What’s the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation and who really cares? Today we’ll explore the difference and why it matters.
Have you ever wanted to set a spiritual goal but gotten confused and discouraged by everyone’s ideal of what your goal should be (according to them)? For the next five weeks we’ll explore why and how you can set spiritual goals.
What’s the Difference Between Forgiveness and Reconciliation?
“What are you reading?” I asked one of my students. “That looks like a pretty big book.”
She placed her finger on the page to mark her spot before looking up at me. “Redeeming Love. It’s soooo good!”
“Is that the one by Francine Rivers?” I asked. Already knowing the answer to my question, but pleased by an opportunity to chat about a book with a girl who seldom read.
“Yes! Have you read it?”
“I haven’t,” I admitted. “What’s it about?”
She proceeded to explain the story of Angel, a girl sold into prostitution in Gold Rush California, and Michael Hosea, the man called by God to marry her. As she spoke, I whispered a prayer that Angel and Michael’s story would sink deep in her heart. I prayed she would understand how Francine Rivers retold the story of Hosea and Gomer—one of the most powerful Bible stories about forgiveness—and know how much God desired to forgive her and reconcile with her as well.
Forgiveness and reconciliation, while cousins, don’t mean the same thing. To forgive means to stop feeling angry toward someone for an offense, mistake, or flaw. Reconciliation means to restore a relationship.
In the case of Hosea and Gomer, Hosea forgave Gomer each time she returned to prostitution. He does the unimaginable, though. He reconciles with her and assures her of his love and kind regard.
What the Canadians Can Teach Us
A few years ago, I drove by myself from Alaska to Arizona, pulling an RV. While I adore traveling with my husband, going solo gave me the opportunity to spend time in museums (Pedro doesn’t speak museum). On a whim, I went into the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre in Dawson City, Yukon Territory.
Museums don’t make me cry, but this one did. For the first time, I heard about the residential school system in Canada. The United States had a similar system that produced the same horrific results. But one major difference exists in the current relationship between the First Nations in Canada and the Native Americans in the United States.
Reconciliation takes work. The Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre doesn’t just offer stories of atrocities—children forcibly removed from their homes for decades at a time, sexual assault, starvation, deprivations, corporeal punishment for speaking one’s native tongue, and mockery of beliefs. The museum offers stories of reconciliation and hope, too.
The Canadian government established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the early 2000s to work out the problems between people groups caused by the residential school system. From 2008-2014 the Commission traveled throughout Canada and listened, recorded, and absorbed. The Commission held 238 days of public hearings.
In 2015, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation opened on the campus of the University of Manitoba. The Centre acts as a clearinghouse for First Nations members to research their family history (many First Nations children disappeared) and provide access to their history. It also encourages dialogue on the many issues that still need reconciliation.
The Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre in Dawson City, YT, not only shows the history of the Dänojà Zho, it shows how they have worked to reconcile with those who did them harm.
Six Hacks to Help You with Reconciliation
In these two stories of reconciliation, we see how both the offended and the offender can initiate reconciliation. Forgiveness plays a huge part in reconciliation, but forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same things. Reconciliation starts with dialogue, and the dialogue can start from either the offender or the offended.
An important part of a healthy self-care plan includes living at peace with other people. Researchers have shown over and over how relationships with others can both bolster or harm our physical and mental health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150158/ If we have unreconciled relationships (especially with family members), those broken relationships can erode our health over time.
Our sociatal relationships play a role in our well being, too. The Bible tells us,
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.Romans 12:18 NIV
These six hacks will help you understand the reconciliation process and how to live at peace with everyone.Six hacks to help you reconcile with someone and take better care of yourself. #forgiveness #reconciliation #selfcare Click To Tweet
1. Acknowledge the Offense
Regardless of whether you sinned against someone or someone sinned against you, the first step to reconciliation is to acknowledge the offense. The Canadian government acknowledged their wrongdoing—even though the wrongdoing occurred hundreds of years earlier by people who are no longer alive.
In the biblical story of reconciliation, Hosea acknowledges Gomer’s offenses. While we think it natural for the offender to acknowledge the offense and start the process, Jesus tells us the offended can start the process as well.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”Matthew 5:23-24 NIV
2. Take Responsibility
Whether we feel like Hosea (whose wife repeatedly cheated on him) or the Canadian government (forced by a lawsuit to acknowledge the offence), we have to admit our part in the broken relationship.
I have distanced myself from people without ever communicating my reasons for the distancing. God wants to me live at peace with others and cutting people out of my life because I don’t like conflict means I have a problem.
I bear the responsibility for my boundaries and letting other people know about them. If I put up invisible fences, I also need to take responsibility for their existence and work to reconcile with the people I’ve fenced out.
3. Ask Forgiveness
‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t cut it, though. If you’d like pointers on how to apologize and ask forgiveness, you can check out this post.
Roy Lewicki, a professor emeritus of management and human resources at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business has conducted research with others on what makes a good apology. Participants in the studies felt apologies were most sincere when they included the majority of these elements:
- An expression of regret
- An explanation of what went wrong
- An acknowledgment of responsibility
- A declaration of repentance
- An offer of repair
- A request for forgiveness.
If someone has offended you and you feel the need to reconcile the relationship, take a hard look at your part in the conflict. This does not come easily for me, because I find it easier to blame others and not acknowledge my part. But if I want to experience true reconciliation, I need to take an honest look at my own actions, attitudes, and prejudices.
The idea of taking a hard look at my own prejudices has helped me go a long way towards understanding white privilege and why minorities still feel as if white America is basically racist. As part of the majority, I need to act like Canada and listen to the truth of how my subtle attitudes and prejudices shade my relationships with other people groups.
4. Offer Reparations
In the case of the racial tensions in our country today, we have two choices. We can deny our prejudice and fight to keep the status quo, or we can acknowledge the existence of a problem.
It should be obvious by now that a problem exists. And Jesus counsels us to leave the alter and seek reconciliation when we know someone has a problem with us.
While I’m not a government with a budget, I am a human with influence. And I can use my influence to offer reparations. I can’t repay Native Americans for land my ancestors stole from them, but I can have open conversations and ask them what I do have they could use as a hand up.
My attitude towards my Native American students has changed drastically in the eight years I’ve had the privilege of teaching them. I want my students to learn to use their voices to advocate for themselves. The process takes time, but we’ve made a start—you can see some of their work over at Voices of Native Youth.
These ideas may help you find ways to make amends with others.
- Offer free tutoring
- Read to immigrant kids
- Join the Big Brother Big Sister Program https://www.bbbs.org/get-involved/become-a-big/
- Buy and donate books by own voices authors to your local library and church library.
- Adopt an inner-city classroom and gift own voices books to the class at Christmas. You may want to join together with others to pull this one off.
- Initiate friendships with BIPOC church members, neighbors, or acquaintances.
- Read books about race problems written by those who have experienced them.
If you have any additional ideas, please let me know in the comments!
5. Offer Friendship and Unconditional Positive Regard
The story of the five missionaries murdered by Waodani warriors in the 1950s and what happened over the intervening half century paints a beautiful picture of the quest for reconciliation.
Three years after the missionaries’ deaths, two of the women made contact with the tribe. Through their efforts of friendship, one of the slain man’s sons was adopted by the very man who had murdered his father.
While it may seem unimaginable to serve people who murdered your husband or father, it often seems just as impossible to serve those who slight us, ridicule us, make our lives miserable, or disdain us. But with God, all things are possible.
I need to tap into that resurrection power on a daily basis to foster unconditional positive regard for people who have sinned against me (or even just disagree with me).
6. Reconciliation Takes Time
Reconciliation takes time. It might take days, weeks, months, years, decades, or even centuries to rebuild broken relationships. The reconciliation process has layers that build upon each other. Whether you need to reconcile with an individual or a people group, know that God wants you to reconcile. And when we attempt to do God’s will, he will equip us for the process.
How Does Christian Reconciliation Fit into Your Spiritual Goals List?
I find it difficult to imagine seeking reconciliation with a jerk at work, much less someone who has sinned against me greatly. But as a Christian, God calls me to reconcile with those who sin against me. One of my spiritual goals for the new year includes making forgiveness and reconciliation a positive self-care habit.
As with all habits, repetition results in fluency. The more I practice forgiveness and reconciliation, the easier the process will become. Who is God calling you to reconcile with in the new year?
Inspire Me Monday
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This topic strikes a nerve in our present racial climate.
Michele Morin recently posted…The Reason Why We Can Sing “Joy to the World”
Yes, reconciliation does take time but so worthwhile.
May 2021 be a year of blessings for you & your family Anita,
Tea With Jennifer recently posted…What’s your Raison d’etre?
I have a tendency to do that–distance myself when a problem comes up instead doing the hard but good work of dealing with the issue. I need to do better.
Barbara Harper recently posted…What God Tells Us to Remember
Anita, the difference between reconciliation and forgiveness is a topic that I suppose I never really thought about. You have definitely given me much food for thought. The stories you shared are a brilliant illustration of how to move from forgiveness into reconciliation. It really does always come down to respectful communication. And I really enjoyed reading about the differences between the relationships between the First Nations and Canadians vs Americans. That is a topic that I am very, very interested and quite passionate about. I need to read more on these issues, for sure. Thanks so much for using your space to educate and shine light into the world!
These are great reminders, Anita. Acknowledgement and taking responsibility are key in this process. But I’ve also learned that even if the offender never takes responsibility for their actions toward me, I still forgive. If the person I offend refusses to accept my forgiveness, I still offer it. After all, I’ve been forgiven for much by Jesus.
I am reading through the OT right now, and I just read the story of the prophet Hosea and Gomer a few nights ago. It is a good example of forgiveness and reconciliation. I never thought about the difference between the two before. Thank you for explaining the steps to reconciliation. We all need to pay attention.
Laurie recently posted…One Little Word: 2021
I wish more was taught in tandem about reconciliation with forgiveness – and how to live it when someone doesn’t recognize their responsibility in what has happened. Thought-provoking post!
I love how you differentiated between forgiveness and reconciliation, Anita. Forgiveness is not negotiable. But reconciliation often needs to be. ‘By their fruit you’ll know them’ has been a helpful verse to me.
Happy New Year, to you, to yours!
Linda Stoll recently posted…My Post of the Year . . .
nylse recently posted…The Year In Review – 2020 Edition
I have a relationship that I would like to improve in 2021 so these tips are very timely, Anita.
I read Redeeming Love 10 years ago when we were keeping watch over my father as he was dying from cancer. Bittersweet memories.
Lisa notes recently posted…Favorite 10 Books of 2020
Examining my heart after reading this.
Lauren Renee Sparks recently posted…A Weary World Rejoices…and Grace and Truth Link Up
I recorded a YouTube video on this recently. So glad you mentioned the difference because there definitely is a HUGE difference. So many Christian churches teach this wrong lumping forgiveness and reconciliation into the same basket. Forgive always. Reconcile; maybe and only when the suggestions you mentioned are followed. With that said, some relationships ought never to be reconciled.