A young man went to a wise old guru with a problem, something he just didn’t understand. The young man asked the guru why he can’t take back hurtful words he’d said to someone. He’d apologized, but the relationship wasn’t the same. Why can’t he fix this?

The wise old guru took the young man on a treacherous climb up a tall mountain overlooking a deep gorge. It was very windy up way there. He had brought a feather pillow along with them. The guru took out his knife and slit open the pillow, waving it into the wind, scattering the feathers to the four winds.

Then he turned to the young man. As the guru handed him the now empty pillow fabric, he said, “Your task is to put all the feathers back in the pillow.”

“There’s no way!” exclaimed the young man. “That’s impossible! Once the feathers are out of the pillow, there’s no way to put them all back in again!”

The old guru nodded in agreement. “That’s why you can’t take back your hurtful words. It’s too late. They are already out,” he said. The young man finally got it.

I’m sure many of you have heard this story before. The moral is to be careful what we say. But there’s something else going on here. Turns out there actually is a way to put the feathers back in the pillow. It’s called restitution. It costs you a lot and it’s hard work, but it can be done.

Let me back up a minute. Say Person A wrongs Person B. We’re assuming it’s an accident, not a heinous crime or anything like that. Just normal day-to-day relationship stuff. We’ve all been in both positions.

Say you’re Person B who was wronged. Say Person A borrowed something special to you and lost it or broke it. Maybe the lost a special out of print book, or broke your lawn mower. Maybe they borrowed your car and got in a fender bender. Maybe they accidentally injured you by some careless act on their part. And worse, maybe they acted like it was no big deal. Or maybe they were mortified and replaced it or had it fixed.

Either way, say you’ve forgiven them. But there’s a boundary their now. You’re probably not going to let them borrow something again. Setting healthy boundaries is healthy, and does not (necessarily) mean you’re in unforgiveness. Especially if they act like it was no big deal, and wonder what’s wrong with you that you’re making it one, or they have a pattern of disrespecting other people’s things.

I would totally recommend setting that boundary. It’s not about the item, it’s about honoring, which is the currency in the Kingdom of God. Your boundary forces them to confront the issue in their heart with dishonoring others, which they can choose do to or not. You’re not responsible for their response to a healthy boundary.

Now let’s say you’re Person A, who did the wronging. We’ve all been there. Say you want to repair the relationship. How can you get the other person to remove that boundary? By restitution.

Relationships are like scales. Person B feels like the scales are tipped away from them, like they got the short end of the stick in the transaction. Restitution tips the scales back in their favor. Here are some examples:

If broke your neighbor’s lawn mower, not only do you buy him a new one, top-of-the-line even if his other one was not, you buy him a top-of-the-line weed-whacker as well.

If you lost your friend’s book, not only do you replace it, searching high and low on ebay if you have to if it’s out of print, but you give them a $200 Amazon gift card along with it.

If you got in a fender bender, you not only fix the car, but you replace their stock AM/FM radio with a 6-disc CD changer and a premium surround-sound stereo. (Kudos to John Sandford, founder of Elijah House Ministries, for this example.)

It doesn’t have to be monetary restitution, although those are easy examples.

Maybe you’ve said something really hurtful to your spouse. So you get up early and do some chore they do that you know they hate. Maybe you know they clean the bathrooms every Friday, so you get up at 4:00 AM every Friday so you can do it before going to work. How long? Forever. And you don’t say a word about it. Let them discover it.

Restitution is a sacrifice you make, could be monetary, could be effort, from a place or empathy over the pain you’ve caused them. Not because you’re hurting. Because they’re hurting.

You can only do this with the right heart. This isn’t penance. You’re not trying to manipulate them to drop the boundary because you want something from them. You’ll truly broken and hurt, not because you feel guilty over what you’ve done, but honestly because of the pain you caused them. You hurt because they’re hurting, and you want to bless them.

They may or may not drop the boundary and allow the relationship to be restored. That’s on them and their ability to forgive. But you’ve done, and continue to do, everything you can. Depending on the offense, restitution can take years. But it’s worth it.

If you’re the wronged party, you (usually) can’t demand restitution; that can be manipulation. And you’re perfectly justified keeping your healthy boundary in place forever if they never do anything (words don’t count) to show you their heart has changed.

If you did the wrong, you can’t ask the other person what it takes to lift the boundary; that (usually but not always) shows you’re just in it for the benefit to yourself. You’ve got to figure it out, possibly by trial ‘n’ error. But ask the Lord, he knows, and he’s all over restoring relationships. After all, that’s why he went through that whole cross and resurrection thing.

Does this strike a chord with you? Does this resonate? Tell us in the comments a story where you’ve been on one side or the other. And please share on Facebook if you think this would be helpful to someone else (click the “f” button below).

12 replies
    • Dave Wernli
      Dave Wernli says:

      That is the hardest thing, you hit the nail on the head! For me, I think I have to come to a place where I can acknowledge that they are not the evil they did to me. Yes, they did evil to me. But they are not the evil they did.

  1. Randi
    Randi says:


    I see myself on both sides. It takes a lot of humility and awareness to commit to restitution, if you’ve done the wrong. The instinctive response is to redirect the blame away from yourself, or at least to mitigate it to nothing.

    • Dave Wernli
      Dave Wernli says:

      Personally, I hate having to go and ask for forgiveness. Having had to in the past, it really tempers how I act.

    • Dave Wernli
      Dave Wernli says:

      Thanks for leaving a comment and letting us know it blessed you, Tari! You’ve made my day. Please share it on Facebook (or your favorite social media channel) if you think it would help someone else. There are buttons right below the post to make this easy.

    • Dave Wernli
      Dave Wernli says:

      Well said, Anne! I lived a long time as a peace keeper. I sold my vision and my headship over my family for peace at any price, avoiding conflict. But then someone showed me Jesus said “Blessed are the peace makers” — not peace keepers (Matthew 5:9). We have to face the conflict and work through it, whether the other person approaches it in a healthy way or not.


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