When things go wrong in a relationship, we feel some pain, even if we deny it out of pride. Our personal web of connections that help life to make sense gets damaged. The fabric is torn. A few strings disrupted. And restoring that is tedious and costly. Is it worth it?
Restoring a relationship is frequently so daunting that people give up, and in fact, give up too soon. Ordinary offenses set off discord between family members or friends, some perceived insult, or neglect makes someone feel unloved or overlooked. Such things can build up between spouses like stones in the stream of life that build up and eventually dam the flow completely. Relationships can be healed, but it involves more pain.
If we are the one that was slighted, or offended, we don’t want the offense to just be overlooked, forgotten too easily. We want the other person to know how we feel. We want them to feel some pain, too. The thought of talking with that person can make us nauseous. We really don’t want to do it. And we’re not sure how this will actually turn out. There is some risk.
If we are the offender, we are afraid that our attempt will be rejected, and we will feel even worse than before. Most of us hate having to admit to an error. We may want the relationship with our brother, or sister, or husband, wife, friend, to be restored. But we’re not sure we want to pay the price. So it is painful to contemplate. We hesitate. We don’t know how it will turn out. There is some risk.
On either side, there is pain and risk. But that pain is exactly the price we need to pay to repair the fabric of our relationship. We may dare to say, “I care enough about you to want to restore our relationship.” Or it might be, “I love you. And I want our life back together.” Those are moments of high drama. If we have been wronged, we fear we will appear weak. If we are the offender, we fear that our appeal will be rejected. But the renewed relationship is worth the risk. And when we share a moment of pain, healing tears often flow with that renewed hope.
There are many in our world who want to avoid that pain. Dozens of country western songs memorialize hurts unhealed. If we avoid the healing, we keep the pain all our lives, stored up like a little bottle of acid. Jesus demonstrated that there is an alternative.
When Jesus was arrested, his disciple, Peter, denied he ever knew Jesus in order to avoid trouble. He denied him three times. After he denied Jesus, Peter went out and wept bitterly. (See Luke 22 and Matthew 26). Later, near the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus, risen from the dead, confronts Peter and asks him three times, “Do you love me?” Peter says, “Yes” three times. Can you imagine the pain? But it was healing pain. And through this door of pain, the future opens up. Jesus affirms Peter as leader of the Apostles. Peter is restored through pain. We are all restored to life through Jesus’ pain. Isaiah 53 says, “With his wounds we are healed.”
Pain can heal if it is chosen, boldly, honestly, hopefully. That is the key to freedom and life in a broken world, choosing pain along the path to the rainbow.
[Sometime soon I will describe how such restoration is happening for criminal offenders in some places. Restorative justice frees people instead of locking them up.]