Hope for Healing Broken Relationships
by Linda MacKillop
Singer/Songwriter Andrew Peterson wrote a beautiful song, maybe one of my favorites from his sizeable collection, simply called “I Want to Say I’m Sorry.” He tells the story of a broken relationship between himself and a friend. The words are tender, humble and worthy of our ears.
Apparently, he wounded a close friend with some words strong enough to create an unbreachable wall between them. His response to his behavior and the love expressed toward his friend beautifully model finding hope for broken relationships.
Of course, hope for healing is different than finding healing. We can’t guarantee broken relationships will heal; we can only choose our own response. In the case of Andrew Peterson, the song never reveals if the broken friendship ever restored, but he shows us the way to step firmly on the path to healing. He expresses regret, names his offense, acknowledges he opened a wound, describes how he’s different because of the offense and lastly expresses a desire for a reconciled relationship.
Listen to the lyrics and you’ll hear a recipe for beginning the restoration process. He offers no blame and tells how he’s praying for healing:
And now my heart is like a catacomb
And I'm praying we can find a way to raise these bones
Again, oh, again
I acknowledge there will be readers of this article who think, “You don’t know my situation.” Perhaps you are the wounded party. While I don’t know your situation, I know the broken relationships I’ve experienced. This article wasn’t written through rose-colored glasses. In some relationships, unlike Andrew’s, you are the person who has been wronged. Repairing these breaches can be more challenging. Based on personal experience, some relationships will heal, and some will remain broken because it takes two people desiring a healthy relationship for healing to happen. Remember Romans 12:18: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.” We can’t change other people’s hearts or behavior, but we can choose our own path forward.
And in the case of broken relationships resulting from abuse, neglect, addiction and other serious mistreatment, repairs cannot be made without change, consequences and rebuilt trust.
When my siblings and I were young, our family of origin exploded with a loud bang the way so many families unfortunately explode. My parents divorced and sibling relationships became strained. People took sides. Because we didn’t witness adults working out their troubles, we didn’t learn to reconcile well with people. We modeled our parent’s emotion-laden behavior. Fighting ensued. Some of us became estranged. We didn’t know how to say we were sorry or recognize our own wrong behavior.
My response to members of my family differed based on individual behaviors. “As far as it depends on me,” in this case, meant after a period of time had passed, I approached family members with the hope of restoration. One sibling responded well, and we have been very close ever since. Unfortunately, I can’t force others to make the same choice.
Due to my difficult background, when I became a parent, I needed to make intentional effort to raise our sons differently. I became a believer in my 20s, and my husband and I now have four adult sons whom we adore. By the grace of God, we had the privilege of raising a stable family—certainly not perfect, but stable. While my efforts at teaching and modeling healthy relationships to them involved much stumbling in my early years due to my background, we did raise them differently than my family of origin. Today, our sons quickly find the words to say to apologize when needed. I like to think I do the same.
Seeing their devotion, love and respect toward each other brings great joy. I couldn’t fathom being estranged from them and would plead, camp out on their lawn and beg them to forgive me or reconcile if we ever had a split. Here are a few things learned along the way, and some modeled in Andrew’s song:
Admit when you’re wrong. Say you’re sorry. Be humble. State the actions that caused the wounds.
Ask yourself if the situation is worth the loss of a relationship. In the case of abuse, neglect, addiction and other cases, the broken relationship may be the safest and healthiest recourse—and even the most loving. “As far as it depends on you.”
Talk directly to people rather than about them.
Pray, pray, pray and lean into people with great love and patience, wherever possible.
If all of this feels overwhelming, maybe start with just holding the desire for a restored relationship and lifting that desire to God. Returning to Andrew Peterson’s song, he beautifully captures this image of a reconciled friendship.
So this is my communion hymn
I want to sit beside you at the feast, my friend
Again, again and again
Maybe it’s enough to begin by letting someone know you want to sit with them at the feast. Maybe healing begins there, slowly and nurtured with time.
This topic requires much more than a brief article. For more in-depth resources from people with training to help navigate readers through treacherous waters of broken relationships, check out these books:
Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve by Lewis B. Smedes
The Peace Maker by Ken Sande
Forgiving What You Can’t Forget by Lysa TerKeurst
The 5 Apology Languages: The Secret to Healthy Relationships by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas
Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers by Leslie Leyland Fields
Linda MacKillop often addresses themes of broken relationships in her writing. Her debut novel, The Forgotten Life of Eva Gordon (Kregel, May 2022), highlights an older woman facing memory loss while trying to salvage the remnants of her shattered family. Read more at lindamackillop.com or @lindamackillopwriter.