This post may contain affiliate links. See my disclosure for more information.
Have you ever had to rebuild trust? Whether you are the one who has done wrong and needs to make amends, or are the one who has been wronged and are looking for signs of true repentance…you know it doesn’t happen overnight. There are some important steps that you can take to work this process and cement the change that God has begun.
I’ve shared before that God’s grace is very real to me. That’s because I’ve made choices I wish I could take back and faced some steep consequences because of them. I’ve also had to extend grace in ways I wasn’t sure I could. One day I’ll tell you my whole story, but for today, know that when it comes to working through repentance and restoration, I have some experience…on both sides of the equation.
Everyone’s story will be different, of course. Still, these insights can be valuable for people walking the path to restoration, or those ministering to someone who is.
Shine the Light
You’ve got to get past the idea that hiding is going to work. Keep telling yourself: Hiding is how I got into this mess in the first place. If it’s possible, don’t wait for your sin to be made public by someone else. Although you can still find mercy and support after that happens, it is more difficult. You see, it is natural to think that someone is only ‘coming clean’ because they were caught, not because they are legitimately seeking restoration.
You be the one to shine the light. Ask for help. Confess.
Can I offer a piece of advice that you might not think of in the confession process? Pray first. Ask God to guide your words.
While it may be a catharsis for you to confess every hidden detail of your sin, and there is a place for that (to a pastor or counselor, for example), the person you hurt does not need to hear it all. In fact, much of the detail will likely only serve to hurt them further. Again, it will be beneficial to you to find someone to lay it all out to. But that person is not the person who you’ve hurt or betrayed with your sin.
Your confession doesn’t need to be in front of your whole church. Or maybe it does.
A good first step is to confess to those directly involved, your spouse, close friends or family or your pastor. Many times that is all that is merited. There is nothing holier about confessing in front of a group, and in fact that could make things worse. Use discretion, pray, seek counsel.
There are, of course times when a public confession is necessary. If you are in a leadership position at your church, it is almost always the right thing to do to step down. Not forever. But in a season of restoration, remaining in leadership makes things more difficult.
I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. -Paul (Acts 26:20)
As you confess, it is human nature to shift blame or make light of it. Don’t do it. No matter what circumstances led to your sin, ultimately it is your sin. Blaming or joking only makes it more difficult for people to support you.
By and large, Christians want to support one another. We want to encourage, lift up, and carry each other’s burdens. But we’re humans ourselves. And when it seems like someone is only confessing because they got caught, or are not accepting responsibility for their actions…we back off with our support because we doubt their sincerity.
In my experience, this is one of the primary things that leads to people feeling like they’ve been let down or abandoned by their church. It’s our nature to want to self-preserve. But that is not going to get you the results you want. ==> Support. Help. Restoration. They come from genuine humility.
^^I love this book, BTW. It is a fantastic resource! ^^
Forgiveness may only take a moment, but restoring a broken relationship does not.
And speaking of boundaries, start adding them to your life. Give people permission to hold you accountable. Insist on it. Others may think you’re overreacting, do it anyway. Put up fences to protect yourself from falling in the same pit again.
Feel the Depth
Maybe you’ll be different than most people, but just getting caught in a sin doesn’t typically mean automatic feelings of guilt. Give it time.
At first, you may feel legitimately regretful for your actions, especially for the consequences that they’ve brought. That is not true repentance, but it is a step in the right direction. Real repentance comes when we fully feel the weight of how God feels about our sin.
Interestingly, it was while reading in the books of the Minor Prophets in the Bible that I really began to feel this. God describes beautifully how angry, hurt, sad, and disappointed he is by our sin. The words began to feel very personal as they soaked in.
Pray and ask God to speak truth into your heart and life. Allow yourself to feel the full depth of your sin. King David did a great job of expressing feelings like these in the Psalms. Spend some time there. I particularly like Psalms 25, 32, 38, 51, and 142.
I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin. -Psalm 38:18
Remind yourself that it was faulty thinking that got you into this position in the first place. If nothing changes, you will inevitably end up there again. You don’t need to live under the burden of shame and guilt, but it is in experiencing Godly sorrow that we are lead to true repentance. (See 1 Corinthians 7:9-11)
The worst thing you could do is to skip this step and just get back to life as usual.
You need to actually feel the feelings of guilt and remorse and hating your sin, and those don’t always come naturally or quickly. This is an essential piece of restoration. If it’s your desire to return to a position of leadership, it’s even more important.
We’ll talk more about restoration in our next post in this series. Specifically working within a church to restore someone to ministry. In the meantime, remember that the process of rebuilding trust and proving true repentance may be a long road, but it is a road well worth travelling. The destination is better in ways you can’t even imagine.
Take that first step.