By Beth Walker
Have you ever lain awake at night thinking about something you did years ago that still eats at you? Have you convinced yourself too much time has passed for reconciliation? I have. I’ve spent hundreds of hours over the decades regretting my choices. I’ve also spent too many hours dwelling in a wounded heart. Both hindered me.
As I’ve sought to live a fuller life, however, I’ve discovered that what the experts say about forgiveness is right. Freedom is realized in moving forward and forgiving—even when the one who has wronged you hasn’t asked for forgiveness.
The thing is, forgiving others who have committed wrongs doesn’t let them off the hook. Jesus said:
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent (Matthew 5:21–26 NASB).
Jesus made a specific point here. We are all responsible for ourselves in a conflict. We’re guilty when we’re angry with someone we think has wronged us, but we are also guilty in conflicts where we have caused the wound.
Reconciliation is so important that Jesus says it takes priority over leaving an offering on the temple altar. Failing to follow through can have serious consequences. Apologizing requires strength, and when we humble ourselves and admit we were wrong, we reveal teachable and tender hearts. Psalm 51 is David’s response to being called out for his poor decisions with Bathsheba. Verse 10 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (NASB). David spent time apologizing, admitting he was wrong. He repented, then he asked for a fresh start.
We get a chance for a fresh start every time we apologize. That’s the beautiful part about grace. Whether we stand humbly before God or a loved one, when we are offered grace our wrongs are erased and a fresh start begins. The person receiving our apology also gets a fresh start. We affirm that they were right to be upset about our poor treatment of them. We affirm they deserve the best version of us and that we care about reconciliation with them.
Moment of truth here, sister? Apologies can’t have a trace of pride. “I’m sorry you feel that way,” isn’t going to cut it. This isn’t about shifting blame or demeaning. You won’t find the release you need, and neither will your loved one.
How do I know this? In the last few years, I’ve been gifted the chance for reconciliation in two significant relationships. Wounds that were more than a decade old were finally erased. The surprising part for me was that I didn’t realize the wounds were still present. I knew there was distrust, but I had done the hard work; I had walked the path toward forgiveness and had pushed the past behind me.
Then the apology came. It was tender, humble, and seemed to come out of nowhere. But it became clear it had been deeply needed on both sides. Forgiveness was easy, but it wasn’t about the words. It was about reconciliation. As both the seeker and giver of forgiveness, I have found reconciliation begins after the apology. I’ve also discovered it’s worth every effort, tear, and humiliating conversation to get there.
Have you been avoiding any hard conversations? Don’t wait any longer. Those you’ve wounded deserve your apology. They deserve to know you love them enough to move forward. Are you the one waiting for an apology? Hang in there. Pray for reconciliation. Surrender the wound. God is big enough, even for your situation.
Beth Walker is a football coach’s wife and mom of two energetic boys. She strives to encourage those around her to pursue their best lives in Jesus whether she is near the game field, in church, or at the local coffee shop. As a writer, Beth has been striving to find her voice through seeing Jesus in the ordinary and extraordinary of daily life. She blogs at Lessons from the Sidelines.
Photograph © Bethany Beams, used with permission