Tuesday, June 11, 2019

5 Things to Remember in Relationship Break Downs

(dinner argument, dana oldfather)

In the beginning, God created a world where relationships could flourish. Because everything was built completely according to His design, mankind could safely interact with one another without holding back – there was no fear of being hurt, no danger of disappointment, and no shame in honestly just being your "no filter" self. Relationships were steady. Stable. Eternal. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in anymore. Starting with the very first man and woman, people have chosen to step outside of God’s perfect design (we call that sin), and this has changed everything. It began with shame. Then came blame. Then there were competition and comparison. These grew into power struggles, mistrust, insecurity, jealousy, hatred, abandonment, and even war and murder. Trust and authenticity eroded away as walls and divisions grew up in their place.

So the real, ugly truth is that because we are living in a world scarred by the effects of sin, it is full of brokenness, and broken people – people who cross lines, break their commitments, and give up because things get hard. There are character flaws and addictions that rip some relationships apart, and then sometimes it’s external factors like geographical distance, or life experiences that cause people to change and grow apart. Sometimes it’s our fault relationships end, and sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with us. It’s unavoidable and if it hasn’t happened to you yet, know for certain that it will. While we don't always know when conflict is coming, here are some tactics and tools we can keep on hand so that we can handle these situations in a Christ-honoring and productive way.

1. Keep It Real


While we can’t dodge conflict, rejection, and hurt, we can control our response to it. Often we tend to get stuck reacting to brokenness rather than doing anything productive about it. We feel surprised or resentful that it’s happening to us. We spend time blaming others, by feeling sorry for ourselves, obsessively analyzing the situation, or trying to figure out how to inflict maximum revenge on the offender. While these feelings are totally normal, we can’t stay there and expect anything to change. In his letter to the church, the apostle Peter says, "do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come upon you, as though something strange were happening to you." He understood what we must embrace – broken relationships are just part of this world. So don’t let them catch you off guard and get you off course. Instead, let them fuel you to run to the One who had the perfect design from the very beginning. Only He can bring the healing and restoration that we long for.

2. Drop Your Weapons 


While broken relationships may be the norm in this world, as Christians we are called to be "in it," and not "of it." That means that our response to relationship failures has to be different than what we see in the world. It is so easy to give in to anger and defensiveness, and to let it compel us to do something reckless, and sinful - like having a "you’re dead to me" attitude, slanderous, poisonous gossip, or even physical violence. In the moment, it seems like the most justified and rational response. But there’s a little passage of scripture that might make you think differently about this kind of retaliation.

When God initiated the great "break up" of Egypt and Israel in the book of Exodus, he unleashed a number of plagues on the Egyptian Pharaoh, who was ruthlessly enslaving the Israelite people. In response to the these miraculous events, Pharaoh calls together his counsel of wise men and sorcerers and magicians, who are able to replicate them with seeming ease. Plague after plague, we see that the response is that "the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts." Stop and think about that for a minute. These Egyptian magicians seemed to have had the skill set to potentially improve or resolve these issues, to help their people, to heal their land. But instead, they chose the road of retaliation. They actually made the problem worse. When you stop to think about this, doesn’t it seem crazy to you?

But we fall in to this trap all the time - rather than resolving issues, we get caught up in this way of thinking, and the result is that we’re really only creating a larger wake - more tension, more stress, more negativity. When you think about how unproductive this was, it really does shine some light on how unhelpful the revenge route really is. Not to mention that this type of attitude is what put them in direct opposition with God in the first place. So let's be different than these guys.

3. Build a Bridge


Now that we’ve figured out what not to do, let’s look at some biblical and practical things to do when we experience relationship break downs. First and foremost, we’ve got to try to make peace. Romans 12:18 says "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." How can we do that? We can start by owning our own imperfection. The Bible says that while while we were sinners, Christ died for us. We know deep down that we aren’t perfect - yet Jesus chose to see us not as offenders, but as hurting and hungry souls in need of the love and grace of a Savior. Acknowledging our own imperfection is a powerful tool that should soften us toward others. If Jesus chose to love us through our brokenness, maybe we can honor Him by working to love other people in theirs.
Giving grace and being a peacemaker aren’t about sweeping things under the rug or being a doormat - This posture is about being proactive. Philippians 2:3 says "Don't be jealous or proud, but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves." What this means for us is that as believers, we have to pray for people, even when they let us down. We should be to be the first one to reach out, even if we’re shut down. We need to be willing to forgive, even when it isn’t deserved. And we have to acknowledge how we might have been wrong or hurtful, and what we need to do to make it right.

4. Set Your Limits


A word of warning - be careful not to misinterpret being a peacekeeper as accepting abuse. That is certainly not your Christian duty. Proverbs 4:23 tells us, "Guard your heart with all dilligence, for out of it flow the issues of life." In other words, boundaries are biblical, and it’s your responsibility to defend and protect the values, thoughts, feelings, and strengths you possess. While we should love and serve others, we should never feel like a slave to their agenda. So it’s important to learn to set healthy limits with others. You wouldn’t leave your locker, your car or your house wide open for anyone to take whatever they wanted, and you aren’t supposed to do that with your mind and heart. Here are a few examples of setting healthy boundaries:

Words | Simply letting people know when you like or don’t like something is a great way to guard your heart. It’s not offensive or wrong to let people know when they have crossed a line. Example: "The way you are speaking to me is making me uncomfortable."

Consequenes | Your parents have probably thrown this one your way – the old "if/then." You can absolulely let people know that there will be a consequence if they continue a behavior that is harmful to you. Example: "If you keep standing me up, I’m not going to invite you again in the future."

Space | There are times when a conflict gets so intense that the best thing to do is take a step back. You can set an amount of time to be emotionally or physically distant from someone. The key is – you need to let them know it’s happening and why. Example: "I need us to take a week apart to think things through and pray about what to do next."

Phone a Friend | Sometimes truth is just easier to receive when you involve a third party. Maybe you need to get an adult involved like a teacher or counselor. Maybe it’s another friend who can help mediate between you and someone else. It’s absolutely okay to get help solving a problem. The Bible says "Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety."
The point is, the Christian solution to conflict is not to be agreeable all the time at the expense of ourselves. We have to learn to build bridges while communicating our limits to others – and we have to respect the boundaries people communicate to us as well.

5. Trust the Lord


Hopefully, as you learn to build these practices into your life, you will be able to rebuild broken relationships. Sometimes though, even when we do all the right things, they still end. Whatever the outcome, here’s the most important thing to remember: God is in control. Scripture tells us that He delights in every detail of our lives, that He wants good things for us. And that means that even in the hurtful experiences, God has good things in mind for us.

If you have any doubt of that, read about the story of Joseph. Found in Genesis, this is a young man who suffered tremendously because of the selfish and evil treatment of the very people who should have loved and protected him. But despite the hurt, Joseph stayed connected to God. By the end of the journey, he knew that even in loss and disappointment, God was orchestrating a special mission for him. At one point, he has a chance to confront and exact revenge on those who abandoned him. But instead, he says this: "…You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." Isn’t that amazing? Joseph could respond this way because he found that the broken relationships in his life were the vehicle that God used to propel him into the great call on his life.

Even if it doesn’t feel great in the moment, sometimes a relationship ending can be a really good thing. God may have a better plan for you, or you may need a particular experience, and this fork in the path might be just the event that sets you on the road to your destiny. So when you find yourself in brokenness – don’t panic! Don’t retaliate. Do all you can to restore and build bridges, and then trust the Lord with the outcome. You’ll find, just like Joseph did, that God will use this experience to draw you close, to position you and prepare you for the purpose for which you were born.
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