by Linda Rex
One of the lessons I’m still learning in life is how to handle interpersonal issues in a healthy way. For example, someone in my life says or does something hurtful or causes a serious problem for me or someone else. How do I respond? How do I deal with this?
As a pastor I think that sometimes people use me as the go-to person in these situations. It is common for someone to come to me with “he said this to me and that was wrong” or “she was so hateful to me—you need to talk to her.” It’s as though I’m supposed to be carrying around a big stick so I can “whomp” anyone who gets out of line. Even though there are times when I may feel like a good whomping is in order, I do not believe that’s what God would have me do.
Another thing people do in these situations is to talk to everyone else in their circle of family or friends, making sure that everyone knows what’s going on. But they never go to that person who was at fault and try to talk with them about it. Sadly, in some families and social groups, this is the most common way of dealing with issues. I’ve learned by personal experience this is one of the most destructive ways of handling a problem—and sadly, in a lot of cases, the person who was at fault never even realized they had hurt someone and if they had they would have made every effort to make it right.
In any case, when someone says or does something hurtful, two things for sure come into play. First, we are called by God to love unconditionally and to offer them grace. It is imperative that we create an atmosphere in our relationship with that person, however strained that relationship may be, in which they may feel free to be real, and in which they know and are reassured they are loved and accepted.
Secondly, it is important that we promptly, but at an appropriate time, go to that person and do our best to speak the truth in love to them. This needs to be done with “I feel” language not accusatory language. We can talk to them about how specific words and deeds affected us, and describe the harm we feel that they did. This gives the person an opportunity to see and feel the pain they caused and to consider a change of heart, mind and behavior.
If we never tell someone the truth about their hurtful words and behavior, we deprive them of the opportunity to grow in Christlikeness. This is not loving. If we tell everyone else about what they’ve said and done, we’ve destroyed the spiritual fellowship God has called us to live in, creating suspicion, distrust, and a host of other unnecessary evils. This is definitely not loving, nor is it gracious.
Christ says that if this person won’t hear us, then we are to find a trusted confident or two who would be willing to go with us to that person to talk. The foundation of this whole meeting needs to be grace while speaking the truth in love. Reconciliation and restoration, the redemption of the relationship, is the goal. If they will not hear us, that is when we call on the elders of the church to assist. But the purpose or goal does not change throughout this whole process.
There is a time and place for others to join in the reconciliation/restoration process. One of the reasons for this is that there are relationships that are for the most part one-sided. In some relationships, one of the people involved doesn’t feel that they have a voice or that it is safe to speak the truth. This may be because they have given that right or freedom away by passivity. Or it may be due to abuse. Either way, there is an appropriate time for advocacy in this process of reconciliation/restoration.
Healing and restoring human relationships takes time and effort. There must be a commitment on both sides to working things out, and a willingness to concede wrongdoing. This requires a deep humility and an inner integrity that will not fudge the truth or try to self-justify. Not everyone is up to this task. But it is a necessary and essential part of life in a spiritual community.
As members of a spiritual community, when we see two people at odds with one another, we should feel the brokenness in that relationship ourselves. This should motivate us to encourage reconciliation and restoration within that relationship. Because what happens to our brothers and sisters impacts us as well. We are all sharers in Christ and participate with one another through the Spirit. To allow the evil one to cause division and harm within the community, is to participate in darkness not in the Light. And we don’t want to do that.
Thankfully, this is not a task that we take on all by ourselves. In fact, we read in scripture that Jesus is the Mediator between us and God, and between us and each other. He took on our humanity so that whatever divisions may exist between us become moot—we all are joined together now in an unbreakable bond. The Spirit also works as our intercessor—he binds us together and works incessantly to create unity and peace within our relationships.
I have found that the best solution to relationship problems begins in a relationship with God through prayer. When I take a relational problem to God and ask him to intervene, I am often surprised by the joy of finding the problem resolved in a way I never expected. When I see Jesus’ description of how relational problems are resolved within a spiritual community and begin to practice them, I find a new wisdom and power for reconciliation and restoration.
Will there be some relational problems that are never resolved? Yes—but only because God has given us the freedom to resist his Spirit and to reject his way of being. We have that choice—and we will live with the consequences of the choice we make, and sometimes, sadly, with the consequences of the choice someone else will make to refuse to live in loving relationship. And that is when we turn to Christ and to the spiritual community for the love, grace and support to heal and move on.
Father, how you must grieve when your children don’t play nice and don’t get along! Forgive us for all the ways we ruin our relationships and destroy the spiritual communion and love you call us to live in. Grant us the grace to do relationships your way and not our way. Give us the heart, mind and will to truly love and forgive one another in the way you love and forgive us. Through Jesus, our Lord, and by your Spirit. Amen.
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, …” Mt 18:15-16a NASB