“Most of all, love one another deeply. Love erases many sins by forgiving them.”

(1 Peter 4:8, NIRV)

With the holidays upon us, it’s a wonderful time to celebrate the joys of Thanksgiving and the wonder of Christmas.  The festivities of this happy time include all the trimmings of turkey, pumpkin pie, Christmas carols, presents, and being reunited with family.  But for many families, the holidays can be bittersweet as they’ve been hurt by things that have been said and done over the years to pull them apart.

Most of the trauma we’ve experienced in our lives from other people have one common denominator.  It came at the hands of someone very familiar to us.   That’s the reason it hurt so much because you never expected to be betrayed by someone who should have loved you.  David put it this way in Psalm 55:12-13 “If an enemy were making fun of me, I could stand it. If he were getting ready to oppose me,
I could hide. But it’s you, someone like myself. It’s my companion, my close friend.”

 If this describes you and you’re already dreading a reunion of family and friends this holiday season because of a broken relationship, I’d like to challenge you to make this year one of the most memorable of all by seeking to restore that relationship.  What follows are some tips to help you in your task.

Begin by Praying for this Person

When Jesus told us in Matthew 5:44 to love our enemies, he said, “Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”  Saying and doing nice things to people is important, but how often do we actually pray for the person we’re trying to forgive?  Do not try to walk this journey alone and in your own strength.  Think of this person you’re dreading to see this holiday season and begin praying for them now.

Understand the Difference Between Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Forgiveness and reconciliation are similar elements but also separate issues. Forgiveness is what I must offer my offender regardless of his response.  Dr. Gary Chapman of The Five Love Languages describes it as one-way forgiveness.  This is something I can control, and I must do alone for my personal benefit.  Reconciliation requires the willing participation of two people and occurs when forgiveness is requested and received through repentance, with the goal of restoring the relationship to where it was before the offense occurred.

Who Initiates Reconciliation?

Today’s culture insists that if you’ve been hurt, you are owed an apology. The person who wronged you needs to come to you and repent. Perhaps then you could consider forgiving. However, this is contrary to what the Bible teaches. Jesus states that reconciling with others is something we need to do before we worship God. “If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God” (Matthew 5:23-24, THE MESSAGE).

In the vast majority of cases, the rift between you and someone else is based on an innocent misunderstanding.  Chances are this other person doesn’t know they hurt you or is unaware of the extent of your hurt.  By going to this person, you can easily clear up the misunderstanding quickly but if you don’t, they will never know and you will continue to presume they just don’t care.  And if it is more serious, at least you have now opened up the dialogue with the hope of restoring this relationship.

When Do I Choose Reconciliation?

Real simple—when the relationship is more important than the issue, try to reconcile.Click To Tweet

An extramarital affair is a big issue but a couple can work through it if they believe saving their marriage is more important. Having your trust betrayed by a friend is a big deal but salvaging that friendship may be considered more important. Forgiveness makes that happen.

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The Bible tells us, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NLT). Our sin was a big issue. Christ’s shed blood on the cross was a big issue. However, the larger issue for God was having a relationship with us and so He sacrificed His son to make it possible. What are you willing to sacrifice to reconcile a broken relationship with someone you care about?

What Does Repentance Look Like?

The level of repentance will determine the level of reconciliation. If it’s fake and not heartfelt, reconciliation will likely not happen. If it is genuine and humble, the chances are quite excellent that a broken relationship can be restored. Here are several traits of true repentance:

  • Voluntary—not being forced by someone else
  • Motivated—hoping for the goal of reconciliation and not just venting anger
  • Humility—remembering that we all make mistakes and need forgiveness
  • Empathy—trying to see and understand the other person’s perspective
  • Responsible—offering no excuses, no explanations, no blaming others
  • Specific—providing details regarding the offense
  • Transparent—holding nothing back but exposing everything
  • Vulnerable—taking the risk that an apology might not be received

How Should Repentance Be Communicated?

Whether you are seeking repentance or needing to repent to someone else, how this is communicated is vital. It’s important to understand the three ways we communicate a message, which are our words, our tone of voice, and our body language. In the movie Hitch, Will Smith plays a dating guru and correctly emphasizes that our words only represent 10 percent of our message. Or as he puts it, “Ninety percent of what you’re saying ain’t coming out of your mouth!”

With this in mind, would e-mail be an appropriate method of reconciling? Absolutely not. That approach should be avoided unless there is no other way. The person on the other end of the broken relationship is just getting your words but cannot see your body language or hear the tone of your voice. Your words are open to the interpretation of someone who is probably already upset with you. Writing a letter is a little more personal but we’re still left with just about 10 percent of the message we want to communicate.

A phone call greatly enhances the opportunity for reconciliation because now the dimension of voice tone is added to the words. The combination of these two elements represents about 50 percent of how we communicate. Of course, meeting with someone face to face gives you words, tone of voice, and body language, which represents 100 percent of your message. If you want reconciliation to occur, every effort should be made to meet face to face.

If someone doesn’t want to meet, will not take your phone call, or refuses to respond, then be at peace that you’ve done your part in the reconciliation process. The issue is no longer between you and that person. It’s now between that person and God. If reconciling is important to you, then continue to wait as God works on that person’s heart. Sometimes people just aren’t ready and need more time.

Make This Year Truly Memorable

The reason we celebrate Christmas is because Jesus came to reconcile us to God and to bring peace on earth.  We can continue the tradition of that very first Christmas gift by reconciling with someone else this holiday season.  As you prepare your shopping list for your loved ones, add restoring a broken relationship to the top of that list.  I can think of no better way to honor the Prince of Peace this holiday season.

Copyright (c) 2018 Gil Mertz, used with permission.

Gil Mertz is Assistant to the President at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. His daily commentaries on forgiveness have been broadcast on more than 300 stations across America