Popping the Reconciliation Bubble
“Janae, what you seek is mediation not reconciliation,” was the answer a wise pastor friend gave me after I had shared a heartfelt explanation on why I desired biblical reconciliation with certain people from a hurtful church situation. I was challenged and a bit miffed by his response. It was humbling to admit my actual desires leaned towards mediation. I was not as far along in the healing process as I thought. His insightful words were tough to hear, but they brought much needed clarity to understanding reconciliation.
Mediation is for those who seek intervention to resolve their differences.
Reconciliation is for those who seek to restore a relationship back to amenable terms.
Biblical reconciliation results first because God changed us, we therefore humbly seek to restore a relationship at minimum back to amenable terms and through the power of Christ, hopefully restore the relationship back to full trust.
Mediation attempts to prove sides and bring clarity to a point of view. Reconciliation chooses to put aside differences in order to preserve the relationship. Mediation seeks to resolve a dispute. Reconciliation resolves to reinstate the relationship. Mediation may or may not lead to reconciliation. Reconciliation results when both parties agree to disagree, extend forgiveness, give grace and elevate the importance of the relationship over a need to be right or insist on retribution.
Out of all church hurts, this particular situation cut the deepest because Tony and I were directly targeted. Sitting there that night with our pastor friend, I had to face my own self-righteousness. It seemed to me reconciliation was what I desired, but in reality I sought a chance to be understood, to bring validity to our perspective. An illusion had formed that somehow my version of reconciliation would cause a lightbulb moment triggering the others to say “Oh, well that makes sense now, we are sorry for all the things we said and did and how it hurt you.”
The idea that Christians live in a reconciliation utopia is a bubble that needs bursting. Our expectations of people to somehow jump the chasm of hurt and healing to the land of hunky dory is impracticable.
Realistic Reconciliation Expectations in Hurtful Church Situations:
Is there a timeline?
The idea that reconciliation will happen sooner than later is unrealistic. Multiple people are often involved in most church situations compounding the timeline. Like forgiveness, reconciliation needs to be on our radar. We need to know reconciliation is the ultimate goal. When, is up to God’s timing as He works on individual hearts. Pray for the hearts of everyone involved to be softened towards reconciliation. Put accountability in place to help ensure reconciliation is not disregarded.
Several years ago the death of a friend brought me face to face with many people I had not seen since a hurtful church situation. God opened up tearful conversations where relationships were restored to friendly terms.
Be encouraged, God may present the opportunity for reconciliation at the most unexpected time and place.
When will I know I am ready?
Are we ever fully ready? Reconciliation with someone who has hurt us, especially if it is a person who was or is in a position of authority, is scary. We need to go into it prayed up and trusting God with the outcome. You will be more prepared when you have moved through the steps of hurt to healing and have already exercised the discipline of forgiveness.
How do I go about seeking reconciliation?
If God’s timing is leading you to initiate face to face reconciliation, seek wise counsel first. Prior to meeting, make it clear what your intentions are based on clear definitions of reconciliation versus mediation. Choose a place and time that is safe for all parties and consider including a third non partial party. Even though it is not mediation, a third-party tempers a difficult situation, keeping everyone focused on reconciliation steering away from further conflict.
Reconciliation can also be a letter of good will or a simple interaction that happens unexpectedly. We will know that reconciliation has occurred when both parties can be kind to one another for the sake of Christ and both parties are not guessing how the other will act, if their paths cross.
Remember that the results of reconciliation does not mean we condone what happened. It also does not mean we will re-engage on a social level or the relationship will return to its original level of trust.
What if the person will not admit their part?
It is important to realize that most hurtful church situations do not stem from immorality rather from differences of theology, differences on methods for ministry, differences on leadership structures or differences on how something was handled.
With any situation there will be multiple perspectives of who is at fault. Reconciliation is not based on resolving differences but rather reinstating the relationship.
If both parties can agree to disagree, extend forgiveness, give grace and elevate the importance of the relationship over a need to be right or insistent on retribution, then the foundation for a successful reconciliation is set.
What do I do when the other party does not want to reconcile?
Pray for them and for yourself to remain open. Guard your heart from bitterness. Place the matter along with the person(s) fully into God’s hands and trust Him with the timing. Leave the past in the past so that you can move forward in living fully the life God has called you to.
What about when church leadership does not reconcile?
Pray for your church leadership. Extend them the grace they need to heal from their pain from the hurtful situation. Do not force or condemn them for not having reconciled. Do lovingly encourage them to reconcile and let it be known in time it is expected. Allow God to facilitate how and when. If time goes on and the leadership continues to gloss over the need to reconcile, then you are presented with a decision. Are you called to remain under leadership who is unwilling to move towards reconciliation?
Reconciliation is messy and doesn’t always look like what we think. To the best of your ability move from hurt to healing, practice forgiveness and attempt to reconcile, letting go of idealistic expectations. Regardless of where you are on your journey of reconciliation, stay involved with a local church and continue to allow God to use you.
(What does the Bible say? Genesis 33; Matthew 5:23-24, 18:15-22; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Ephesians 4:29- 5:2)
Thank you for reading my blog. I have also written a Bible study for women, Image Wearers to Image Bearers. Gather a couple of your friends together and join me in learning the truth of what God’s Word has to say about who you are and who you are meant to be!