Reconciliation is an important concept. It is where you try to make things right. It is important as a means to bring forth peace and understanding. It is not healthy to hold a grudge or be angry. Reconciliation is a way to release that. It is more than forgiveness. It is a healing, where two people are made harmonious.
Jesus says in Matthew 18:15
15 If your brother wrongs you, go and show him his fault, between you and him privately. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. (Amplified Bible)
He also says in Matthew 5:21-24
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. (NRSV)
Sometimes “brother” is translated as “another member of the church” but it can simply mean any other person.
We are called to be peacemakers and healers. The change in the world starts with us.
But what does it mean to practice reconciliation? You reconcile your bank balance every month. Money going out and money coming in needs to balance what the bank says you have and what you say you have. If there is a discrepancy, it needs to be found. Otherwise your account is in danger of being overdrawn.
The same is true with relationships.
I had a boss for 13 years who alternated between being a bully and a tyrant. She was horrible to work with. She wasn’t my direct supervisor so I didn’t have to deal with her that much, but it was enough. She was constantly in a bad mood. She was always angry, and would make up oppressive rules that had nothing to do with library policy. She would then change the rules and yell at us for breaking them. She was territorial. She put up passive-aggressive notes all the time. She was the master of psychological warfare.
When she announced she was going to retire, she said to all of us that she had been hard on us because she wanted us to be our best. It was for our own good that she had yelled at us for all that time.
I had suffered from her actions. I still have a little bit of leftover stress from her. There are many unhealthy habits I need to unlearn from dealing with her.
Shortly before she retired I asked if I could meet with her. I went into her office to talk. Now – even her office is oppressive. It is a small room with a huge desk. A chair for the visitor is wedged between the wall and her desk. It is very claustrophobic. I’m sure it is intentional. She was very aware of how to physically intimidate people. She did it way too often for it to be accidental. There is another chair that is slightly better positioned, but it always has her bag in it. I chose that one. I moved her bag to the floor. I talked to her for a little, trying to explain how I felt. I’d read a lot about boundaries and codependency recently. “Toxic Parents” was really helpful for knowing how to deal with her. It would have helped if I’d read these years earlier, but late is better than never.
There is only so much you can say in 30 minutes when there was 13 years of abuse. I had to be concise, and stay on task. I had to stay strong.
I reminded her of her statement – that she had been hard on us for our own good. I said – “Would it have been so hard to say “thank you” every now and then?” That got her. She had no answer for that. We never heard “thank you”. We only heard from her when we screwed up, which to her was often in her opinion. And mostly what we screwed up had nothing to do with our work. She was territorial. We used the “wrong” trash can. We didn’t cover our food in the microwave. We had boxes on top of our lockers. We contacted someone downtown at the Main library about anything.
She was terrified of any information leaving the building. She was being watched by Main administration. They knew how abusive she was. Yet they did nothing, because if they did she would have pulled the race card. But that is another post, for another day. We got abused because they were afraid.
I’m glad I talked to her. In the end, she didn’t come to understand anything. In the end, she started to turn it all back on me and make everything my fault. In the end, she was the same horrible person she always had been. I think that her problem is that she’s been a bully her whole life and she has never had anyone stand up to her and say “you can’t treat people like this.”
In the end, I walked away. I cried in the bathroom. I didn’t give her the pleasure of seeing me cry.
In the end, I’m glad that I did it. Nothing changed in her, but something changed in me. I spoke up. I told her how harmful she had been to me (and to all of us).
Now, when am I obliged to reconcile?
There is a lady at church who felt very hurt by my post “My Problem With Church”. She read it, and instead of talking to me about it (like Jesus tells us to do) she called the priest. The priest attacked me. I’ve not been back to church since. But this lady also sent me a very rambling letter about the post. She also used to go to my library, but I’ve not seen her since.
Do I have to reconcile with her? I don’t have a problem with her. She has a problem with me.
My post wasn’t about her, or her ministry. She is in charge of the Pastoral Care department. These are the people who take care of the people who are members of the church. This includes the elderly who need trips to the doctor or transportation to church. They visit the sick as well. This is to supplement what the priest is supposed to do.
My post had pointed out that church – not just that church, but all churches – is called to take care of everybody – not just those people who are members. Taking care of just the people in church makes it a club. Jesus tells us that we are supposed to help everybody.
Then there is a guy who was very abusive to me. He is a patron of the library. He threatened me. My boss knew about it, but he is still allowed in the building. Do I reconcile with him? Do I try to make peace with him? I am not the aggressor. He is.
At what point is it healthy for me to take care of everybody else’s feelings? At what point am I supposed to let them come to me if they have a problem with me?
I can understand reconciliation when it comes to making peace when I have wronged someone. I’m just not sure how it works if someone has wronged me, or if someone got their feelings hurt and it wasn’t intentional. Sometimes people need to work on their own emotional problems. Sometimes trying to fix it just causes more problems and brings up more pain for them.
Reconciliation is great, but it doesn’t come with any real instructions. And it certainly isn’t easy. Am I trying to avoid reconciliation because it is hard? Am I trying to make the other person’s responsibility because I just don’t want to do the work?