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Grace, Forgiveness, Trust, Reconciliation: Words to Live By

Grace, forgiveness, trust and reconciliation are words full of meaning which are often misunderstood by those who use them and those who hear them. I remember sitting in a Sunday School class in my church and hearing someone say to forgive we just “had” to trust. The person who spoke was someone I really respected, but I couldn’t understand their interpretation of forgiveness. In one of my life’s “oh, now I get it” moments, my clinical supervisor once drew a diagram similar to this on a white board. Since that time I have used this diagram many times and have modified my explanation of the importance of these four meaningful words.

The top row of this diagram includes the words grace and forgiveness and we use them on an individual basis; this means it only takes one person to give grace or forgiveness. And truly grace and forgiveness are things that we chose to give! The bottom row of the diagram includes the words trust and reconciliation and it takes two people to accomplish either of these. We don’t just give trust and we can’t reconcile without the other person.

Let’s take a look at the meaning of these words and how they work in relationship. Grace means different things to different people (and different religious beliefs) but for the purposes of this discussion grace means a temporary exemption or a reprieve. When we give someone grace it means we give them room for being human and making mistakes and allow them space that they could do and be better. We don’t judge their worth or value based on their mistake and we assume they could/would do better under different circumstances.

Forgiveness also has different meaning for different people (for a deeper discussion on forgiveness please refer to my previous blog on the subject). For the purposes of this discussion we will use this brief definition of forgiveness: forgiveness is a deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment towards someone who has harmed you. When we give someone forgiveness we work to let go of our ill feelings and let go of our judgement for their wrongs. Forgiveness is our work to do and our gift to give regardless of whether the other person deserves forgiveness.

Trust, yep, another word full of different meanings for different people. Trust is a little bit harder to define because of its relational quality. Trust is about a person being able to have confidence in the integrity (what they say and what they do are the same) of another person. Trust takes one person who is willing to give trust and the other person who earns that trust by being trustworthy. We don’t “have” to give anyone trust! As a matter of fact, it is not advisable to give trust to someone who has consistently proven through their actions not to be trustworthy (look forward to a future blog with more discussion on trust).

And last we have the big one, the one that we hope for, the one that is hardest to find, reconciliation. Yes, reconciliation is a word full of different meanings for different people. Reconciliation means to bring into agreement. From a relational perspective that means when we have been wronged or done wrong to another we find a resolution to the issue and agree to continue the relationship. Reconciliation takes work and compromise from both individuals in the relationship (and/or all individuals in the group). Many times I will have a client ask me how they can “get” someone to do something. Honestly, we can’t “get” anyone to do anything; they have to choose to do whatever it is. In the same way we can’t make someone reconcile with us, they have to choose to reconcile and it takes both working very hard to make reconciliation happen.

Grace, forgiveness, trust, and reconciliation are words that have a lot of meaning for me and the work I do personally and with others. I get to choose to give grace and forgiveness to others regardless of what they do and that is a wonderful gift I give to others and especially to myself. I can choose to be open to trusting others as their actions earn that trust. I can choose to be open to working with others who are willing to do the work necessary to reconcile. I know that I can’t force others to trust me or to be trustworthy and I can’t “get” someone to reconcile when they aren’t ready, willing, or able to take that step.

If you would like to know more about how understanding these words can improve your relationships please feel free to contact me.