Finally! The fifth section of the The Home Builder’s Agreement for The Family Workshop: Reconciliation. In December, I had a slew of posts about this. It all started with the infamous gingerbread house fiasco. It took me several posts to explain my take on this topic. I am nothing, if not a slave to the details. But I think I can comfortably, and concisely (?), deal with this idea in one post now. If you want to read more about Reconciliation, scroll down on The Family Workshop Page to find the posts, or see my December 2012 posts, under Post Archives, on the right sidebar of the Home Page. The reason for so many posts about this topic? Maintaining Reconciliation is critical to relationship with God and man (or woman, or child!). So, our Home Builder’s Agreement ends with this:
5. I must maintain reconciliation to God and to others.
- Since I know that I am likely to fail frequently, in my attempts to emulate Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, my heart is humble and teachable, always ready to reconcile, desiring to please God more than myself
- When I sin, I must confess, seek forgiveness and repent (turn and go a different way). I am dependent upon the conviction of the Holy Spirit and I am responsive to the complaints of others.
- When I am wronged, I confront in love, maintaining peace within by trusting in Jesus as my Advocate, and quickly forgive.
- I consider most disagreements to be of a disputable nature and desire to find resolution and agreement rather than to win or to dominate.
- I do not return evil for evil because love must be unconditional, not transactional.
Since I have written a good bit about seeking and granting forgiveness, this is a good time to delve into another very important topic: confronting in love. There is something in the culture of modern Christianity that has conditioned us all to believe we must “play nice” when we have been wronged by someone else. This expectation promotes the idea that “turning the other cheek” means always looking the other way, and always keeping, albeit painfully, quiet. I see so many problems with this idea…I will try to address some of them here.
First, scripture does teach this: Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense (Prov 19:11). But what does it mean? “Good sense” is also translated as having discretion or wisdom – today we might say, “pick your battles.” When people do offensive things, step on our toes, cramp our style, hurt our feelings, we should extend them grace, when we can. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). But some people make it nearly impossible to keep the peace. We have explored that here before. You know…difficult people. The ones you always dread seeing, playing all the possible scenarios in your head a thousand times, when you know you shouldn’t do that! Or the people who are going out of their way to cause trouble. These are the grownups who, more like toddlers, insist that things must be their own way.
Then there are difficulties with people that sneak up on you: the cranky cashier at the grocery store, a friend making a snarky comment because she is having a bad day, or the shrew of a receptionist at the doctor’s office, who scolds you about some paperwork. And, you have wonderful people in your life who are occasionally, but predictably, cross with you: children having trouble with their schoolwork or husbands who are down with a cold. It seems like these are the circumstances, in which we find ourselves, when we have prayed for patience! 😉
How does having “wisdom” or “good sense” help us to be slow to anger? I guess I have had a lot of practice with all of these types of situations; but I am still working on the good sense part! Here are some things I think about when I am dealing with an awkward and offensive circumstance.
- I pray that the Lord will help me respond appropriately, because my knee-jerk reaction is usually the wrong one. I think that praying is the spiritual equivalent of “counting to ten.” But, counting to ten never gave me “the peace that passes understanding”, or helped me respond in ways that honor God. Prayer does give peace and guidance; so I am all for it.
- I try to decide if the situation warrants an immediate response, a delayed response, or no response. This is the toughest part for me, because I tend to be reactionary. I am learning that many times I do better to delay my response till a better time, or overlook the offense altogether. I have learned that when I am quiet, He will speak for me. That understanding comes from another great story, for another time…
- I look at the situation and, if the behavior is very offensive, or if there is a pattern of disrespect/dishonor, I must address it. This is a critically important thing to do in order to maintain relationships.
- I try to remember that, in order to keep a clean slate with God, I must do my part to keep a clean slate with others. And, the way that I confront offenses matters to both God and the individual that I am confronting. Simply being polite, but direct, will do a world of good here.
These two points are the part where I think many of us struggle. When we have been wronged, we don’t know how to respond in a way that honors God. Here’s what Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17). Doesn’t sound like turning yourself into a living doormat, does it?
The important thing is that, in the Christian life, having disagreements with others is not about winning or losing, but is about reconciliation. Reconciliation should be our default. If we can be reconciled to someone by overlooking an offense, because the “bad’ behavior” is an exception rather than the rule, then we should give them grace (undeserved favor). This meets with the standard of “what would Jesus do?” Other times, we are dealing with offenses that we are unable to overlook due to the severity of the misdeed, or the consistent pattern of “difficult” behavior . Again, if we approach the situation with reconciliation as our goal, then we must confront the other person with the sin, for the sake of the connection. Holding onto hurts and pretending they don’t matter is harmful to us and our relationships. For more on this, you can refer to the recent post on godly communication, and read about how to avoid being passive aggressive.
Confronting sin, is another way that Jesus dealt with people in His ministry. Ideally, you are dealing with another Christian, who would have reconciliation as a priority too; and so they would enter into the process with a contrite heart. Here’s where it can get really ugly though, especially when you are dealing with power struggles in the relationships and worldly thinking and toxic people. If this is what you are up against, I would refer you to a book that I have recommended before: The Emotionally Destructive Relationship: Seeing It, Stopping It, Surviving It (amazon link). It is amazing.
[In terms of conflict within the church, Jesus has laid out the framework of how individuals may respond to unrepentant, toxic people in the passage above: confront individually, confront with one or two others, confront with leaders of the church, and finally, when all of these options have been exhausted and reconciliation is still impossible due to an unrepentant heart, we are given permission to cut ties. These are extreme cases, but the Lord does not desire that our Body be torn apart by sin.]
As a final note, it is really important that we model the ability to deal with disagreements for our children. We must teach them how to reconcile with one another, show them good examples in our relationships with other grownups, and maintain reconciliation with them too. The Cycle of Reconciliation should always follow the simple pattern of confession of sin, the request for forgiveness, repentance, and acknowledgement of forgiveness. When we don’t close the loop here regularly, we end up with “dysfunction” in our relationships. Reconciliation with God is a parallel and ongoing important part of this process as well.
I strongly believe that learning to practice reconciliation with others teaches us firsthand about reconciliation with God. As we build our House upon His Word, we see that God has a higher standard for us than the world does…and different goals too. We must keep His goals in mind as we deal with others.