How do you fix a broken relationship? It can be challenging to rebuild trust, extend forgiveness, and resolve conflicts with one another. And there are times when healing can mean ending a relationship. We particularly want to make it clear that we do not encourage you to stay in an abusive relationship. However, if you are hoping to work toward biblical reconciliation with someone, you may find these insights from certified spiritual director and ordained minister Rev. Dr. Jill Sweet helpful.
“Broken” and “relationships” are weighty words. As I write this, I sense the weightiness on both a societal and relational level. I am not an expert on this topic because, like you, I am tending to fragile relationships. So I rely on my personal experience and my experience as a spiritual director who prayerfully listens. While I listen to the conflicts others face, I also have the privilege of bearing witness to the healing and restoration of friendships, marriages, families, and church fellowships. I do this work on behalf of others by holding fast to the simple truth that “God is a God not of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).
How I’ve seen God heal people from broken relationships
Finding peace under the strain of hard conversations in a divided time
Recently, a younger woman came to me with deep sadness. She shared how her heart ached for herself and for our world. She acknowledged that, because of her age, she really had no prior experience to draw upon to help her understand the deep divides we are facing as a society today.
I listened to her share how, within just a few days, she had faced an intense conversation with a coworker, another with her next door neighbor, and yet another with a family member. She lamented that there was no “safe” topic to discuss with people.
We both felt the strain and feared the brokenness that could result if the intensity of these conversations was not addressed wisely. We talked about the strain she was enduring and how God might be inviting her to care for her soul. In a text later that evening, she shared how a long walk and more talk with the Lord brought peace to her heart and soul.
How building trust with God helped heal a marriage
Several years ago, a woman came to me because she and her husband were on the verge of divorce. They had been to therapy, individually and as a couple, and had also been talking with their pastor. Over many monthly sessions with me, she confessed her part in the marital discord.
When she started naming his transgressions, I encouraged her to place her husband and the relationship in God’s hands. I pointed out that all she could do was to work on her relationship with the Lord and to trust God to work in her husband’s life. As her relationship with the Lord grew, she was called to a new ministry which she loves, and the strife with her husband started to lessen. Consequently, I was not surprised when the day of our last session came.
In releasing past hurts, she and her husband both drew closer to the Lord and were able to hope again. Because they each had a more authentic relationship with themselves and with the Lord, they had a whole new marriage with one another.
A hug that meant so much more
Every family system has threadbare seams. In some families, from one generation to the next, the relational brokenness becomes so normalized that healing is no longer expected and hope is nowhere to be found.
Over the course of our time together in spiritual direction, one gentleman had shared snippets of his parents’ dysfunction due to mental illness in his mother’s family. Though physically present, his mother suffered from major depression and was emotionally absent from each family member. His father’s bitterness and rage at his mother was jarring.
Through our sessions together, he realized the damage done to his soul and the despair that would unexpectedly overwhelm him because neither parent sought help. Through the years, he clung to the hope that his relationship with his parents might be healed in some way.
We rejoiced during the session when he shared the story of him trying to help his father do a landscaping project. When his father’s anger started to rear its ugly head, the gentleman felt so triggered that he decided the safest thing for his soul was to just walk away. But, on his way to the car, he felt the nudge to turn around, go back to his father, and simply give him a hug. He made the choice to turn toward hope, not for his father’s sake, but because he was in touch with his own soul’s longing for a new normal in his relationship with his dad.
How the Psalms can help us process broken relationships
The Psalms help us navigate the landscape of conflicted emotions that result from our own brokenness and our broken relationships. In the midst of conflict, feeling unseen and/or misunderstood is common. However, when we locate ourselves closer to God, we are seen and known. We do not need to tip-toe around relational divides or side-step the deeper layers of guilt and shame. We can experience freedom in our social lives through reflection and paying attention to our inner longings and desires.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?”
–Psalm 42:5a, 11a; 43:5a
Repeatedly, the psalmist uses these two questions as a “check-in” for the soul. Even today, it serves as a reminder to be intentional about caring for our souls when we are feeling distressed and troubled.
To that end, inspired by the Psalms, I share the following actions as means of drawing nearer to the Lord when our souls are downcast and disquieted.
Steps for drawing nearer to God when you’re struggling with a broken relationship
Acknowledge your own pain and angst. Denial of any sort only deepens the divide in our relationship with God, ourselves, and others.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Confess your part in the discord, whether intentional or unintentional. Authenticity before the Lord restores the soul.
“For my iniquities have gone over my head;
They weigh like a burden too heavy for me.”
Hope for a resolution. Trust the Lord is working in ways not seen or known yet.
“But it is for you, O Lord, that I wait;
it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.”
Evaluate what is yours to do and what is not yours to do. Let God be your guide.
“You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me with honor.”
The value of counseling and spiritual practices
Acknowledging, confessing, hoping, and evaluating can be done through spiritual practices such as silence, solitude, or the prayer of examen. But processing with counselors, life coaches, mentors, and/or spiritual directors can bring clarity and freedom to pray for circumstances in new ways. Other people can help us recognize that the current conflict is not a forever reality, and they can help us discern what the next best steps are.
With wise counsel, we can confirm when to step toward and mend relationships, and when, as in the case of abuse, to step completely away. Because not all relationships are healthy and mutually beneficial, it is not easy to realize that the most gracious and loving thing to do is withdraw from being part of a loved one’s life.
Blessing others and being released to hope
“Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.”
–Psalm 42:5b, 11b; 43:5b
When our souls are cast down and disquieted over broken relationships, we are encouraged by the psalmist to hope. And when we take our time and let the Lord’s healing perspective come to us, our hearts are inspired to form wordless blessings to be prayer for others.
Years ago, I learned from someone, who learned from someone else, to pray this simple blessing in the most difficult of relationships: Lord, bless ____ and release me. It is both a prayer and a cry for help that bears fruit over time.
Healing the broken relationship can come with drawing near to God in order to bless others and be released to continued hope!
Jill Sweet is ordained in the Reformed Church in America as a specialized minister in spiritual direction. She recently received her DMin from Fuller Seminary in spiritual direction. In addition, she oversees Come Learn Rest Ministries, which provides soul care for ministry leaders and fellow spiritual directors. When she is not at home in Oakdale, California, she gravitates toward the stillness of the Bridger Tetons in Wyoming.