Repentance and reconciliation, not only do they sound right together (yay for alliteration!), but they go together, hand-in-hand. There can be NO reconciliation without repentance. Because without repentance there is no humility, no regret, no change, no moving forward.
The need for reconciliation stems from a break, an impasse of sorts, in which our will is not in line with another’s will, God or human. In the case of God, the break would be as a result of sin. In the case of another person, it could be for a myriad of offending reasons, type and severity as varied as humanity itself.
Repentance is defined as “the activity of reviewing one’s actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs. It generally involves a commitment to personal change and resolving to live a more responsible and humane life.” One cannot reconcile with others or with God Himself unless there is first a review and humble admission of wrongs followed by a commitment to avoid the offending behavior pattern.
When King David, (yes, God’s beloved himself), committed adultery and then single-handedly ordered the murder of the husband to cover it up, he majorly offends God. Instead of offering up excuses for his behavior and justifying his actions, David was contrite when confronted. In fact, he pens Psalm 51 as his repentant lament.
In this Psalm, there are the two keys required for repentance and ultimately reconciliation: an acknowledgment of the sin committed and a dedication to turn from wrong in the future. Desperate to reconcile with God, David seeks to move forward. But, the sins have been committed and despite God’s forgiveness, there are very real consequences to David’s actions.
The same can also be true in our human relationships. When we wrong others and then seek to reconcile to maintain the status quo/life as usual without repentance, we are flagrantly disregarding the wronged party’s feelings and potential wounds. There are very real consequences in our treatment of others. But when we humbly repent to both God and those we’ve wounded, we open the door for God to work and forgiveness and healing to begin.
With this repentant commitment to change, trustworthiness comes into play. We prove that we are worthy of being trusted with the heart and feelings of another when we can point to our track record of changed behavior. This is not lip service, mere words. You must prove with your actions that you really have dedicated yourself to avoiding the offense that caused the impasse in the first place.
This would be a situation in which the Holy Spirit’s work would be evident in your life by the fruit you are producing (Matthew 7:15-20, James 2:18). Evidence of a changed life and commitment to growth is markedly fruit-filled: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). How to look for fruit?
- Observe the person’s behavior. Is he/she characterized with an authentic focus on Christ and the bringing of His Kingdom? How does he/she participate as and within the body of Christ?
- What are interactions with the person like? Does he/she respect your wishes? Boundaries? Need for space?
- How do they resolve conflict? What is his/her reaction when confronted with an issue or grievance?
- Then, observe the close relationships surrounding the person in question. Are they healthy? Are they functional? Are they mutually beneficial for both parties (or does one person exist primarily to serve the other’s needs)?
Warning signs would include attempts at manipulation and control (especially spiritual manipulation). Do not get caught up in a smear campaign. Your sole purpose in life is to glorify your Creator, not please other human beings, especially those engaging in emotional abuse and unhealthy behavior.
In Matthew 10, Jesus sent His followers out, advising, “When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way” (MSG) Some people just aren’t ready for reconciliation. It is not yet time. Step back. And so I did.
I am by no means an expert, simply a flawed human who has both wronged and been wronged by others. And reconciliation is tough, gritty, holy work. But in my experience, reconciliation not accompanied by repentance is not just difficult, but impossible. And during the stepping back process, it’s become essential for me to ask God to show me my own sin. To reveal to me those areas in which I have a tendency to get sucked in and stuck.
Mercy has become a novel concept. If I harden my heart against others, looking for evidence that further demonizes them, it is my own heart that suffers most. But if I continuously seek the Lord, both in repentance of my own sins of judgment and for help in forgiving those who wrong me, not only do I grow closer to Him but I get to see the beautiful work of grace and mercy transecting in my own life.
And stepping away from a relationship is by no means easy. Often, it’s extremely difficult, especially if it is someone in your family. But we are called to love God first and love others, a close second. And when someone distracts us from our relationship with God and the work He’s called us to with actions that continue to hurt and damage us deeply, stepping back becomes necessary to avoid sinning against them in thought and in deed.
After all, family in the biblical sense involves partnering with those who are building the Kingdom alongside us. In Matthew 12:48-50, when notified His family is outside, Jesus answers, “‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ Then he pointed to his disciples and said, ‘Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!'”
When faced with a relationship that seems impossible and you’ve reached your wit’s end in your attempts to love and communicate and reconcile to no avail, remember, we serve a God who specializes in the impossible. A God who works miracles and brings the dead to life. Step away, turn it over to Him, resting in the knowledge that He is the Redeemer of ALL things.