Tear down this wall!

Walls generally serve at least one of three purposes; to keep something protected within, to protect from the dangers without, or to allow a degree of privacy.

In 1961, communist East Germany had erected a wall to prevent her people from entering democratic West Germany. As walls tend to do, it hindered freedom and discouraged relationships.

A small portion of the Berlin Wall, viewed from the Western side.

It didn’t just divide a city, it divided a country and by 1987, it was clearly more than just a wall. The famous structure had become a symbol of communist oppression. Known as “The Berlin Wall”, it was 12 feet high, almost 100 miles long and had only two openings for access, both heavily guarded checkpoints. And as far as every one knew, it wasn’t coming down any time soon.

On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan issued a direct challenge to Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev to destroy the Berlin Wall. Though the wall was outside his country’s jurisdiction, Gorbachev’s communist influence helped keep it intact. In a speech at the Brandenburg Gate, behind two bulletproof glass panes, President Reagan’s challenge was bold, yet simple:

“Mr. Gorbachev, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!”

We live among walls every day. Our homes are filled with them. Our schools and offices are lined by them. We paint them with our favorite colors and hang mirrors and paintings and photos on every one. We can’t go anywhere without seeing one since life would not be fun or safe without them. In many ways, they are necessary for our survival. We need a certain level of protection and privacy in order to function.

Walls, obviously, are not only physical in nature. Some of the biggest, strongest walls I have ever seen are emotionally constructed. Some of the most impenetrable walls that exist, live within the human heart. Think I am over-exaggerating? Ask any counselor who spends a career trying to unlock a person’s heart. Ask any social worker who deals with abused children. Ask any woman who has ever tried to love an emotionally unavailable man. They will tell you that in many cases it is easier to sledge-hammer through a 4 foot thick concrete wall than it is to penetrate an emotional wall surrounding a person’s heart.

From my biased vantage point, men tend to be more natural at wall building than women. It seems that men build their walls before being hurt. Women build theirs afterward. For being the gender known for bravery, acts of valor and courage – many men are emotional cowards, afraid of letting any portion of their wall down and exposing a tender heart. It’s not that men don’t have a heart, as some women believe. It’s that they are afraid to lower the complex steel scaffolding that surrounds theirs. For many men out there, they have spent years carefully building a fortress around their thoughts, emotions and true feelings. For those types of men, it is less perilous to defend a woman than truly talk to one. It’s easier to slay a ferocious dragon than to let down our emotional guard. I know, I used to be one of those men. In many ways, I’m a recovering emotional wall builder. Like an alcoholic, I am probably always one decision away from grabbing a brick and rebuilding a wall. Perhaps I’m not alone in this daily struggle.

Emotional walls are no respecter of person, gender, age, background or position. For many, emotional walls are created instinctively and out of necessity to protect a hidden secret, abused past or broken heart. Oftentimes they are erected out of fear, insecurity, rejection, abandonment, loss of relationship, traumatic experiences, bullying, criticism, etc. Regardless of their reason of existence, they are very real, very easy to assemble and once in place, very difficult to remove. Like a physical wall, emotional walls are normal and necessary. The existence of a wall is not the problem, it is the purpose of the wall and the reason for its existence that matters.

Because emotional walls are invisible, only the possessor knows if it is in place and how high it really is. Though it is there for a reason, even a good reason, it doesn’t mean it needs to remain – or even be that high. Though some walls are important for us to have, I would venture to say – most of the walls we keep up-end up hindering us more than protecting us.

Several months ago I took a flight for a business trip. While going through security, I noticed the TSA folks had stopped the dear old lady in the X-ray machine before me. She was pulled aside, apparently randomly, and searched rather extensively. Granted, she could have been an Al-Qaeda supporter. I guess there was a chance her girdle was strapped with explosives. I suppose it is possible that she was a Muslim terrorist. But, honestly she looked Grandma-ish. She had probably just baked chocolate chip cookies and read a story to a grandchild on her lap. Why do we frisk people like that? Because 11 years ago, some lunatics did the unthinkable causing us, as a nation, to put some “walls” up. Those walls are necessary for our protection – but they are also up (most times) for the wrong people. Though it keeps us safe from the abusers, it also keeps many good people out as well. In the same way, our emotional walls both help us and hinder us – often at the same time.

If you’re normal, you have emotional walls in place. If you’re transparent, you may admit that they have been up for too long. If you’re honest, you might agree that they are higher than they need to be. You may be successful in keeping abusive people out, but at the same time – you are preventing access to the positive people as well. Like chemotherapy to a cancer patient, it doesn’t just kill the bad cells. It kills all cells. Though chemo can be effective in its goal (removing the cancer), it also removes many positive aspects at the same time. Such is the same effect as most of our emotional walls.

When one falls off of a bike or a horse, a protective wall goes up and the fallen rider is tempted to never mount the seat again. Most of us would recognize, however, that it is in their best interest to get back on again, eventually…sooner rather than later. Though the fall is painful and a season of rest may be necessary, it doesn’t mean it should be permanent. When it comes to pain, though, most of us prefer physical over emotional. We’d rather deal with a skinned knee than a bruised ego. We would rather break a bone than crush our pride. A husband cheats and the wife puts her wall up to avoid all men. A girlfriend breaks up with you and from behind your wall you proclaim, “I’m becoming a monk – done with all dating.” Because relationships are so intimate and personal, they run the risk of hurting us deeply when they go astray. Walls are natural consequences when we experience such pain. Just as a deep burn from a stove can discourage someone from future cooking, in like fashion we shy away from relationships when we’ve been burnt by a loved one in our past.

When God decided to place humans on the map, He did not put us on sports teams. He did not place us in military troops. He did not organize us by cubicles in an employer’s office. Instead, He placed us into close relationships in the context of a family. As He communicated to Adam in the Garden of Eden, “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) Because of the fall and our sinful human nature and innate selfishness, we tend to hurt one another. Once hurt, that pain causes us to retreat or hide behind thick emotional walls. Those walls keep us alone and isolated from the very thing we were created to enjoy: relationships.

Jacob understands walls. He created an instant one the moment he betrayed his older brother, Esau (Genesis 27). In the biblical day and age where the father’s blessing meant everything to the first-born son, Esau was moments away from receiving his. This blessing was not just an indication of a father’s approval but it was intended to result in prosperity and success. It was a formal declaration, if not a prayer, that God Himself would bless the recipient.

You can imagine the horrified shock on Esau’s face when he learned that his little brother, Jacob stole the blessing intended for him. In a shrewd and cunning move, Jacob deceived his elderly and blind father (Isaac) and tricked him into giving the blessing intended for Esau. The only thing more chilling about the deception was that it was initiated and crafted by the boy’s mother, Rebekah. It’s the stuff of blockbuster movies: the son tricks the father and betrays the brother at the suggestion of the mother. As is often the case in families, the “fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Esau was outraged and understandably so. The blessing could only be given once, even if it was given under false pretenses. Realizing he had lost everything due to trickery, he vowed to kill his brother soon after his father’s impending death. For 20 years, Jacob hid from Esau convinced that a meeting would be the end of him. Time, they say, heals all wounds. It certainly helped in the ensuing two decades and Esau’s anger eventually softened towards his brother. When they finally did meet, the wall between them was dismantled and Esau greeted his brother Jacob with a warm embrace. The wall was torn down. Forgiveness had occurred. The relationship was restored and they had about 20 years to catch up on. Two decades of wasted time keeping a wall in place that should have been removed years prior.

Isn’t that how we are? Building walls when we shouldn’t. Keeping them up longer then they need to be. Holding grudges. Keeping score. Wasting precious time with those we should love.

Do you have an emotional wall up? Maybe it’s time to take it down, even if it’s been up for decades. Why not at least remove a few bricks? Maybe it’s time to forgive the offense and embrace the offender? Maybe it’s time to forget the past and try to build a new future, with whatever time is left on the clock?

Perhaps today is the day that an email is written, a letter is mailed or a phone call is made? Walls are there for a reason and a season and perhaps your season is ending?

As for the Berlin Wall, 23 months after President Reagan’s challenge, the wall was dismantled. East & West Germany were finally one country. Democracy defeated Communism. Freedom trumped bondage. Peace was restored and relationships were reunited. The wall served a purpose and now it is a thing of the past.

Life is short. Relationships are important. Walls don’t just keep bad things out. They keep you trapped in. What walls in your life need to go?

The mechanics of forgiveness

I have been musing about forgiveness lately.   Maybe because I need some.  Or maybe because I have to extend it to someone out there.  Regardless, it seems like a difficult concept for some of us to grasp.  I understand why.  Sometimes the pain done to you hurts too much that you just don’t want to part with the forgiveness in your pocket.  Or sometimes the pain you caused is so deep, you can’t figure out how to ask for forgiveness from the person you wronged.  A lot of us have trouble forgiving ourselves.  Intellectually, we all agree that forgiveness is important.  Experientially, few of us want to do it.   The truth is…

we all want to receive forgiveness when we need it

but few of us like giving it when it’s required. 

Either way – forgiveness is essential for all relationships.  Forgiveness is a complicated machine and so I figured I’d open up the hood and take a peek at the mechanics.  Here is what I see:

  • Everyone needs forgiveness.    We have a lot of sayings in our culture about our human inadequacies;  “I’m only human,”  “To err is human,”  Nobody is perfect.”, etc.   The reason we have them is obvious.  As humans, we make mistakes constantly.  We do and say stupid things.  We hurt others daily, intentionally and unintentionally.  Forgiveness is necessary to cleanse the slate.  It is the eraser for the chalkboard of life.  We need it in order to restore relationships and mend broken friendships.   Sometimes it is the only thing that can repair a relationship, particularly when restitution is simply not possible.
  • Forgiveness should be asked for.  When a wrong is done, forgiveness cannot be assumed, it should be asked for.   Saying “I’m sorry” is a good first step but it is not the same as asking for forgiveness.   Children say, “I’m sorry.”  Adults say, “Please forgive me.”  “Sorry” can be said with pride.  Sincerely asking for forgiveness can only be said with humility.  “Sorry” keeps control in your hands.  Asking forgiveness gives control to the person you wronged.  “Sorry” is like a band-aid.  “Please forgive me” is like surgery – it can bring true healing to the soul and broken relationship.   A proper, appropriate apology should have the following components:

“I am so sorry for….”

“I was wrong to….”

“Please forgive me for…”

  • Forgiveness needs to be extended.  This is the hardest aspect of forgiveness, extending it to those who need it.  Like I mentioned earlier, we all want it when we need it but few of us want to give it when it is required.  Even as I type this, someone out there will think of some scenario (real or otherwise) and challenge this point.  “You mean that someone who does _____________ (fill in the most despicable, evil thing you can think of) needs to be forgiven?”   Yes.   Even that guy.  Eventually.  I am not saying that forgiveness can or needs to be immediate.  It is never easy.  Sometimes it can take a long time to get to the point where you forgive someone for the wrong they have done, particularly if the offense is sizable.  But, they do need to be forgiven.  By you.  Withholding forgiveness not only hurts them and prevents them from the necessary healing, it keeps you from it as well.  The last thing we want to do is relieve any guilt the offender may be feeling.  After all, we justify that it’s the least he deserves for what he has done.  The problem is, withholding forgiveness does more damage to you. 
  • Forgiveness has conditions.  If there was ever a reason why you should forgive those who have wronged you, this is it. Did you know that if you withhold forgiveness from others, God Himself has promised to withhold it from you?  “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)  Compare any sin committed against you to the ones you’ve committed against God and you should have the wrong placed immediately into perspective.  If Jesus can forgive the sins that placed Him on a cross, certainly you can forgive the sins against you.  Remember, the sins against you did not kill you.
  • The Golden Rule in forgiveness.   The above condition should put the wrongs committed against you into perspective.  If that does not, then put yourself into the seat of the offender for a minute.  Walk a mile in their shoes.  Granted, what they did was wrong.  It may be true that what happened to you was mean or hurtful or even intentionally evil.  Perhaps what they did to you can never be undone or “fixed.”  Having said that, if you were in their place, wouldn’t you want to be forgiven?   One of the main motivators of why we do what we do (even forgive!) is because we know we should “treat others the way we want to be treated.” (Matthew 7:12)   There may be a time, sooner than you think, when you want someone to treat you the way they want to be treated, not necessarily the way you deserve to be treated.
  • The undeserved nature of forgiveness.  Forgiveness, like grace, is never deserved.  That’s what makes it so powerful.  Forgiveness, like a gift, can never be earned.   It can’t be.  That’s why it brings such freedom.  The reason that forgiveness is so hard to extend to wrong doers is because it goes against our very protective nature.  Holding a grudge is safe.  Offering forgiveness makes you vulnerable.  Deep down, we desire fairness.  At our core, we scream for justice.  We ache for restitution or payment for wrongs done.   And oftentimes – if not most times – forgiveness must occur before justice, fairness or a balanced ledger is in place.  It does not mean that justice should not be sought or that restitution should not be given.  It does not mean that the wrong is overlooked or the pain is simply ignored.  It just means that an olive branch of peace is being extended even while the smoke of the last musket shot is still in the air.   Sometimes it is the offering of forgiveness that brings about the justice and healing we so desperately need.  Too often, we must try to heal the hurter before our wounds can be truly healed.

Keep in mind, hurting people often hurt other people as a result of their own pain.  If somebody is rude and inconsiderate, you can almost be certain that they have some unresolved issues inside. They have some major problems, anger, resentment, or some heartache they are trying to cope with or overcome. The last thing they need is for you to make matters worse by responding angrily.” – Joel Osteen, Pastor.

  • The example of forgiveness.   If anyone understands forgiveness, it is Christ.   No one in human history has been so innocent and yet so wronged.   The very purpose of His presence requires a global apology from mankind.  Formerly occupying a heavenly throne, He was born a baby in a manure scented manger.  Having created the universe with the “word of His power”, He entered as a defenseless child having to learn how to walk and talk like the rest of us.  Instead of being recognized for the Deity that He was, He was known as a mere carpenter from Nazareth… “can anything good come from a place like that?”  He claimed to be the Truth while most people thought He was lying.  He claimed to be a King but lived like He was a pauper.  He was constantly mocked by strangers.  He was doubted by everyone – even members of His family.  He was beaten by Roman soldiers.  He was spit upon by prison guards.  Think about that.  Nothing is more degrading than human spit on a holy God.  He was flogged by His government.  He was slandered in court.  He was betrayed by His closest friends.  He was sentenced to death by the Church.  He was condemned to die naked, publicly humiliated, among thieves.  He was deserted by everyone at His greatest hour of need.  He was even deserted by His own Heavenly Father.  Clearly, that was the hardest part for Him as He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” For three hours on an excruciating cross, He was truly alone – in every sense of the word.

And yet while there in that position.  

Hurting in every way possible. 

Barely able to breathe from the pain.

Before anyone even regretted what they had done.  

Or even asked for forgiveness.

He did the unthinkable. 

He did what a God would do.  

He prayed for His enemies.   He blessed those who cursed Him.   He turned the other cheek and walked that second mile.  He practiced what He preached.

He forgave.

Even me.

Even you.

Let’s do the same.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:31-32

The Amish fragrance

Forgiveness is a tricky thing.  Everyone wants it when they need it.  Few want to give it when they should.

It’s like opening a door for someone.  We always want it done for us.   But it’s really a pain and inconvenient to do it for someone else.   I’ve noticed that we barely hold doors for each other anymore.   If we cannot even tolerate doing that simple physical act, it should not surprise us that so few are willing to do the heavy lifting of the emotionally exhausting task of forgiving someone who hurt us.  We have a deficiency of forgiveness in our world and it is fracturing our families, friendships and culture.  Why is forgiveness so difficult to practice in our daily lives?  I have at least three theories:

  1. One reason that forgiveness is so rare is because of our lack of examples.   Forgiveness is not what is modeled in Hollywood from our action heroes.  Revenge sells, forgiveness does not.  It is not sung about by our favorite musicians.  Sex sells, forgiveness does not.  It is not written about by the New York Times best sellers.  Vampires sell, forgiveness does not.  It is not mentioned in our daily evening news program.  Murders sell, forgiveness does not.   Like the story of a man who returns a lost wallet, the only reason it is newsworthy and memorable is because so few do it.  It may be preached about from an occasional pulpit but it is rarely lived out consistently in the pew.  And sadly, it is rarely exercised in our homes.   Parents yelling at each other.  Kids fighting.  Mean words.  Hurtful behavior.  Snide remarks.  Sarcastic comments.  The silent treatment.   And that is from the people we love.  The concept of forgiving an enemy is almost laughable if we cannot even forgive our friends.  Like it or not, forgiveness is more caught than taught.  We forgive because we were forgiven.
  2. Another reason forgiveness is so rare is because it is so hard.  In fact, it may be the hardest thing you ever have to do.  It is simply easier to walk away than it is to face and address the cause of our pain.  Logically, this makes sense. From our earliest memory, we have been taught and conditioned to avoid pain.   The first word I ever learned was “hot”.  Apparently the stove was an attraction to me as a child.  I’m not suggesting that we should be sadistic and pursue pain or to see how long we can tolerate it.  I am not saying that people need to endure or remain in an abusive situation.  But I am suggesting that perhaps we need to build up a stronger threshold to some pain and learn how to address it, particularly in regards to forgiving others.  Face it, we are a soft culture.  We are warriors in the virtual world and cowards in the real one.  We would rather work out physically than produce one drop of sweat emotionally.   Instead of having a thick skin around a soft heart, our thin skin barely covers a hard heart.  We love to dish it out but so few can take it.
  3. Lastly, most people cannot get past the offense.   Forgiveness is nearly impossible when you only focus on the offense.  In other words, if my focus is only on the offense done to me, I’ll never get to the point of forgiving the offender.   The wrong, no matter how wrong, should always remind us of the wrong that lives in us.  The pain we receive, no matter how painful, should always remind us of how capable we are of inflicting pain on others.  When viewed in that context, it should make us a bit more sympathetic to the offender and a bit more empathetic to forgive.   The problem is we are normally blinded by the wrong and too overwhelmed by the pain to stop and remember – someone else has been hurt by us.

When I think of the topic of forgiveness, I am often reminded of the grisly events of October 2, 2006 in Lancaster, PA.  A gunman entered an Amish schoolhouse, barricaded the door and shot ten girls (aged 6-13) execution style, leaving five dead.  He then killed himself.  The harmless Amish community were shocked at what had happened.  Such brutality.  Such innocence lost.   Such evil.   How would you respond to such a senseless crime?  What would you do if that was your daughter or granddaughter?   Your sister?  Your niece?   What the Amish did that day was supernatural.  They set for us an amazing example.

On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, “We must not think evil of this man.”  Another Amish father noted, “I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.”   Days later, the Amish set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter30 Amish members attended the gunman’s funeral.

Has any offense been done to YOU that is worse than this?   Was your first reaction to forgive?  Were you in a position of emotional strength to forgive ON THE DAY of the offense?  Did you reach out to the offender or their family?   Remember, hurt people hurt people.   You aren’t the only one in pain here.

Un-forgiveness and bitterness are a cancer that only forgiveness can cure.   Holding a grudge only holds you.  Every offense brings a terrible odor to that relationship.  At that point, only the offended can change that smell.   Adding un-forgiveness to the offense is like spraying a skunk with manure.   Someone has to fix the stench and the offended party is the only one in a position to do it.   Mark Twain understood this when he wrote, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”  

If you’re honest, there is probably a person out there you need to forgive.   Forgiveness does not excuse the wrong.  Forgiveness does not minimize the crime.  Forgiveness does not reduce the consequences.  But forgiveness does something that avoidance or prison cannot – it can bring healing and restoration to you, the offender and even that relationship.

I don’t want to raise any barns.  I’m not interested in churning any butter or even wearing black outfits for the rest of my life.  I prefer six horsepowers over one with a buggy.  The Amish may not use electricity.   They don’t know how to use a toaster or even surf the web.   But they understand how to forgive, not just with their lips – but even with their life.

The Amish can teach all of us sophisticated people a lesson or two.

Replace or redeem? The need for more bridges

When something expensive is broken and money is flowing, we are quick to throw the broken item away and simply buy a new one.  But when something costly is broken and cash is low, we must figure out how to fix what we have.   Unfortunately, as a “wealthy, first-world” country, we have been allowed to replace too many things for too long.  In fact, in many ways – it’s actually easier and cheaper to buy something new.

A few years ago my DVD player broke.  I called the manufacturer to see how to get it fixed.  I realized that after shipping the unit across the country, paying for the part to repair it, plus the labor charges and the fee to ship it back to me, it would be much cheaper to throw it out and buy a new one.   Honestly, that disturbed me.  DVD players had become so inexpensive that they literally have become disposable!

Most things, it seems, have become easier to replace than redeem.  As a result, we have developed a mentality that encourages us to just buy new instead of fixing old.  And sadly, that mentality is not just isolated to our possessions, but even our relationships.

Most everyone reading this, regardless of age, has a broken relationship out there.  As you read that last sentence, a name comes to mind.  Or three or four names.  People you used to laugh with – now deleted from your phone.

Words were said.  Actions were done.  Actions were not done.  Things that we would have overlooked years ago now cause us to give the silent treatment.   Mild sarcasm that we would have forgiven in the past now turns into a bitter grudge.   Or maybe the wrong done – was really wrong… wrong enough to end the relationship.  The truth is, people can sometimes do hurtful things.  I have come to realize that people who have wounded me were also wounded themselves.  In other words, hurt people hurt people.  A friend will say something critical about us.  Neighbors complain.  Children are ungrateful.  Parents nag or worse yet, treat us like children.  Siblings tease us about a painful past experience.  Co-workers gossip.   Spouses are thoughtless, or worse – unfaithful.   Relationships get damaged and we are left staring at the relational shrapnel trying to decide what we will do with this person we once trusted.  Do we try to pick up the pieces or is it just better to walk our separate ways?

Some of us have viewed our closest relationships like a broken DVD player, disposable.  It’s easier to get a new boyfriend, than try to redeem an old husband.  It’s a lot less painful to get a new friend, than repair a broken relationship with a sibling.  Why open up old wounds with a parent who has hurt you when you can just ignore them now that you are an adult?   After all, you no longer need to borrow the family station wagon to get out.  “I’ve lived without them this long”, you rationalize, “why bother now?”

There are a lot of reasons why redeeming a relationship is better than replacing it.  The temptation is to let pride continue to course through your veins and justify all the reasons why you shouldn’t attempt the restoration.  “But he is the one who hurt me”, you think.  “Why should I take the first step when she is the one who was wrong?”  Or maybe you are thinking something like, “What I did was wrong and hurtful.  There is no way she’ll ever forgive me.  Why bother trying?”   Allow me to list six reasons why it’s worth trying.  One brief disclaimer: I am not suggesting that you need to redeem an abusive relationship or allow certain access with someone that is not physically or emotionally safe for you.  But there are times when you need to forgive (past hurts) and redeem (in spite of the hurt), especially if the offending party has changed/desires to change and is truly sorry/repentant for the hurtful behavior and has shown a consistent track record supporting that change.)    As you read the following list, think of the most important relationship you had, now broken, and picture what restoration looks like with that person. 

  1. People have loved you through some ugly times.   At some point in your life, you were not the perfect, pleasant person you are today.  There was a time when you were sullen, negative, disrespectful, inconsiderate, rude, sarcastic, mean or moody and someone (parent, teacher, sibling, coach, friend) decided to love you in spite of yourself.   Your words or actions hurt them and they decided you were worth the pain and stayed in the relationship anyway.
  2. If that isn’t enough, you have also been forgiven in Christ.  The Bible teaches that every sin we commit is punishable by death (Genesis 2:16-17, Romans 6:23).  Christ’s death on the cross was in your place.   Why would someone die for you, in your place?  Only one reason: love.  “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)   If God can forgive your sins (which He was crucified for), can’t you forgive the lesser sins committed against you?  In fact, restoring relationships is so important to God that He raises the stakes with you.  “For if you forgive others for their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
  3. You have a history with the person.   If the broken relationship is with a family member (ex-spouse, child, parents or siblings,) the history with them is like no other.   They hold a special place that no one else can fill.  You may be able to get another friend – but you’ll never get another sister, father, husband etc.   Even if the broken relationship is not a family member, you have tons of memories with them. At one point, there was some good times and positive experiences.  If you could get back to THAT, wouldn’t it be worth the work?
  4. Working through the pain can actually grow the broken relationship stronger than it was before.  In the human body, muscles & bones grow and strengthen under pressure, and become weak when barely put to use.   Relationships are very similar.  Too many friends “walk” after a heated disagreement.  When pressure hits a marriage, too many think separation/divorce is the answer instead of working it out.  Granted, there is a lot of pain and rehab to do – but it can be worth the effort.  And that relationship COULD be better than it was in the beginning – but only if BOTH sides are willing to put pride aside, change hurtful behaviors, humble themselves, ask for forgiveness and do the heavy lifting.
  5. A restored relationship shows others the power of forgiveness, friendship and love.  I recently read a story about a POW soldier from the Korean War who was tortured mercilessly by his captor for years.  Honestly, it was painful to read about the details of the abuse.  Years later, safely back on US soil – the soldier wondered what happened to this particular guard.  After years of searching, he found the name of his abuser and went to meet with him.  His goal: offer forgiveness.  The captor had become a Christian and was tormented, for years, over his evil actions.   The POW’s forgiveness had set him free.  Enemies had now become friends.   We all marvel at those types of stories, but few of us want to be the main character in one.
  6. If you are the one that initiates the restoration, you communicate a level of commitment to the other party that speaks volumes about your character.  In essence, what you are saying is:
  • “I want our relationship back more than I want my pride.”
  • “I want our friendship more than I want to be right.”
  • “I want your companionship more than I want the possible rejection you can give me right now.”
  • “I want you in my life more than I want you out of it.”

It’s hard to build such a bridge.  It’s painful to swallow your pride (particular if you think you are right).   It’s scary to take the first step.  But it is worth trying.  And years later, when you look back at that “incident” that caused the breach,  you often think, “Wasn’t it dumb of us to be that way?  I’m so glad we got over ourselves!”

  • Who do you currently have a broken relationship with?
  • What is your role in the demise of it?
  • What can you do (this week) to initiate contact and begin building the bridge?

There are three things you need to know about bridge building:

  1. It’s hard work.   It’s not easy going from point A to point B.
  2. It takes time.  You may have to work at it for a while.  If it took 13  years to destroy the bridge, don’t assume it will take 13 minutes to repair it.
  3. Once the bridge is built, you can get to places you never could before.  And others (generations later) can travel on your experience (bridge) and get there too.