Monday, October 07, 2013

The Hard Work of Reconciliation

I thought I'd post my seminary post this week here as well.
Conflict happens. It happens often. Some people seem to thrive on it and probably like it a little too much. Others do not voice their concerns and frustrations because they want to avoid conflict. They may unhealthily avoid conflict.

But inevitably, conflict comes.  Some conflict happens cleanly. People disagree, but they keep their disagreement from getting personal. They do not attack each other, but they hammer out their differences in ideas or in course of action. In the end, they do not hold a grudge. If a decision needs to be made, it is made by those in authority and accepted by the party that loses.

When conflict happens in this way, it can be very healthy and beneficial.  If those who disagree keep silent, the rest of those involved may miss out on important insights.  Still more, sometimes new and better ideas emerge in the give and take of disagreement. If those who disagree are silent, they may find their concerns overlooked. Similarly, those making the decisions will usually make a better and more informed decision if all voices are heard.

The problem is that conflict often happens in a way that is hurtful. To some extent, it doesn't matter whether the hurt was intended or not.  If a person feels hurt, the hurt is real. Friendships end this way. Enemies develop this way. The easy way is to let the divide take over, to avoid the other person indefinitely and carry a grudge.

This is the human way, but it is not the Jesus way.  No matter how hard it is, as Jesus-followers, God calls us to do the hard work of reconciliation. And what is impossible in our fallen humanness, God can give us the spiritual power to do.

1. Reconciliation is the Jesus outcome.
It takes two parties to have reconciliation. Sometimes one half of a conflict is willing to work to be reconciled but the other isn't. In such cases we can only do our best and leave the rest to God. It may take a while to heal from conflict. Especially if we are the one by whom the other party felt injured, we should not expect immediate reconciliation always to be possible.

But reconciliation is the goal. In our humanness, God will give us some time to say, "Not now," but he never gives us the space to say, "Not ever." In Matthew 18, Jesus tells Peter that we must forgive our brothers and sisters seventy times seven. He tells one of the scarier parables, one in which the debts the master has already forgiven are unforgiven because a servant refuses to forgive someone else. Scripture gives no promise of forgiveness to the person who refuses to forgive others.

Reconciliation is always God's preferred outcome, even though it is usually the hardest outcome.

2. Motion brings emotion.
We can do the loving thing even when we do not feel very loving toward another person. We know what we want to do, what we feel like doing. But we should also know what we should do, what Jesus would do. We may want to avoid the other person and perhaps we should for a while. We may want to hurt the other person one way or another--which we should never do.

By God's grace, we can still "love our enemy" in our actions even if we do not feel like it.  We can kill them with kindness. We can heap coals of fire on their heads (although here we must be careful not to be passive-aggressive, sneaking in hate in the guise of doing good). Just because we do not feel loving toward them does not mean that we cannot act lovingly toward them. And the more we act lovingly toward others the more we will feel forgiving of them.

3. Stay away from bad situations.
If we know that we will not be able to control our tongue in a certain situation, then we should avoid it. If we know we will not be able to be loving around someone, we should stay away for a while. Again, no one said reconciliation is easy. At some point we have to jump into contact or else it will never take place. But we should be wise about the time and the place that we work for reconciliation.

The best way to be reconciled is of course not to become alienated in the first place.  And here, following the basic rules of respect comes in very handy. We can disagree agreeably.


Susan Moore said...

If I can jump in...
One think I haven't heard taught in any church I've been in:
That feeling of conflict we perceive towards another person/situation, is a feeling/perception/experience in our minds. The 'conflict' that we are perceiving, does not exist external to us, it is an internal event.
Therefore, it is vital to forgive the person in our minds, whether or not we ever see that person again and whether or not the relationship is ever reconciled.
I say that after experiencing three separate traumatizing events in my early childhood, then moving away from the area ASAP after becoming an adult.
To be obedient to Jesus' call to forgive, and to settle my inner torment, I had to come to a place of forgiveness 1000 miles away from my tormentors and over twenty-years after the woundings had occurred, with no expectation of or desire at ever seeing my human tormentors again.
Then about 15 years yet later Jesus healed me.
One of my first surprises I came across in my new life after He brought me back to where I grew up, was to find one of my traumatizers worshipping and serving in my church.
I approached him ready to confront him, and warn the church. I asked him how he came to my church, and learned that Jesus had healed him, too.
And now we worship together.
In God all things are possible.

Amanda said...

Thanks so much for this, Ken. Good words. I'm curious if you would distinguish at all between "forgiveness" and "reconciliation"? I'm part way through Everett Worthington's book by the same title and wondered your thoughts...

Ken Schenck said...

I personally would in the way I use the words. To me, you can forgive someone who does not wish or cannot bring him/herself to be reconciled to you. To me, reconciliation requires both parties, while forgiveness can be one sided.

What do you/Worthington think?

Jim Schenck said...

Good thoughts, Ken. This falls in line with what I preached yesterday. And Amanda and Worthington are also spot on. There is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. And somewhere along that line is the issue of trust. Trust always comes (a long way) after forgiveness. I've taught that forgiveness is a gift, but trust is earned. Where do you all think trust comes into play along the path toward reconciliation?

Susan Moore said...

To Jim Schenck,
I don't know if you were including me in your question but...
Trust has been a huge issue for me. For decades I hated and was terrified of every human male on the planet, so the first person I had to learn to trust was Jesus, who walked on earth as a human male. I never fully trusted Him until He healed me of the PTSD 5 years ago, and that's only because then I fully realized that He is God.
Because some of the traumatic events occurred when I was so young, I can't say I'm learning to trust people again. I never trusted them in the first place! So, I've set some ground rules for myself:
1.Take everyone at face value.
2.Don't assume anything. Don't make judgments without the facts, ask questions to get to know people.
3. We are all different, rejoice in that.
4. Give the benefit of the doubt if at all possible. All of us start as fallen humans and are capable of any wickedness, but most prefer to not be wicked. Help people not be wicked. In a conflict, give them options on how to get out of it. Grace is a good thing; in good conscience, how can I withhold grace when so much has been given to me?
So, in the case of the person mentioned above with whom I am now reconciled, I trust being alone with him but, for instance, I would not trust being with him if there were others around from that time without knowing if they, too, have been saved by grace.
Trust is a bugger, open to suggestions...

Jim Schenck said...

I appreciate your candor. After what you have described, I would say your ground rules go a long way to bridge the divide between graceful acceptance and pessimistic isolation. If I may, I may borrow those to share with those in my ministry who may need some help.

Susan Moore said...

To Jim Schenck,
By all means, anything I have to offer that could help someone else is theirs. All good comes from God, and everything I have belongs to Christ, and He says to give freely.
Also, if you click on my name my online testimony is there. Sometimes people (mostly people who are trauma survivors) are healed by reading it. One time a Jewish friend read it, but not the scriptures because she didn't want to be misled, and she was healed, too.
When I realized He had healed me, I told Him I would do anything for Him. I'm looking for a church that will support me serving Him in the way He seems to have made me to serve Him best, but I haven't found one yet. :-(