Three years ago, God gave me an assignment: I was to work on mortifying my pride and to open myself up to people. I did not like the idea one bit. I followed Him, kicking and screaming of course, but I obeyed nonetheless. And over time, He gave me the grace to develop friendships with people whose company brings me such joy.
But even in the best situations conflict is inevitable. Last year, this particular friend had made a decision I did not agree with and in the process of carrying out the decision, he sinned against me. I remained silent for his sake, but stewed in my anger toward him for months, all the while knowing my sin was absolutely disgusting. I thought, “If this person could see me now, he’d want nothing to do with me!” But I would not repent.
Then I began to read Tim Lane’s and Paul Tripp’s book, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, and God’s voice broke through. After several months of stubbornness, God gave me the grace to repent. This Tuesday, I finally confronted my friend. I told him how much pain his sin had caused me, but I also confessed my reaction to his sin, which, in my opinion was far more revolting than what he did to me. And do you know what my friend said to me? He said, “We’re done. I wish to cease all communication with you.” And that was it. Game over. If I could play a dying Pac-Man sound for you, I would.
I realize this is not your average book review, but I want to illustrate just how applicable the concepts outlined by Lane and Tripp (2006) are to this unfortunate situation between me and my friend.
First, Lane and Tripp (2006) define a relationship as follows: "What is a relationship? The intersection of the stories of two people. The problem is that an awful lot of carnage takes place at this intersection" (p. 62). This truth is what often makes us wonder if it's really worth it to even bother with other people to begin with. Many of us may be thinking, "What's the point in getting close to anyone? They're just going to sin against you and betray you in the end, right? Even Christians will stab you in the back!" Indeed, Christians will hurt us. My friend hurt me very badly last year. And I hurt my friend badly on Tuesday when I tried to tell him. Not only did I take all the pain I felt he caused me and dump it onto him, I did it through the filter of my sinful words. There were definitely some things I could have said better. His solution? Let's never speak again. I must admit, it sounds like a great way to avoid any future pain and drama, right? But is cutting ourselves off from others really the solution to our relationship problems?
Lane and Tripp (2006) explain why we not only should bother with these messy relationships, but why we need to:
Conflict with others is one of God's mysterious, counterintuitive ways of rescuing us from ourselves . . . The closer you are to someone, the more potential there is for conflict. Relationships are costly, but so is avoiding them. If you choose to avoid them, you will minimize the conflict in your life, but that safety has liabilities of its own. If you choose to face conflit head on, it is full of risks and the potential for great hurt, but it can also be redemptive. (pp. 78-79)
God uses the relational conflicts in our lives to reveal to us the sin patterns lying dormant within us that keep us from becoming conformed to his image. A conflict, according to Lane and Tripp (2006) is a unique opportunity for sanctification because it provides us with a practical means to imitate our Lord: "When we choose to practice true forgiveness, the relationship is not just brought back to where it was before the offense; it actually moves further down the road to maturity," (p.93). When we look at our relational conflicts this way, they almost seem to make sense, whether we be the hurting victim or the forgiven offender.
In spite of the fact that I am grieving the loss of a friend this week, I can be at peace because God has given me the power to shift my focus from people to the cross. Amazing! Two years ago, I would have been devastated by this. My pride would have been hurt to know that someone "hates me" because I messed up. But now I realize that true freedom is the ability to love others unconditioally, and allow others to love me unconditionally in return. It is exhausting to constantly hold a debt over someone's head. It is also exhausting to avoid conflict, never confronting someone about their sin or confessing your own, always feeling as though you have to tiptoe around people because bringing it to their attention might upset them. True freedom is the ability to admit sin openly because I know there are those in my life who still love me in spite of my sin. What a relief not to carry that burden anymore! What a relief to just be myself and know I am still loved and forgiven!
Ironically, I had shared these ideas with this very same friend in an email only two months ago. In this email I described the change that God has brought about in me. I basically summed up in my own words the valuable lessons I learned after reading Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. The following is an excerpt from that email:
Praise God, He has broken me of my pride. I am a sinner, and I will shout it from the rooftops. When I get married, I am not going to run myself ragged trying to be a stepford wife. I am going to let all that sin hang loose and say, "That's right, you married an angry woman. You married a prideful woman. You married a self-righteous, gossiping, slandering, idolatrous, merciless, lover of self!" And it will be a struggle. And he will see the ugly. There will be no facade -- he will not be able to praise me and say, "Many women have done excellently, but you have excelled them all" without first acknowledging the power of Christ in my life. Because apart from Christ, I can do nothing.
Underneath these robes of righteousness that do not belong to me is a hideous creature. I am positively revolting. But the glory story lies in the fact that Christ died to reconcile us to Him and to each other . One of the most profound things I read in the relationships book last week is that if we give our relationships over to God, they will grow in maturity. Even your best relationship that you have right now is a minefield of sin. It's how two people react toward each other's sin and encourage each other toward sanctification that strengthens that bond -- together, they are fighting the power of sin and glorifying God. I see now that opening myself up to my friends, my mentor, and my pastor is a chance for me to defeat sin, instead of letting it get the best of me.
The outcome of Tuesday's conflict was actually quite fortunate in that I discovered I have reason to rejoice in all that God has done in my heart. This week I have received numerous emails and phone calls from friends and loved ones who came alongside me to celebrate my progress. Here are a few examples of the congratulations I’ve received:
KEEP LOOKING UP – for our Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom – and He is pleased with your life! Love you my friend and am praying for you!
I can’t believe you are the same girl I met three years ago! I can’t believe you are the same person who wouldn’t let anyone in church get to know you. I can’t believe you are the same girl who didn’t even want people saying hello to you. Wow!! Praise God!! Jen I am so happy for you!
What a testimony to the power of God in your life! Praise God, what an incredible change in you!
Wow Jen, this sounds just like how you and I got our start! Remember? I offended you right from the beginning and you told me to just stay out of your life and that you were not interested in a friendship with me whatsoever! And look at us now! (I am humbled and embarrassed to admit the truth of this comment – I actually rejected this person at first, but she has since become a trusted advisor to me.)
What courage and obedience! You are such an inspiration to me. Thank you so much for sharing what God has done in your life. What an awesome God we serve!
Wow, I can hear you smiling through the phone!
This is so exciting! You must feel totally awesome right now!
Only in God’s Kingdom can such a thing be possible! And it doesn’t end there. I am praying that God will grant my friend the same gift to see that relationships really are a mess worth making!
"The Bible assumes that relationships this side of eternity will be messy and require a lot of work," (Lane & Tripp, 2006, p. 30). This week I made a huge mess of things, and it was worth every minute of it. You know, it's interesting: one of the final things my friend said to me was, “I forgive you, but I don’t have time to deal with this stuff.” Years ago, I would have agreed with this perspective 100%. But today, I realize this “stuff” is the Christian life. We have no choice but to deal with this "stuff." This "stuff" is what Christ died for. This "stuff" is what the Kingdom of heaven is built upon! We are horrible sinners, and we treat each other so badly. But the power Christ gives us to overcome makes it completely worth it in the end. We are not meant to live the Christian life alone. We are not meant to run for cover when sin rears its ugly head. We are expected to stand up and face this "stuff" head on!
If you have a friend whom you are afraid to confront about their sin, or if you have unconfessed sin toward another and you are terrified of what a mess it may create in your relationship, do yourself a favor and make that mess anyway. To do anything else is to negate the power of Christ in your relationships and in your life.
Reference:Lane, T., & Tripp, P. (2006). Relationships: A mess worth making. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press.