Church families, like our biological families, are not perfect. Friends who are “like family” are not perfect. We live in a broken world full of broken people so we have to live in the reality of broken families – biological, church, and even friends. People deal with broken relationships in many different ways. Some of us, after being hurt, write off the person. It’s the “You’re Dead to Me” approach. Others blame themselves and carry the responsibility for every misstep in a “Proud to Be A Martyr” perspective. Some of us are the ones who do the hurting to avoid being hurt in a “Got’cha First” mindset. I’m sure there are many others, and sometimes we are all a little bit of all of them. So if relationships will always cause pain because we are all broken, what’s the point and how do deal with them?
Let’s take a look at why our relationships are broken. The concept of relationship was first established when God created Adam. It was a perfect relationship. Once Adam made his choice and sin entered the world, the relationship was broken. Unfortunately that brokenness spilled over into our human relationships as well — Adam blamed Eve for his choices, and their children were born into a broken family that led to their son Cain killing his brother Abel out of jealousy. But God had a plan to heal our relationship with Him by sending His own Son, Jesus, to be the bridge that rebuilds and restores our connection. That same bridge can heal our relationships in the family of faith as well. If we look to God as our model, we can learn how broken relationships can be redeemed and restored.
The first thing that happened with our sin was that we hurt God. We need to recognize that being hurt is unavoidable. We don’t like that answer so some of us build walls around our hearts to protect ourselves from pain, yet we still get hurt. So we build the walls higher; we let fewer people in, but still the hurts happen. Others take the opposite approach – they let everyone in hoping they will find those one or two people that won’t let them down, but they don’t. They start to think the problem is them — that they are unlovable. If we look honestly at both scenarios we realize that neither option works, people still hurt us. Why do we keep trying things that don’t work? Because we cannot control whether or not we get hurt but we do have control over how we handle the pain when it happens. What if we try something different than what we know isn’t effective? Let’s look at how God responded to Adam and Eve after they sinned (Genesis 3):
- He looked for them (verse 9).
- He gave them the opportunity to confess (verse 11).
- He expressed His disappointment (verse 13).
- He explained the consequences for their choice (verses 14-19).
- He cared for them (verse 21).
- He protected them (verse 22-24).
- He loved them and provided a way for the relationship to be healed (first by the laws and sacrifices, then through Jesus Christ).
At the end of everything God did for us, the choice to be restored remains up to us, the offender. What if we were to take that same approach in our relationships? Specifically our relationships with other believers. We have family and friends who do not know the Lord, so more likely than not, they do not share our biblical worldview, or our biblical approach to conflict. Because they are still floundering, disconnected from God, it is not likely they will understand how to reconnect with others. But in the world of believers, it should look different. We should all be seeking to follow God’s way in our relationships. When we do, miracles happen.
Yet we all too often choose the world’s view of relationships instead of God’s, even as Christ-followers. We say “it’s no big deal” and stuff the hurt inside or we choose to talk to everyone but the person about the issue (that’s called gossip by the way). We may even decide to simply end the relationship because it’s “toxic” without even attempting to work through it. Why? Because the enemy loves broken relationships. He loves it when the church looks just like the world. He twists and distorts our perspective like a funhouse mirror. If he can keep us from talking about the issue, then he can keep us believing whatever lies he’s fed us. We continue to look in the mirror of the relationship and see a monstrosity distorted beyond repair. It’s not true and it is NOT how God intended for us to walk through life. In fact Jesus says repeatedly in the gospels that what sets His followers apart from the world is their love for one another and their unity. Is that what you see when you look at His Church? What about when you look at your life?
So, what do we do? Let’s go back to Genesis for the answer. First we seek out the person who hurt us. Why? Because there is a very good chance they never meant to hurt us and don’t even know that they did. When we reach out to them, we are acknowledging that the relationship is too important to write off and that the hurt is real. When we reach out we have to be willing to be honest and vulnerable which is often hard because we are already hurt and now we’re exposing ourselves to potentially more pain or even rejection. But here is the truth, if you tell someone that what they did was hurtful, and you explain why and how it made you feel, you are giving them the opportunity for repentance for a sin they may not even realize they committed. Too often we assume the hurt was intentional when it wasn’t. This opens the door for both of you to grow in maturity in your faith. We learn to believe the best in others instead of the worst and we often find healing when we think it’s impossible. If they aren’t receptive, well, that’s between them and Jesus. You did your part (Romans 12:18).
Depending on the offense, there may be consequences for the offender. When trust is broken, it has to be rebuilt. When words cause wounds, there has to be bandaging and healing. The purpose in consequences isn’t about making someone do penance — forgiveness is freely given to us by God and must be freely given to others by us — but it is about healing. What do you need (if anything) from that person in order to heal? It may be you need to hear them say, “I am so sorry; I didn’t realize I hurt you.” If it’s a repeated offense, it might mean a little distance to let God heal you and continue His work in them. We know that we confess our sins to God for forgiveness, but His Word also teaches us that when we confess our sins to one another we find healing.
After those first hard steps Scripture teaches that us God cared for Adam and Eve and He protected them. That’s right — He, the offended, cared for and protected the offender. This is definitely NOT something the world endorses, nor our human nature. But you need to know that this doesn’t mean they got away with it; we know that isn’t true. It means He loved them more than their offensive behavior and was willing to do what was best for them. For us that means we pray for them and we don’t go around telling everyone what they did. It means that we love them enough to not continue holding their mistakes against them and we love God enough to follow His example of grace and mercy.
- What broken relationships within your church family might God be wanting to heal? What is He asking you to do about it (pray for them, seek forgiveness, have a hard conversation, etc.)?
- Prayerfully ask God if there is someone you have hurt. Write about who and what happened. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you if there is something He is asking you to do to make it right.
- Write about a restored relationship. It is important for us to remember the miracles God has done so we can boldly work on our relationships in the future.