“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom 12:18 ESV)
“Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Ps 34:14 ESV)
The best (and perhaps the only) way to reconcile with someone is face to face or live phone/zoom call.
The broken relationship
Suppose that you have been offended or caused a rupture in a relationship with someone you love. Someone has said, not said, done or not done something that broke the peace between you. Now there is distance, if not hostility. You want to restore the relationship. Or at worst, you want to erase the reasons for bitterness even if you cannot rebuild trust.
What are you to do?
Don’t be naïve
At this stage, after reading the series of posts I have done (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), you may wonder if I have made this more complicated than it needs to be. Why not get together, hash things out, maybe with a third party present?
While many minor conflicts, especially with longer term relationships, can be resolved in a simple way — following such a simple plan at all times is foolish. I know. I have tried.
My first opportunity to be a mediator was at the request of two business persons in the community. They told me they had a disagreement they could not resolve. After affirming their respect for me, they asked me to sit in to mediate their face to face meeting. I did. For two hours, they accused and insulted each other. Then they turned and asked, “What do you think?”
After asking a few questions, each of them assumed I was on their side. My questions became weapons for their cause. The meeting ended badly.
Process is everything
My trainer said, “good process is everything.” That is why I have laid down a process. People in conflict begin by trusting God and listening to what God is saying in their pain.
Then they hold up a mirror (of Scripture) with my help and look at what they have done to cause this torn friendship or marriage. This is the hardest part.
Finally, they prepare to meet with the other person(s), to admit their wrongs, and to ask forgiveness.
When everyone is ready, we meet.
After I introduce the purpose of the meeting, they decide who will go first. Each of them will have time to speak what they have prepared. Afterwards, there can be conversation and clarification. Reconciliation must be face to face.
What real confession of wrong looks like
What makes reconciliation happen is the person taking full responsibility for their contribution, naming it for what it was in God’s eyes, and acknowledging the effect it had on the other person. No excuses (I didn’t mean it). No explanations (what I was trying to say). No mitigating factors (I was tired that day). No accusations. After this, they ask for forgiveness.
Such clarity is a work of God. That means people rarely do it, and just as rarely hear someone else be that transparent. There is a reason John the Apostle says we love darkness. He had observed that admitting we have been wrong or sinned does not come easily to us. But there is also a reason why when we do, we meet with the lavish grace of God in Christ. Jesus died for sinners, not for the self-justifying.
When we say such words, we walk into the light of what God sees and what Jesus has already died for. We stand as a sinner in need of forgiveness. We humble ourselves before God and the other person.
And, in the face of such humility and moral clarity, most of the time the person hearing it melts. They may weep. Even sob. And they are almost always willing to forgive.
But, if they hear excuses, explanations, minimizing of the wrong, or accusation — they may become more hardened in their resentment.
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a commitment. When we forgive we promise not to dwell on the offense, not to bring it up as a weapon, and not to talk about it with others. Isn’t that how God forgives us?
Reconciling face to face opens the door for conversation.
I sit with people as each party confesses and forgives. As they weep, I have often found myself joining them. After we walk through this face to face time, we discuss how to rebuild the relationship. Perhaps not much needs to be done. Perhaps there is trust to be rebuilt. Or a debt to repay? or slander to take back? Perhaps the wrongs done were so trust destroying that they forgive but choose not to rebuild.
Whatever the case, they need a conversation and a plan. And, quite amazingly, once there is confession and forgiveness, they are usually able to talk about this without anger.
A few last thoughts
Peacemaking and the work of conciliation is not utopian. Where God works, it brings wonderful fruit. But people can and will resist. I must accept the presence of human stubbornness. What does that mean for me?
First, I only work as a mediator when all parties want me to do so. I do not run back and forth persuading people to reconcile. Of course, one of the parties can come for help, to see their faults. They can also attempt confession. But that may be all they can do.
Sometimes one sided peace is the best we can do. Paul says, “as much as lies in you, be at peace with all men.”
Second, I distinguish between reconciling a relationship where there has been ordinary wrong-doing, and a relationship characterized by abuse. Once again, I have learned not to be naïve. You and I are not obligated to pursue peace with an abusive person.
By abuse I mean violence. By violence I mean words, slanderous emails, insults, defamation, or actions seeking to bring great harm to the other person. Great harm is either physical, or emotional, or reputational. What abusers need is discipline by the church or by the state or by both. But abusers almost always insist they are acting in love. I have learned not to be naïve.
Third, the primary work of helping people reconcile is calling them to slow down, to live with the broken relationship, and to walk patiently through what God is doing in them through it. Whatever your first instinct is, do not trust it. Go slow.
Fourth, in most cases I will only work with people when they are members of a church and have elders who will hold them accountable for their words and actions. God’s people are not free agents. We are supposed to live under the care of pastors and elders. Find a church with faithful ones and make it your family.
You can do most of this with help from friends
These principles and this process are not rocket science. You can apply all this on your own, or with the help of a faithful friend. But sometimes you need help from someone who has years of experience. They know all the potholes and hidden traps along the way. Under their guidance you can walk toward peace.
For additional help:
I recommend the work of Ken Sande and RW360. Ken has worked hard to train people in getting upstream from conflict. His materials are exceptional.
You may also be helped by Ambassadors of Reconciliation (a Lutheran agency that serves people everywhere), and Peacemaker Ministries. These agencies keep a list of certified professionals. One of them may be in your region. They also offer excellent training, in person or online, so you can equip people in your church to be peacemakers.
I develop these ideas more here.