I knew when she shoved me off the sidewalk into my car that things had gotten out of hand. How did we go from good friends to this? We went to school together. We ran on the same track team. We were even in the same youth group.
She had cut off our friendship unexpectedly and without explanation and now it seemed that she couldn’t stand the sight of me. I was utterly confused. I truly had no idea what I had done or said that caused her to end our friendship so abruptly and painfully.
I remember talking to my Mom about this severed relationship. Why was this former friend being so rude? Why wouldn’t she talk to me? What had I done?
My mom encouraged me to be vulnerable and to be open to this friend, to seek her out and try and understand what I had done. She told me that I may have to be the one to take the first steps to restoring our friendship and that meant I may need to ask this friend’s forgiveness.
It didn’t matter what, if anything, I had done. What mattered was what I would do with the realization that my friend was hurting and angry and, that I may have played some unknown role in that.
I wanted to be reconciled, to have our relationship restored. Was I willing to make the first move?
Reconciliation can be defined as restoring friendly relations, bringing together again, fence-mending. The Greek word for reconciliation is katallasso, which literally means “to change; to restore to favor.” When we effect a change we cause something to happen, we act. But what if there is conflict and tension without the clear understanding of our role in it? What if that conflict and tension goes deeper than a simple offense or act of insensitivity?
Many people in my community and several who come through Reconciliation Services carry the heavy burdens of trauma and injustice. I have found myself in situations where my very presence seemed offensive and produced discomfort. What I represent, what I have, what I don’t have to deal with--may be reminders of another person’s disappointments, disadvantages, and struggles.
Fr. Justin Mathews’ recent insightful and honest article about white privilege garnered many heated remarks from readers, some declaring that “we don’t have to apologize for who we are.” The danger of this attitude can be that when we encounter conflict and offense we inevitably respond by shoring up walls and building a stronger defense of who we are. I’m suggesting that reconciliation requires something different. Reconciliation requires restoration and change, not justification. Reconciliation calls us out from behind those walls and invites us to a place of common ground, to build fences and “to restore favor.”
On our better days, we might readily apologize for something we did that was wrong or something we said that was hurtful. What about asking forgiveness for something we didn’t personally participate in, like redlining, slavery or segregation? Can we stand with those who have been degraded, abused and forgotten, striving to see what they see and feel what they feel? If we are seeking true reconciliation does it really matter whether or not we can pinpoint our specific role in an offense or injustice?
In the Orthodox Christian Church we begin the season of Lent by asking forgiveness of one another. It is a fresh start to a season of deep prayer and contemplation. We literally ask forgiveness of and embrace each member of our church, those we know well and those we don’t. We ask forgiveness of the children and the adults, those we may truly have offended and those whom we know we have not. We do this because we understand that in order to be reconciled to God we must first be reconciled with one another. We seek to be aware of our role in reconciliation, our struggle to take first steps. For those things known and unknown, realizing that although we may not have wronged the individual standing in front of us, our separation from or offense against anyone hurts our whole community.
“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see God,” it charges in Hebrews 12:14. Pursuing peace, striving for reconciliation, is hard work. It is an active working to restore favor, not a hope that someday it may come.
I wish I could say that when I tried to talk with my old high school friend about the dissonance between us that she opened her heart, that she wanted reconciliation too. Unfortunately, she remained distant until I left for college. It was a great sadness for me at the time. I learned through that struggle though, that reconciliation is first and foremost my own personal journey towards restoration. We may not know how our heart’s desire for reconciliation will be received, but the best way to find out is to take the first step.
Article by Jodi Mathews