Restorative Relationships

Life is made of decisions and consequences of those decisions.

Some of those decisions are really smart ones. Like having Thursdays be called Treat Night and garner the love and adoration of your children forever for ensuring that on one night of the week they get to splurge. That is a smart decision. Good things happen in life and it’s great that the family can engage in it.

Other decisions that are made are less clever. By less clever I mean not clever. By not clever I mean foolish. By foolish I mean … you get the point. Sadly Thursday Treat Nights don’t quite cover the consequences of those decisions. (Though a timely pack of Cherry Bakewell Tarts have been known to alleviate the heaviness.)

So I have made one or two decisions in my life that have been awful. Truly awful decisions. (“How awful, Christopher?” “Really awful.” “Like, how awful, Christopher?” “Like the sort to give you nightmares for almost a decade, awful.” “Oh … sorry.” “You asked.”) Among the various consequences are the impact it has on relationships. Understandably one or two people were so affected by those decisions that up to this day they would rather drink poison with Hitler than engage in a conversation with me.

A good reason why I love God, however, is that there are relationships that have been sorely tested by some of the foolish decisions I have made, but have been restored. Not just restored but brought to such a strength that it endured further foolish decisions I made. (Hey, don’t go getting the impression I make foolish decisions regularly. Certainly not on Thursdays. Well … most Thursdays.)

In those times I have come to appreciate why restorative relationships are so powerful and what it reflects about the relationship I have with God. I would like to share three reasons for their power.

Firstly, it’s the refreshing honesty and room for disclosure. Not all at once. It doesn’t work that way. How it does work, however, is the commitment to the process of disclosure about those foolish decisions and why they were made. It doesn’t have to get graphic and intricate detail is not the point. The space to not hold it in though and to know it’s released relieves the burden of the knowledge. That in itself doesn’t mean all goes well with the relationship. It’s a good step in the process.

Secondly the relationships are based on the painful practice of forgiveness. For some forgiveness can be done because the person you forgive won’t necessarily be in the same relationship with you afterwards.. These restorative relationships have been powerful because the other person has been committed to that restoration of the relationship. To do that requires releasing the debt I owe due to my foolish decision. To do that is not something easily done and hard to work through. It’s been hard for me to look at the person I hurt and know they have forgiven me. The guilt lingers. From time to time there’s the wince of a recall from the other person as well. Affirming forgiveness is not a once and for all deal – it’s an ongoing commitment to keep the slate clean, even when there’s great temptations to etch the outlines of what used to be on the slate. This in itself is tremendously powerful and the ability to do that along with the space for disclosure and honesty goes a long way to showing the power of the restored relationship. Yet there’s one more reason it’s important I mention.

The best relationships are based on trust. The key indication of a restored relationship is the degree of trust that is exercised. Those key relationships I can refer to that have been great examples of restorative relationships have been expressed in the person who was hurt trusting me again. Trusting me tentatively at first, but intentionally and progressively. As the relationship is valued, I endeavour to do my part in honouring that trust. The level of trust though is not just affirming, it goes to mutually build and encourage. It’s about that endearing element of beautiful relationships – wanting to see the other person go on to become the best they can possibly be, believing God that they can be that way and being their chief supporter to enable that to happen. All that requiring a great degree of trust.

Those are three elements of the restorative relationships that I’m really grateful for. It’s something I’ve had the wonder and humbling privilege to experience in my life. It’s something I know has been given for me to also reflect in other relationships. Reading about the relationship God has with His people in scripture it’s these qualities that prevail in God’s steadfast love for them. He does not condone the foolishness but He won’t leave us in our foolish mess.

Thank God for such enriching relationships.

For His Name’s Sake


C. L. J. Dryden


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