What a weekend! I gathered with some folks near my old stomping grounds, not far from where I grew up and where I served on a church staff for five years in the earliest days of my post-university and just-married life. People came from all over this part of California, including people that were in that fellowship a long time ago, a second cousin I’d not seen since I was 15, people who’ve been through painful betrayals by brothers and sisters they thought were their friends, and those facing some huge challenges with religious voices clouding their freedom to follow what God has already put on their heart.
One of the undercurrents to our time was reconnecting with old friends and reconciliation between people who’d been caught up in some painful conflicts. One of the couples that had been part of our painful departure from a fellowship in Visalia, which I’d co-pastored for fifteen years and from which I was “resigned” by what I thought was one of my best friends, while I was speaking at another fellowship elsewhere. This couple had connected with Sara and I before the weekend even began in hopes that their coming wouldn’t be awkward for us. We were able to work through misunderstandings and unresolved issues from over 17 years ago and were able to renew a friendship that had been lost. What incredible joy to find myself once again in the midst of a friendship that had been lost in those confusing days.
One of my favorite conversations of the weekend was on Sunday morning as we talked about betrayal by close friends, and the process by which forgiveness and reconciliation can truly happen.
Betrayal happens when a close friend decides to lay your life down to achieve something they want for themselves. They don’t mind hurting you to get what they want. It happens often in this broken age. When Jesus told us that there was no greater love than one laying down his life for another, he meant our own! Walking all over someone to get even what you think God wants for you is the darkest of deceptions. It is exactly the opposite of how he asks us to live.
Forgiveness is a unilateral process where we can truly take our foot off the throat of those we consider to have wronged us. Forgiveness does not exonerate the betrayer; it frees the victim from the ongoing pain of the other’s actions and opens the opportunity for us to find healing inside and the freedom to move on with what God has for us. But forgiveness is not just a choice of the will; it is a process where we bring out hurt and pain to Jesus and he works us through them to a place of true release and forgiveness. It may take a few months or even years, but don’t stop short of it being complete. Just keep it discussing it with Jesus as he untangles your hurt and leads you into a real forgiveness of others.
Reconciliation, however, is a bi-lateral process that can only happen when both parties are ready to sit down and honestly explore each other’s story with a spirit of compassion and humility. It cannot be forced and can only happen when all parties truly value the relationship over anything else. It recognizes that the most important thing Jesus asked of us is to love each other as we are loved by him.
Reconciliation, too, is a work of the Spirit to prepare each heart to truly listen to each other’s story, laying aside our own assumptions and judgments, admitting our mistakes, caring about each other’s pain, and resolving any outstanding issues by God’s grace and mercy. Reconciliation heals the relationship and allows a friendship to grow onward.
However, neither forgiveness or reconciliation requires us to trust the one who betrayed us. It allows us to love them again, but trust, once violated, can only be won back by the demonstration over time that the person values the relationship above his or her own self-interest. We are never told to trust someone beyond our conviction that they will lay down their lives for us in moments of conflict.
What a weekend this proved to be! When people have asked me if I am reconciled to those who were part of our painful departure from a church we help plant, my answer has been with all but four of the couples who were part of excluding Sara and me. Today, I can say all but three, and Sara and I now have the joy of another friendship, restored even more closely than it had been before those painful days.
Reconciliation is just the best! In the past four months I’ve had the blessing of being part of two reconciliations of important friendships that were cut off in days of pain and betrayal. Both lasted over 15 years and have now come to healing again. I wish it hadn’t taken so long, but this isn’t a process we control. I think broken relationships break our Father’s heart more than anything else that goes on in our world. It is the result of sin and competing for things the Father has not given us. What absolute delight it is to work through the pain, misunderstandings, and confusion that caused the disconnect, and celebrate the grace of God that triumphs in all of us, even in our failures and mistakes.
That’s what God has sought since the fall in Eden with each of us. It’s what he celebrates when his children find a way out of their pain and selfishness to reconnect in a renewed friendship.
Here are some pictures that capture a bit of our weekend in Clovis, California:
More than 50 people gathered with us over the weekend
Conversations that matter with people who care
As always, some of the best stuff happens in more personal conversation–the twos and threes.