All of us have been through times where we’ve had a disagreement with someone, and it was never resolved; everyone involved went their separate ways, embittered, without forgiving or reconciling their differences. The Bible informs us, in the Lord’s Prayer, that forgiveness is necessary (Matthew 6:12). In the book, Forgiveness is Power, forgiveness is described as ‘giving up the desire to punish’; it says nothing about reconciliation.
Reconciliation relates to the kind of relationship we want to have with the person we are forgiving, and is a process of re-establishing our relationship with that person.
Reconciliation is often part of forgiveness, but it is really a separate and distinct process. Separating reconciliation from forgiveness can help us to learn how to forgive, as it highlights any potential blocks we might have to forgiving, and allows it to happen more easily.
Forgiveness is unconditional and always possible, but reconciliation sometimes needs to be conditional and is not always possible, especially where there is no acknowledgement of wrongdoing from the other party. Forgiveness is unconditional, as it is always possible to let go of our desire to punish someone, whether they are still in our life or long gone. Be mindful that we can forgive them, but still create clear boundaries around how we relate to them. Realising we can negotiate acceptable terms of reconciliation that are workable for us – or even decide not to do that part at all – frees us up to forgive.
There are times when we need to forgive ourselves, and deal with two very different feelings: guilt and shame.
Guilt arises when we have done something which goes against our values. Shame arises when we feel that there is something wrong with us. Guilt is a feeling about what we do or what we have done; shame is a feeling about who we are. Guilt makes us feel we did something bad; shame makes us feel that we are bad.
It is important to understand the difference, as to fully forgive ourselves we need to deal with both our sense of guilt and our sense of shame.
We let go of guilt simply by letting go of the need to punish ourselves, by letting go of self-condemnation and any form of wanting to harm ourselves. We can help ourselves by making amends for what we did, and by taking responsibility.
We need to be willing to become aware and distance ourselves from the ‘voices’ within us, which belittle or put us down in any way. It also means changing how we relate to people around us who are not good for us, and putting a distance between them and us if we can. It means spending time with those who are good for us and stop being suspicious of people who genuinely like us. Letting go of shame has a lot to do with becoming a good friend to ourselves.
The first thing the Bible teaches about reconciliation is that we must make it a priority. This is stressed in Matthew 5:21-25, where we are told that if we have an unresolved disagreement with someone we should resolve it as soon as possible -even before we go to church again.
The second thing the Bible teaches about reconciliation is that if we are approaching someone about a situation we should do it in a spirit of meekness and keep it private (Matthew 18:15). The goal is to communicate that you want to resolve the problem – not to put them in their place.
Finally, the Bible teaches us that reconciliation means we must be willing to ask for forgiveness, and forgive if asked (Matthew 18:21-35). The very term ‘forgive’ is a word made up of the words force and giving. Together, they describe forgiveness as the process whereby the offended party ‘gives up’ the right to ‘enforce’ justice. Therefore, forgiveness involves a two-way transaction: the humbling and asking for forgiveness by the offender, and the release of the right of the offended to enforce justice.
God values the reconciliation of relationships more than religious practices. Our motivation to reconcile with someone should be because of our love for Christ, and because of the reconciliation He gave us with God by His death on the cross.
You benefit immensely when you choose to forgive, and so does everyone around you. Whether you need to forgive others – or need to forgive yourself – doing so sets you free from the past, and enables you to fulfil your true potential.
Rev Stephen Brooks
New Jerusalem Apostolic Church