Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
The themes of reconciliation and forgiveness are woven throughout Scripture. In particular, God’s people are urged to follow Jesus’ example in their dealings with others.
Ephesians 4:32 tells us, “Be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” In addition, Hebrews 12:14 (ESV) says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
However, in the case of burned bridges—friendships or working relationships that ended due to specific circumstances—one passage seems to resonate more than others:
For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. . . . A time to tear down and a time to build up. (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3)
Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for ending a relationship—a time for tearing down what once was. Some people are bad influences. Some stunt other people’s growth. Some people stir up bad memories or remind you of times best left behind. Some people simply grow apart or lose the common bond that joined them in the first place.
Sometimes, bridges are burned by careless words or deeds. Often in such cases, the reasoning goes like this: I’ll never need this person in my life again, so I’ll say or do exactly what I feel and then walk away for good.
A funny thing happens. Circumstances change. People change. Slowly, they realize that burned bridges limit the paths one can travel. With that realization comes a time to rebuild. If this is the year for you to restore relations with old acquaintances, here’s a step-by-step checklist that might help.
1. DO AN INTERNAL AUDIT
Find the difference between the person you were when you torched that bridge and the person you are now. How have you matured? How has your outlook changed? How do you feel when you look back on your younger self? Taking a hard look back can help you gain the proper mind-set for moving forward.
2. REESTABLISH CONTACT
The circumstances of your bridge-burning experience will affect the speed with which you can proceed in making amends. If things were especially dramatic—if you caused offense or acted insensitively—you may need to take small steps at first. For example, you could reach out in an e-mail or on social media with a brief but sincere message, humbly testing the waters for an opportunity to reconcile. Or, if you feel you are ready for a person-to-person interaction, you can pick up your phone and call. Suggest meeting somewhere neutral—such as a coffee shop or restaurant. If you get rebuffed, you may need to turn to a mutual acquaintance to intercede on your behalf.
3. ADMIT YOU WERE WRONG
If you can arrange direct contact, start by sharing the results of your internal audit. Be transparent about what led to the bridge-burning moment. Invite the other person to share his or her thoughts and feelings about the incident. Apologize for whatever hurt you may have caused and ask for the other person’s forgiveness.
4. FIND COMMON GROUND TO BUILD ON
Accept that you may not be able to return to the way things were before. Once burned, twice shy, after all. But with a concerted effort on your part—a willingness to show you can be trusted again—you may be able to piece together a friendship (or at least a workable relationship) over time.
This blog post is adapted from the special-edition magazine Unlock the Bible's Secrets, which is now available wherever magazines are sold.