Estrangement: Journey to Wholeness


Most people have experienced estrangement of one kind or another. Estrangements can occur abruptly, like a big fight that ends a relationship (family feuds for example). While other estrangements happen to us, like a job loss we felt was unfair. And some estrangements we initiate ourselves, like choosing conscious boundaries with a dangerous person. Whatever the reason, estrangements may linger in our psyches and some part of us longs for pardon, forgiveness or reconciliation. In our heart of hearts we also, for the most part, put the responsibility for the estrangement on someone else, finding it hard to name our role in it.


With all that baggage we bring to estrangement, it is hard to see a way out, a healing journey or even an oasis in the middle of the stress. And if we invite God into the mess at all, it’s usually to take our side or make things right. Or we are deep in our own remorse, shame, anger or hurt. What a tough spot.


To add insult to injury, many of us build this scenario: we think that if we just try hard to fix the situation, it will work out to our benefit (and secretly, we will be vindicated). Oh what a heavy load we carry. So we try to be nice, to reach out, to do what the person wants, or to show the other person what they could do to change. We usually get strange and hurtful kickbacks from this effort, or we find ourselves in between people, which is even more exhausting. Our motives may be well-meaning, such as avoiding pain, being a good Christian, wanting to look good or innocent, or wanting everything to be easier. Whatever our motives, we usually get sick and tired after we’ve tried to do all we can to solve the estrangement. And the beat goes on 😉


It’s so hard to have compassion for ourselves, but that is just what we need: kindness, honesty and utmost compassion. But how do we find that in the middle of such strife?


Let’s start with an understanding of how we got to that place of unrest and stress in our estrangements. It happened largely because of our “efforting.” Here is a model that shows this “efforting” and its side effects.



The model has concentric circles with feelings on the outside, actions next, outcomes or results next, then God in the middle. We move from the outside to the inside in this model, starting with our feelings of anger, hurt or shame. Our natural inclination is to try whatever actions we can to relieve, change or fix the situation. The results are often messy or get us more mired in the pain. By the time we get to the middle of the circle to God, we are usually hurt, exhausted and without much hope.




Let’s stop at this juncture of exhaustion. I’d like to suggest a real oasis, a place to pause right in the middle of this chaos and pain: an oasis where we can breathe and reconsider our options. Perhaps this can be the beginning of our self-compassion and love.


First we need to listen to our inner selves and bring God more attentively into this process. Put your hand on your heart. Quiet yourself. Sit in a comfortable position. Make your space as soothing as possible. Then breathe in and out slowly for a minute and clear your mind of things that clamor for your attention. Listen to your heart and ask God to be present in your situation.


When you have quieted, read over this French pantoum poem several times. First just hear it. Then listen for a word or phrase that speaks to you. As you read it again, let that word or phrase take you on a journey. Where does it connect to your life, to your estrangement? Ask God to show you how this word or phrase speaks truth to you. Write about this or draw a symbol of it for yourself.


I Long to Be Free


I long to be free loving Lord

My hurt and anger cling

Can I own-forgive-release

I claim the comfort of pain


My hurt and anger cling

My heart cries out to you

I claim the comfort of pain

I let you heal my soul


My heart cries out to you

Can I own-forgive-release

I let you heal my soul

I long to be free loving Lord


You may want to stay with this poem for quite some time, taking your pain and unanswered questions with you back to the poem, to see which words and phrases speak to you over time. Ask God to show you the path to freedom. Keep asking. Then watch what happens in your heart and in your life.


Now for the next steps in the healing journey: I would like to suggest that you use a similar circle model as before but this time start in the middle with God. You probably need support to do this: a spiritual director, counselor, pastor, coach or healthy friends. Start with God, bringing it all to God and listening to your heart, so you hear what the personal healing call is for you on this reconciliation journey. It is all about compassion, first from God and then from you to yourself and finally, in whatever form, to the other person or situation.



God is at center where we start, owning our own issues and forgiving ourselves. Then we move outward, to outcomes—actions—feelings, in that order.




The reconciliation journey consists basically of three steps: own, forgive, release. They may sound overly simple, but they are, in reality, difficult and complex. Remember, with God in the middle of the circle, which is where we now start, we have much more likelihood of finding peace.


Owning is perhaps the most crucial part and the first step of the healing process. It is important to take compassion into this phase of truth telling. In this phase, we own our part of the estrangement without taking on too much shame or guilt. This opens our hearts to new insights and truths that we may find painful. Most of us have a lot of baggage to unload. It may be hard to feel our anger at the other person, to give up our feelings of superiority or rightness, to find our newfound voice, to name our own complicity, to stand up to intimidation, to own our codependence, to release what the other person has that we want, or to let go of hurtful memories. After we own our part, we take a deep spiritual step with God, one that is necessary in order to heal our wounds.


Forgiving ourselves is the second step. This is the key, to heal and forgive ourselves before we try to resolve our estrangements with others. It is hard, but whatever it is, it is not too big or too hard for God. This forgiveness happens in the center of the circle where we commune with God. It may take years to be kind to ourselves and to forgive, knowing that we didn’t know enough or weren’t aware of what we needed to do or felt we didn’t deserve respect or love. Usually we don’t even realize that we need to forgive ourselves. So growth is available all along this journey. Once we forgive ourselves, we are in a much better position to forgive the other person or situation. And that is what ultimately heals us: forgiving someone whether they know it or not. But that is usually an inside job.


Releasing the other is the last step. This happens as you move from the center of this model outward. But you are now focused on God and on your own healing so the next steps take on new and different possibilities. You can now ask, what outcomes are healthy and which are idealistic, vindicating or revengeful? What actions will be life-giving, safe and freeing? And as you choose healthier and more lovingly detached outcomes, you see that your feelings are quite different as a result.


When you use the model this way, you can look more honestly at the outcomes or actions that would be healthy for you. If you are dealing with a person with severe mental illness, an abusive person, someone who brings back strong memories from the past, or an organization that has blacklisted you, it may not be safe to expect any reconciliation. Then the finest, most healing thing happens only within you, the healing and forgiveness that only God can provide.


Sometimes praying for that person from afar is the only healthy option. In other cases you may write a letter to make amends, meet with the person and a third party, or meet with them yourself. For some, a heartfelt word or touch at a deathbed is a healing gesture. There are many options. But in order to have the best option for the situation, we may have to release our expectations of complete reconciliation. But, paradoxically, once you use this model with God at the center, the options open further than you may have imagined.


The results, actions and feelings may surprise you. You may find peace, humor, new perspectives, sadness, calm, love, patience, grief, loving detachment, compassion, caring, loss, self-care, etc. And the best outcomes may include having clear and comfortable boundaries, being content to send love with no contact, or having partial or full reconciliation. Whatever the outcome, you are in God’s hands all the way and you will heal.


©Janet O. Hagberg, 2014. All rights reserved.

Poem, I Long to Be Free by Janet Hagberg


Reflections on this essay:

What estrangements do you currently carry?

How have you tried to fix them?
What has happened as a result?

Where is God in this process with you?

How have you owned your own part of the estrangement?
What new options do you see for your situation with God at the center?



This outline and model were developed as part of a workshop I did with Tamie Koehler. Kudos to her for adapting this circle model.








This model did not transfer to the blog so you need to imagine three concentric circles with feelings on the outside of the widest circle, then actions in the next circle, then results and lastly, God in the small circle in the middle. If you would like a copy of these circles email me at


  1. Outside the circle, write the FEELINGS you have been experiencing in the estrangement.


  1. First circle moving inward, write the ACTIONS you have been taking to deal with the estrangement.


  1. Second circle moving inward, write the RESULTS you have been experiencing from your feelings and actions.


  1. Center circle write your connection with God in this estrangement.




This circle did not transfer either so you need to imagine the same set of circles except that the middle circle is much larger than before. God is in this inner circle, then as you move outward, results, actions and feelings reside in the outer circles.




  1. Center circle write your connection/process with GOD as the main focus in healing and reconciliation.


  1. Second circle moving outward, write the RESULTS you are experiencing in the reconciliation process.


  1. Third circle moving outward, write the ACTIONS you have been taking when God and healing are the focus of the reconciliation.



  1. Outside the circle, write the FEELINGS you are experiencing.