When Andy and I were newly married and I would talk to my mother in law on the phone I would gush about how in love I was with her son. She would acknowledge my gushing, and I would respond with, "No, really, like I really, REALLY love him."
She must have thought I was insane. I was convinced that the "in love" feeling I had would never EVER dissipate. I was wrong though, this thing called sin got in the way, as it does in every single relationship we will ever experience on this earth.
The good news is there is a remedy for it.
The authors began chapter three by telling us about a young couple, who, like many of us who are married, , fell in love and got married. They established routines, they were going on their merry little way and then KA-BLAM!
God allowed what they saw as a mess, or a trial, or something they had just not planned for to invade their perfect little "garden". I can relate.
My husband and I had four children in the span of six years. None of them were "planned" all of them are loved and appreciated for the amazing individuals they have become, but when you have four kiddo's back to back, and finances are s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d you end up feeling a little shell shocked.
If your vertical relationship is not right, your horizontal one will certainly not be what it is supposed to be.The authors state: "Your BEST relationship-no matter WHO it's with is messy!" (emphasis mine)
They then ask us to question ourselves using these questions:
*Have you ever felt misunderstood?
*Have you ever been hurt by what the other person said?
*Have you ever felt like you haven't been heard?
*Have you ever been betrayed?
*Have you ever had to work through a misunderstanding?
*Have you ever disagreed on a decision?
*Have you or the other person ever held a grudge?
*Have you ever experienced loneliness even when things were going well?
*Have you ever been let down?
*Have you ever doubted the other person's love?
*Has the other person ever doubted your commitment?
*Have you ever struggled to resolve conflict?
*Have you ever wished that you didn't have to give or serve?
*Have you ever felt used?
*Have you ever felt, "If I had only known"?
These questions reveal underlying struggles with your BEST relationship.
In many cases, that "best" relationship is your spouse, but this is not always the case. And you have to answer these questions honestly if you are to grow. The authors admitted that they could answer yes to every question on that list, as well as their wives. I know that I can say yes to every one of those as well. Look at the way the questions are phrased, "HAVE YOU EVER..." then go back and ask yourself the questions again if you read them and thought, nope, not me...
Remember, "Even in times of peace we must be vigilant regarding the way your relationships can be hijacked by the underlying desires of your heart, which are subtly and constantly shifting."
Do you remember Jesus' words in Matthew 5:46? "For if you love only those who love you, what reward can you have? Do not even tax collectors do that?"
See, Ephesians 4:31-32 says it like this:
"Let all bitterness and indignation and wrath (passion, rage, bad temper) and resentment (anger,animosity) and quarreling (brawling, clamor, contention) and slander (evil-speaking, abusive or blasphemous language) be banished from you, with all malice (spite, ill will, or baseness of any kind) And become useful and helpful and kind to one another, tenderhearted (compassionate, understanding, loving-hearted) forgiving one another [readily and freely] as God in Christ forgave you."
God knew relationships this side of heaven would be messy and require lots of work, that's why His Word is filled with so many commands like the ones listed above. The authors point out if this applies to our BEST relationships, HOW MUCH MORE should it apply to relationships that are difficult.
James 4 tells us the reason behind much of our quarreling though:
"What leads to strife (discord and feuds) and how do conflicts (quarrels and fightings) originate among you? Do they not arise from our sensual desires that are ever warring in your bodily members? You are jealous and covet (what others have) and your desires go unfulfilled; (so) you become murderers. (to hate is to murder as far as your hearts are concerned) You burn with envy and anger and are not able to obtain (the gratification, the contentment, and the happiness you seek), so you fight and war. You do not have, because you do not ask. (Or) you do ask (God for them) and yet fail to receive them, because you ask with wrong purpose and evil, selfish motives. Your intention is (when you get what you desire) to spend it in sensual pleasures."
The problem is not the other person, it is with us.
We have "flipped the script" as a friend of mine likes to say, and now instead of God on the throne, we are seated there on the throne and what WE want is more important than anything else, including God. The authors say that this leads to "selfish desires ruling our relationships, leading to problems, conflict and disappointment with others."
This is why Paul laments in Romans 7, "O wretched man that I am" because he saw a different law at work in him. He WANTED to do good, he DELIGHTED in God's law, but he saw another law at work in his own body waging war against his own mind.
It is frustrating, it is humbling, and when you find yourself struggling under the weight of the same sin over and over again it can be depressing.
The authors break down Paul's lament into four terms:
*The Law: this inescapable principle is at work in our lives is like gravity, we can never choose to be free from its influence until we are finally delivered from the power and presence of sin.
*A War: this illustrates the ever-present struggle going on within us, it is the inner conflict between a desire to do what is right and the power of sin.
*A Prisoner: this describes the experience of our estate as a redeemed sinner. Have you felt the pull of sin, sworn to yourself that you WOULD NOT do that and found yourself saying "I can't believe I DID THAT AGAIN...this is what it feels like to be a prisoner. You have no freedom.
*Rescue: this reminds us that our hope comes from outside us.We can not free ourselves.
Those four words from Paul's lament remind us the authors say, that our struggle is within, and we have no hope of doing the job alone. They then go on to show us that our sin affects us in six ways, lets look at how exactly we allow sin to affect us:
*Self-Centeredness: When we reject God, a void is created that must be filled. We instinctively fill it with ourselves. When things get tough, many people revert to the "What is best for me?" position rather than "What is God doing in and through us?" perspective. God designed relationships to be OTHERS centered and sin inevitably subverts His design.
*Self-Rule: God's rule is replaced with self-rule and other people become your subjects. They are expected to do your bidding and bow to your control. During times of difficulty, each person tries to take control, one by criticism and demands, the other by isolation and silence. Both tactics are an effort to take control of the situation in an ungodly way. Relationships are designed to be equally submitted to God, thus the quest for self-rule will always wreak havoc.
(***NOTE*** here the authors interjected a sarcastic comment "If you really loved me you would do the things that please me" But Andy and I talked at length at this and came up with this addendum if you will: the person who tosses that phrase into the mix is quite possibly being manipulative, but we ARE called to love one another, and part of that loving one another is to DO the things that please the other. ie. I HATE making ham and hominy because it stinks but Andy LOVES it, so I make it for him. He sometimes will work on a project for me even if he is short on time or exhausted, both of us make these sacrifices because we love one another.****)
*Self-Sufficiency: Rejection of God leads to delusions that you are autonomous. One of God's principal means of providing for us is through others, so when we move into isolation as the scripture states we break out against all wise and sound judgement. Failing to recognize our dependence upon God means we will be unable to humble ourselves to be dependent upon others. Relationships are best built upon godly mutual dependence. God uses the redemptive give -and-take to show us His love and when independence rules that is missing.
*Self-Righteousness: Setting yourself up as the standard of holiness rather than looking to the true standard of what is good, true and right. Each person in the relationship works hard to get the other to SEE their sin, neither is owning their own personal weaknesses and sin, and each has an inflated view of self. Godly relationships flourish between two people who humble acknowledge their weaknesses and admit their need for grace.
*Self-Satisfaction: Convincing yourself that satisfaction and fulfillment can be found apart from the Lord. Each person in the relationship replaces their interests with other things. ie in a marriage where both were invested in the marriage suddenly they have thrown themselves into their friends and jobs. If you find satisfaction in material things you will EITHER be disinterested in relationships or USE them to get what you want. Here the authors state, "When love for God is replaced by love for self, people either become obstacles that hinder goals or vehicles that promote them."
Self-Taught: You become your own source of truth and wisdom. The bible calls this being a fool. In a marriage relationship seeking counsel from one another is crucial. Yet the couple in the book turned ON one another almost immediately. The two greatest commands are "love God and love your neighbor as your self" but our sin distorts that so that rather than loving God and serving others we love the gifts and use people to get them.
Here's an example of how this works: Parents who crave a good reputation will use their children to get it. Spouses who crave intimacy will manipulate their spouses to get it. People who crave success will view others as either a means or a threat to that success and so on...
When what you want becomes more important than what God wants your relationships suffer. Even when the RELATIONSHIP is what you want. This is what sin does. It causes us to forget that we need God, for everything and causes us to either fear or exploit others.
So far we have looked at the ways we sin against others, and you may be yelling at the computer:
WAIT WHAT ABOUT WHAT THEY DID TO ME?????
That's a valid question, but as you know we FIRST and ALWAYS start with our OWN hearts...
The authors acknowledge that there are times we are victims and that the bible is filled with stories that deal honestly with victimization from the murder of Abel in Genesis to the persecution of the Church in Revelation. We are exhorted to behave responsibly when we are sinned against. Ephesians 4:26 tells us in our anger we are not to sin, because when we are sinned against, as I was with my former pastor, we get angry.
It's ok to get angry, it's not ok to sin in your anger.
The authors put it like this, "Therefore, even when we are sinned against, WE are responsible for HOW we react. This is the ONLY way we can turn back the destructive power of sin in a relationship." (emphasis mine) and they go on to share with us the direction God gives us in Micah 6:8 "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?"
The Lord gives us these instructions because He knows that we respond sin for sin. He knows we are prideful and judgmental. We tend to add "trouble to trouble". Think about it. When someone confronts you in an area of sin, how often do you humbly repent and thank them for pointing out your sins to you? I witnessed this once early in my walk as a believer and it made a huge impact on me.
Examples of ways we sin when sinned against:
*confessing your sins with bitterness- I can not believe she did that TO ME!
*confessing your sins in gossip-let me tell you what he/she.they did TO ME!
*confessing your sins to God, and seeking vengeance-God, WHEN are you going to DO something to the person who hurt ME?
*confessing your sins in anger-how dare you do such a thing to ME!
Here's what the authors said that really spoke to me:
"Even when our hearts have been horribly damaged by the sins of another, we are to guard our hearts so that we are not sucked into sins destructiveness....Holding grudges, becoming bitter, praying for vengeance, and gossiping are not methods that God honors. When you hold the perpetrator "accountable" but NOT in a spirit of humility, patience and compassion, you end up perverting the very justice you seek."
As many of you know I have come a L-O-N-G way in overcoming the damage done by my former pastor, and of course the above speaks to me pertaining to that situation.
God's timing, once again, impeccable.
This chapter was difficult, it was convicting, it was challenging, and it was messy.
I tend to want to isolate myself when things get messy. Those of you who know me know that I can surgically remove people from my life with the precision of a surgeons scalpel, it's one of those shaping influences I am working hard to overcome. With the love and support of my husband I have have done well, which leads me to what the authors said next:
Have you ever wondered why you had GOOD relationships?
The Author of relationships gives us GRACE in the midst of our struggles. It is the reason that a mother who struggles with selfishness can also exhibit genuine care for her children, it is why a self-absorbed husband can serve his wife when she becomes ill, or why non-christians can have reasonably good relationships.
Matthew 5:45 addresses this when Jesus addressing the crowd told them, "He [God] makes the sun rise on the wicked and the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and wrongdoers alike." That's whats known as common grace. What we need to remember, and what the authors point out is that in our deepest difficulty we are NEVER WITHOUT RESOURCES. WE ARE NEVER ALONE.
The couple we met at the beginning of the chapter found grace for their struggle when they decided to seek help.If you find you are struggling, and you FEEL alone, remember that you are not, and those are JUST feelings. Reach out, do not isolate yourself. Send an email, call your pastor, phone a friend. DO something. Most of all know that you have a God who cares, He is, as Elisabeth Elliott ALWAYS said at the top of every broadcast, an Everlasting Father, and underneath? The Everlasting arms...