Pastor Pat Duffin,
High Prairie Christian Centre
If we have been pure in our sincerity, if we have been fearless and thorough in laying the foundations for a renewed relationship as laid out in Parts 1 and 2, then we are ready for the most difficult and potentially the riskiest part of the reconciliation process.
If you are desiring more than to make an apology and recompense for pain and loss, you need to have a personal meeting with the injured parties. There are no guarantees on how they will react. It is unpredictable how things might unfold. It may not go the way we hope.
On the other hand, if they see someone who has changed and is truly humble, contrite, gentle, honest and forthright, their hearts may open to you.
But, do not forget that you are not alone. Because you have saturated every step in prayer and have asked God to go ahead of you to prepare both the way and the hearts of those with whom you seek restoration, you have a Friend and Helper who is with you through it all. [Joshua 1:8-9; Psalm 72:12]
Miracles are possible and with God nothing is impossible. [Luke 1:37; Matthew 17:20]
However, there are also some practical do’s and don’ts you need to observe during this very sensitive and emotional encounter. Before meeting with the parties, it is best to send a trusted friend to be your emissary. They can prepare the folks for your initial contact. This is the most considerate and least threatening way to make your approach.
An emissary is more personal than a letter and they can act as a two-way contact for both sides. They can also give you a sense of the other people’s attitude and how they might receive you. You do not want to suddenly appear out of nowhere and expect them to gladly sit down with you. You have been preparing. They have not. They need time to get used to the idea you are proposing. They need time to prepare what they want to say to you.
Your contact is likely to surface forgotten, painful memories. So, you need to be very considerate and patient toward their needs. At this point they probably do not share your eagerness nor sense of urgency. Be patient. Go slow!
If the parties agree to meet with you, keep your priorities in mind. You are not there to justify yourself to them, explain your version, correct the record, or assign blame to anyone other than yourself.
If you have indeed forgiven them, that should now be a dead issue. [Ephesians 4:31-32; Matthew 6:14- 2 15]
You are there to right your wrongs and complete making your amends by extending a deep apology and asking for their forgiveness. Humility and gentleness are critical to their receiving what you have to say. Do not try to make yourself look good. Do not bargain, make extravagant promises or claims, cajole, manipulate, or threaten. You directly address your role in the hurt that was imposed and take full responsibility for it.
It is almost impossible to apologize too many times or express your sorrow, not for “what happened” or other cop-out phrases, but for what “I did.” Any attempt to varnish, minimize or fudge your actions will guarantee a negative reaction.
When you have finished saying your apology, you humbly ask their forgiveness. You should look each person directly in the eye and address them by name, apologize and be specific about how you hurt them. Then ask for their forgiveness. Wait for an answer before moving on to the next person. No matter what each person answers, you do not react. You just listen to what they have to say.
If they jump-start the meeting before you have a chance to speak, then you just listen very carefully. Don’t try to be friendly or familiar. Don’t put your head down or fiddle with anything. Don’t slouch or appear relaxed or disinterested. Do not look around. Focus on the speaker.
With an attentive posture, let your face show the sorrow, compassion and concern you feel. Meet the speaker’s eyes with a solemn, and vulnerable gaze. Avoid an intense gaze. This could be misinterpreted as hostility, resentment, hardness of heart or even an attempt at intimidation.
Sincere tears are appropriate, but do not fake them. Any dishonesty, verbal or non-verbal, will be detected immediately. No matter how long it takes, you just listen. Let them say whatever they need to, in whatever way their emotions come out. It could get very intense. It could be very angry, spiteful, unfair, even untrue to your recollection.
You do not defend. You do not correct. You hear their pain and you receive their anger. If it gets physical or out of control, do not touch anyone. Keep everyone as safe as you can by immediately excusing yourself and promising to come back when it is permissible.
After everyone has had an opportunity to speak, hopefully you can say your part. If not, you may have to try for another meeting. Repeat back the key things that were said to show you have ‘heard’ them, that you understand, and that you empathize with them. Profusely apologize again for the hurt.
If tears come at any point in the whole process, let them flow freely. Bring lots of tissues and allow many hours for this meeting to take place.
But, be quick to recognize when people have had enough and want to close it down. It’s their meeting. You are there by their permission. They have the power, and they decide whether that answer is “yes” or “no” or “we need more time.”
If there is not a positive response, offer them time to consider. As you leave, restate, for the third time, your sorrow and sincere desire for a reconciliation. Don’t make a speech. In a sentence or two, tell them you are anxiously awaiting their reply and promise that you will not intrude upon them again until you are invited to further the reconciliation process.
Leave graciously and keep your word, no matter what. That includes keeping your restitution commitments. Never hold the restitution over anyone’s head as a power gesture, and never threaten to take back your commitment to the restitution process. [Psalm 15:4; 1 John 2:5; 1 Timothy 5:8]
It is now in their hands, and God’s. It might take months. It might never happen. But, you can be at peace with the knowledge that you have done all that you could possibly do.
And you did it God’s way. Don’t give up. Keep praying!