The following is an excerpt from the book, Falling to Heaven: The Surprising Path to Happiness, by James L. Ferrell. We will share one chapter or excerpt, with permission, each week.
“If ye shall come unto me, or shall desire to come unto me,” the Lord taught, “and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee—Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you.”
Here the Savior declares two bold truths. First, our reconciliation with God depends on our reconciliation with each other. If you want me to receive you, he is saying, then you must first receive each other. In order to understand the second truth, we first need to see what the Lord isn’t saying in this passage. He is not merely saying that we have a duty to go become reconciled with others if we have something against them, but that we have an obligation to go to them and facilitate reconciliation if they have something against us. This is evidently true even if we ourselves don’t have any hard feelings at all!
This is the very heart of the confessional life. We remain open to and regretful about any difficulties we might have caused others, even if we ourselves have long since forsaken the actions or feelings that originally added to them. If others still struggle, we don’t minimize their challenges or tell them to get over it. Spouses who have been unfaithful, for example, do not become embittered at mates who are still struggling over it, even if many years later.
They might know that it would be better for their mates’ well-being if they were able to let it go, but they would never blame them if they couldn’t. The offending spouses would do everything they could do to carry the burden they had helped to create, for as long as that burden needed to be carried. Likewise, spouses who had remained faithful, upon awakening to the burden that their long struggles to forgive had caused for their mates, would then set about to carry those burdens as long as they needed to be carried.
This is the spirit of restitution and the pathway to reconciliation. We don’t tell ourselves that others are guilty and we are not. Rather, whatever the other may be struggling with reminds us of struggles of our own—whether in this area of our lives or in some other. If they are struggling with us, we understand that too. We come to them having given up the charade of our own innocence—our own apologetic and confessional ways being more helpful than anything else we could ever do.
A dear friend once extended a most gracious hand of fellowship and reconciliation to me. We had been estranged for a few years, and I was still struggling with something. The fact that he himself was no longer struggling did not keep him from reaching out to me. He was living the Savior’s teaching, and I was the beneficiary. I still have his letter, and I still wish that I had not sent my reply.
Have you ever sent a note you wish you hadn’t? This particular letter is the one I regret most. My words hurt him. How could they not have? He flinched but did not take offense as he easily could have. He was still there for me in a way that helped me to finally come to my senses. My words were forgotten; he did not hold them over me. His gift to me awakened me to the restitution that I then owed him. Like a sliver festering under the skin, what we have been holding back needs to be released.
In my case, I still had a book that I had borrowed from him many years earlier. Or at least that was the story I had long told myself. Under the light of his love, however, I finally could no longer deny the truth: I hadn’t borrowed the book, I had stolen it. I had taken it to read for myself when he himself needed it. I never asked him for it, and I never told him that I had it. I had stolen it then, and I had continued stealing it for all the years since. My claim of righteousness had not allowed me to see my sin. So I returned his book, together with a long overdue apology.
When we begin to live confessionally, we feel the obligation and desire to make others as whole as they can be made from the trouble we have caused them. Nothing they have done to us can hold us back from making restitution ourselves. Of course, it is the nature of sins that, once committed, mortals cannot fully atone for them. The deep scars we inflict on one another can be reached only by the One who has healing in his wings. But this doesn’t absolve us from doing all that we imperfectly can do. It simply binds us to the Savior, as one of the instruments in his hands.