Forgiveness in situations of estrangement

As we continue our series on forgiveness, it is time to consider situations of estrangement. As always, I am drawing heavily from Carol Luebering’s little book, The Forgiving Family (now out of print). Of course, none of the approaches guarantee that a relationship will be restored. What they will do is help you bring a troubled relationship before God‘s loving presence. This may lead to reconciliation, or it may simply lead to your own healing and sense of freedom from a toxic situation.

Idea 1: In situations where love has dwindled, particularly a marriage. If you are feeling taken for granted or like you are being treated with indifference, remember the love you once shared. Read Hosea 1-2, then pray that you might develop Hosea’s patience and persistence. Remember how you once courted the other, and try to bring back that level of attentiveness and care to your relationship. Perhaps resurrect a term of affection now never used and nearly forgotten; or give a small thoughtful gift; or find some other way to show your partner that you still love them. Perhaps it will recall them to the attentive love you once shared.

Idea 2: In situations of estrangement. Sometimes, we need professional help to navigate difficult memories; if this is you, read no further. But if the relationship history and personal circumstances allow, we can explore a situation of estrangement in prayer. Read the story of Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37:12-35, 42:1-45:15). Ask God to journey with you back in time, and to go through your memories with you. Start with the final incident which led to the separation. Ask God to show you God’s perspective on it and on each person’s motivations. Then, over many days, prayerfully move backward in time, holding your memories from that relationship before God. When you reach a memory of healthy relationship with the person from whom you are estranged, rest there with God. Then, when you are ready, find something tangible recalling those happier times: a photograph, a postcard, a letter. Send it to the person from whom you have been alienated, and invite them to meet once again.

Idea 3: Beyond the grave. There are times when someone we love has not only wounded us, but has now died. We can’t change the past, but forgiveness is still possible. Read 2 Samuel 13:1-19:9, which tells of David’s conflict with his son Absalom. (Trigger warning: This includes a story of incestuous sexual violence.) Then write a letter to the one who has died. Take time to do this: days, perhaps, and list everything you want to say about your anger, grief, regret, and longing for reconciliation. Prayerfully read the letter through, ask God for release, and burn the letter in God’s presence. Then look around, as Joab challenged David to do, and see whether your focus on one broken relationship has led other relationships to suffer. Now work on them, for in those living relationships lies your future.


Emailed to Sanctuary 18 July 2019 © Sanctuary, 2018. Image credit: Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1661–1669.

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