How do you work toward reconciliation when you’ve been deeply and perhaps repeatedly hurt by someone? How can you rebuild trust? The first and most important step is to confirm the genuineness of the apology or repentance of the one who hurt you. While it is true that changes to deeply ingrained patters do not occur overnight, certain attitudes are essential to authentic repentance and to hope for change. These attitudes flourish in hearts where God has granted repentance (see: II Timothy 2:25).
Seven signs of genuine confession and repentance: (essential for enablers)
- Accepts full responsibility for his/her actions (instead of saying, ”Since you think I’ve done something wrong…” or “If have done anything to offend you…”).
- Accepts accountability from others.
- Does not continue in the behavior or anything associated with it.
- Does not have a defensive attitude about being in the wrong.
- Does not have a light attitude toward his or her hurtful behavior.
- Does not resent doubts about his/her sincerity- nor the need to demonstrate sincerity (especially in cases involving repeated offenses).
- Makes restitution wherever necessary.
Restitution gives the offender an opportunity to demonstrate by actions that he or she wishes to be restored to the injured person and to society in general. The harder you work to make restitution and repair any damage you have caused, the easier it will be for others to believe your confession and be reconciled to you. Forgiveness does not necessarily release an offender from responsibility to repair the damages caused by his or her actions. An injured party may exercise mercy and choose to waive the right to restitution, but in many cases making restitution is beneficial even for the offender. Doing so demonstrates remorse, sincerity, and a new attitude, which can strengthen reconciliation. At the same time, it serves to establish lessons that will help the offender avoid similar wrongdoing in the future.
Move forward with caution:
An unrepentant offender will resent your desire to confirm the genuineness of his confession and repentance. He may resort to lines of manipulation.
- “I guess you can’t find it in yourself to be forgiving.”
- “You just want to rub it in my face.”
- “I guess I should expect that you want your revenge.”
- “Some Christian you are, I thought Christians believed in love and compassion.”
These lines reveal an unrepentant attitude. Don’t be manipulated into avoiding the step of confirming the authenticity of your offender’s confession and repentance.
Use these signs carefully and with prayer. In difficult cases, seek a wise counselor. For genuine reconciliation to occur, you must be as certain as you can of your offender’s repentance—especially in cases involving repeated offenses. It is hard to truly restore a broken relationship when the offender is unclear about his confession and repentance. Even God will not grant forgiveness to one who is insincere about his confession and repentance. The person who is unwilling to forsake his sin will not find forgiveness with God (Proverbs 28:13).
Only God can read hearts — we must evaluate actions. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16a). We must not be deceived by superficial appearances of repentance. Clear changes in attitude and behavior are the fruit of true repentance.