Pastor Pat Duffin,
High Prairie Christian Centre
God requires that we make all our relationships right, so far as we are able, if we want to have a right relationship with Him.
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” [Matthew 5:24-25]
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” [Romans 12:18]
The world is full of broken relationships. In my own life and ministry, I have yet to meet someone who lives without regrets and has never hurt another person. I know I have regrets. We are all broken and wounded in one way or another. Wounded people hurt and wound others.
Even the best parents are keenly aware of mistakes – things they have done, or failed to do, and could wish they had known then what they have learned since. This is also true of children, siblings, friends and married people. The list is nearly endless.
What can be done? Sometimes, nothing. People are often no longer reachable. They have died. Others have moved and their whereabouts are unknown. Still others have closed their hearts along with any channel of communication from those who wounded and hurt them. In many cases they are well justified in protecting themselves from those who remain potentially hurtful and dangerous.
But, sometimes, people change.
God has a way of granting new eyes to see and hearts to understand. It is a beautiful thing to behold. And sometimes, miraculously, broken relationships are restored and healed into something wonderful.
How might someone who has caused great harm in the past, having received new eyes and heart, reach out to those they have hurt. Perhaps too much time and water have passed under the bridge and there seems no natural way of making a meaningful connection. What can one do?
The first step is make a fearless and honest searching of one’s heart and history to know and understand the harm that was done and why you did what you did or didn’t do. You must first understand yourself, your mental, emotional, and spiritual condition. You need to understand then, and now, so you can understand how you got to where you are today.
It is also imperative to understand the affect and harm that was done to the persons with whom you hope to establish a broken relationship. With rigorous honesty, you must admit and own your role and fault, damage and blame. Your heart must be torn with sincere guilt and remorse for your action or inaction. There must be a ‘godly sorrow’ for the sin, offence and harm that was caused to the person or persons. Your heart must be broken with compassion for the pain and scars the others have endured because of you.
Write these things down with brutal honesty and confess them out loud to another trustworthy human being. This humbling step is the most often avoided step, but must not be skipped or you cannot claim true ‘godly sorrow’ or true sincerity in your willingness to change and put away the past.
You must pray and seek God, asking Him to show you your part and your blame. You must ask Him for a heart of love, compassion and honest desire to make things right with the persons you have harmed. Then pray for God to prepare the people and the right moment to reach out. Give Him time to work in and prepare the other person. It takes time to work in people and circumstances to bring things around to a favourable occasion. God likes to work gently with us.
In my next column I will outline certain specific, essential steps in properly restoring a relationship which has been severely damaged by our own cruelty and hurtfulness. Many of these principles are for severe abuses, but they are definitely transferable to less harmful situations as well.
The above steps are merely the beginning steps for healing the past and making amends to those whom we have harmed. There are certain other very specific steps one can, and must, take before actually reaching out to restore a badly broken relationship. Some of those steps are very difficult emotionally, practically, and spiritually.
But, like the contractor carefully constructing a beautiful building, one must lay a proper foundation so that the building can stand securely and retain its beauty both inside and out. Do not be impatient and jump certain steps. When done correctly, without taking shortcuts, and when done in the right sequence, one has a far greater chance for success because one will be doing things God’s way.
Editor’s note: This is the first part of a three-part series.