Ventura with her husband and their 2 year old son.
In my years of studying forgiveness and reconciliation, I’ve learned that one of the common misconceptions about forgiveness is that reconciliation is a natural byproduct of the process. In fact, many people believe it is a requirement. For years I believed that if I forgave, the process was not complete until I had reconciled with my offender. I now know that is a false understanding of forgiveness. I learned this the hard way through a particularly painful attempt at reconciliation with a close friend.
Paul and I first met when I was a student at USC. I was drawn to his charisma, quick wit and penchant for pranks and shenanigans. We lived in the same hall in the dorms and quickly became best friends. Over the years, we maintained a close relationship. I moved out of the city, but our friendship remained strong. I could count on Paul for support and encouragement whenever I needed it. I treasured our friendship.
Then a shift occurred. My life changed dramatically. I met and married my husband and a couple years later we had a baby. Paul and I had less and less in common. My priorities and interests had changed. When Paul and I did speak, we often ended up arguing. We said hurtful things to each other. We blamed each other. We couldn’t communicate effectively. I was baffled that someone who at one time knew me better than I knew myself now seemed like a complete stranger.
My heart compelled me to forgive Paul and we repeatedly forgave and reconciled with each other. Then I stopped trying to reconcile. What changed?
I took a class on apology, forgiveness and reconciliation as part of my masters program. It was during this class that I finally released myself from the obligation to reconcile with Paul. I learned two important principles about reconciliation. 1. As believers, we are required to forgive, but we are not required to reconcile. 2. There are times when reconciliation should NOT happen.
The illustration I shared involved both of these principles. Through multiple disputes, I forgave Paul and he forgave me. However, we both had vastly different understandings of what had transpired and what our individual parts of the conflict were. We both apologized, but neither of us was apologizing for the specific injury we visited upon each other. However, we let our desire for a harmonious relationship fast track the process to reconciliation and then we were dumbfounded when we were in conflict again. This cycle repeated itself over and over for a few years.
I realized that not only were Paul and I not required to reconcile, but that we probably shouldn’t reconcile. David Stoop describes forgiveness as a singular activity but reconciliation as a bilateral process. Reconciliation is dependent upon the offender offering true repentance and feeling sorrow over his/her actions. It depends both on the actions and the behavior of the offender.
In my conflict with Paul, I was a victim and an offender. So was he. Neither of us was willing to change our attitudes or behaviors that led to the repeated conflict, so we kept on hurting each other. Today I choose to forgive, but not to reconcile. I am at peace with that decision because I know it honors Christ’s mandate that I forgive my brother, but allows me the free will to discontinue a relationship that is no longer healthy.
This painful lesson in forgiveness has served me well and is now a source of encouragement when I struggle to forgive someone who has hurt me. If the fear of reconciliation is preventing you from forgiving, I urge you to take another look.