In truth we are guilty...

Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” ~ Genesis 42:21
I'd long ago released the bitterness I embraced in a season of betrayals and hurts our family experienced years ago. I'd tell you, with all sincerity, that I'd forgiven those involved and moved on - that I had put those hurts far from my thoughts, and rarely, if ever, considered them - and it would all be true. What I failed to see was my own guilt - harboring bitterness for even a moment, keeping those that hurt us at arm's length, and letting far too many years pass without pursuing reconciliation in the relationships that had been damaged.

It's not as though I went out of my way to avoid these relationships. Most of them were with people whose paths I almost never crossed. We weren't friends in the sense that we talked on the phone or met for coffee. We weren't on each other's Christmas card lists. I distanced myself in other ways - slowly pulling away from involvement in activities that might bring us together. We were the victims, after all. The apology ball was in their court, or so I thought.

On a recent Sunday drive to church, I stopped writing for a moment to listen to the articulate, soft-spoken voice on the radio. The nationally broadcast program was momentarily discussing a topic of personal interest. When the announcer identified the person whose voice had caught my attention as one of those people I'd allowed time and distance to separate me from, I immediately thought, I need to mend that fence.

I had read Chris Brauns' Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds almost two years ago and had worked through it chapter by chapter with our small group. I knew that reconciliation was the final step in achieving biblical forgiveness, but I obviously failed to connect the dots and remember the estranged relationships that resulted from that hurtful season years ago.

Blest be the tie that binds...

It's no excuse, but I'll be the first to admit it - I don't have the fastest learning curve, and I dare not trust my memory. By the time we turned off the highway and into the church parking lot, I'd already put "mending fences" out of my thoughts. 

I'd be tempted to despair of these weaknesses of mine, if I didn't believe that God fashioned me the way I am. He knows that I am but dust and understands all my infirmities and inadequacies. More importantly, it's God's desire to use my weaknesses to display His strength and magnify His grace, and that was what He was about to do. 

In church that morning, a visiting pastor spoke on reconciliation. With Genesis 42 as his text, he made several excellent points in his message, but the one that stuck to me was this...
God had jogged their memory: "Surely we are guilty," the brothers confessed
I didn't need to be guilty of the sins of Joseph's brothers to understand that God knew all along what I would hear on the radio and in church that morning, and He had jogged my memory, just as He had done Joseph's brothers. What I heard the pastor say was, Surely, you are guilty, too, Patricia - go and mend that fence.    

On the drive home from church, I looked over the message notes I'd taken that morning. We are nothing without God, but for grace. Put pride aside and be an expression of that grace. 

In Unpacking Forgiveness, Brauns explained the mistake I made initially in the way I had responded to those hurts... 
If forgiveness were something that happened only within a person, then Matthew 18:15-20 would not be necessary. Believers could work through forgiveness privately. But Jesus taught that forgiveness is something that happens between two parties. Forgiveness is a figurative handshake. You cannot shake hands alone. For forgiveness to happen, you need to seek out the offending party (or the offended party if you are the offender), extend your hand, and pray that the other party will offer his or hers to you.
Brauns continued to say that many of us will respond to hurts and conflicts in one of two dysfunctional ways:  blow up completely and have a shouting match with the offender or avoid it entirely. I'd obviously chosen the latter. In explaining the consequences of that choice, Brauns wrote...
Once the lines have been drawn, the two parties simply keep their distance.  At the same time they’re avoiding one another, they may be talking and involving all kinds of other people unnecessarily....In most cases, the initial conflict blew over and is forgotten, but it was never dealt with biblically or satisfactorily. There was no ownership of nor true repentance for mistakes made. There was no true forgiveness.
Wish I had been paying closer attention to Brauns the first time, I would have been years closer to reconciliation. I did "go and mend that fence", and God blessed that response in unexpected ways, but I can't forget that there are other relationships that need tending from that hurtful season of years ago.

What about you? Is God, even now, jogging your memory, too? Is there possibly an offense you long ago buried that needs a biblical response toward reconciliation? 

Photos: morning light on Pollywog Creek (I never tire of those pond reflections), the beautyberry berries in all their fall glory (you'll see them often on Pollywog Creek), and a clinging vine on a mended fence.