The other week I was at a church and the speaker preached on reconciliation, but never actually addressed what it is. It was like a politician answering a question: (politician) “I’d like to talk to you about the budget… so let’s talk about zoo animals.” Unfortunately for the speaker, he had a question and answer period after his sermon and the first question was “How do you reconcile?” Considering the sermon was needing to reconcile and this was never addressed, the questioner gave a very valid question. Unfortunately, this great question was not a good moment for the speaker because he had no idea, which is why he talked about the “zoo animals” earlier and that distraction wouldn’t work twice. The associate pastor noticed this, and since he was at a microphone he gave his own answer: “Reconciliation is important; you know what else is important? Jesus. I love Jesus.” And once again, another politician’s answer, but with more of a religious flare. To be honest, I’ve been trying to figure out how to answer this question off and on for many years. I was able to make the 7 Steps of Forgiving, but how to reconcile in simple steps has alluded me. For years if someone asked me about reconciliation I’d likely say: “Reconciliation is very important. You know what else is important? Finding a distraction when you don’t have the answer.” Fortunately, this event re-sparked my interest and I now have an answer I think is very practical and helpful.
Essentially the concept of reconciliation is so difficult to get because, when you understand it, it’s so basic and incredibly unappealing. Reconciling is two or more parties admitting their own faults in a situation (1-2 sentences), stating why they were hurt in a concise way (1-2 sentences), apologizing for the part they played, and creating boundaries to prevent similar problems in the future. Sounds simple, right? And as basic as it is, it’s taken me years to figure this out. More importantly, it’s rarely done because who wants to admit both parties are to blame? It takes two people to fight, but we rarely want to acknowledge that. We are more likely to either blame ourselves or anything but ourselves. Most times people do their best to avoid the conflict and eventually sweep the problems under the rug. Unfortunately, sweeping things under the rug is a great way to cause a tripping hazard in the future.
Besides the problem of fault, people tend to suck at being able to summarize their hurt in a concise way. For instance, I recently asked my wife why she was angry at me earlier that day and she said: “Well you blah, blah, blah, blah… and more blah.” That’s not a direct quote; there were a few more blahs. I’m not writing this to be mean, but to paraphrase what most people do when we’re asked why we’re hurt. We tend to ramble and get caught up on the surface details. What’s actually the root problem? Were you just in a bad spot because you were tired and hungry? Did you not feel cared about, respected, appreciated, etc.? Ultimately, if you don’t know what bothered you about something, how can you expect the other person to figure it out or know how to create boundaries to prevent it from happening again in the future?
The 7 Steps of Reconciling:
- Allow space & vent: A lot of people want to rush into reconciling because they hate the thought of someone not being happy with them, but we need to allow ourselves time to experience emotions. In fact, we should always try to vent out our emotions before trying to connect with the other party because otherwise we are at risk of exploding on them and making it worse.
- Establish a timeline: Timelines make sure both parties know that the issues will be addressed and push them to face the problems rather than just keep procrastinating. If the other party won’t give you a timeline, give yourself a fair timeline for checking in on them. If you do two check ins and the person still isn’t ready, make it clear that you care about them, but to prevent being annoying, you will leave the next contact for a timeline to be up to him or her. If this happens, there’s a good chance the other person will try to sweep it under the rug, and you’ll have to figure out what’s the best move for you from there whether you try again for a timeline or you work on your own forgiveness and move on while keeping them at a distance.
- Prepare yourself: a) Define what you did wrong and consider what you should’ve done with one sentence for each; more than that is at risk of causing further misunderstandings. b) Define what the other person did wrong and consider what he/she should’ve done in one sentence for each. c) Consider what is good about this event to make it easier to accept.
- Meet & share your prepared sentences from step 3: Make sure you meet when you’re both at your best (aka not angry, tired, hungry, drunk, etc.) and remember this is about healing and not about venting or rambling.
- Apologize: Both parties need to apologize. Remember an apology is simply acknowledging the other person was hurt. It’s not about admitting fault.
- Clear up any residual misunderstandings: This also needs to be concise in order to limit the risk of further issues. Most importantly, this needs to avoid excuse giving or passing blame. You were part of the conflict, so accept your part.
- Create boundaries: Boundaries are necessary to prevent this from happening in the future. They help make the bad situation a learning experience.
- Sometimes it can help to include a third party like a therapist to keep the conversation civil
- Consider whether penance (a onetime penalty) is necessary to restore balance like when there’s been an affair
- Consider having a time to check in to see how each is doing or had any new thoughts, but otherwise don’t bring up the issue again unless as an appropriate joke.
This week may you consider if there’s someone with whom you need to reconcile.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, Learning to love dumb people