Mending Relationships

In this series of posts on “mending,” I saved the most difficult for last. I wish I could say that with the additional time to ponder and process, I feel more able to address the issue with comprehensive clarity. But no, not even close. (And that’s probably why it has taken me nearly 5 weeks to have the gumption to even attempt addressing it now!) So what else needs mending in our lives? Relationships. We’re all familiar with the pain of strained relationships and of the longing to experience peace and wholeness in those once-close connections. Even in the Garden of Eden, ever since sin entered the human experience, the relationships God made us for have been plagued by tendencies toward dysfunction and distrust. But I am so thankful that the story of our interpersonal brokenness CAN be rewritten by God’s saving grace. After all…

He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation. Ephesians 2:14, NKJV

NO IMMUNITY

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul uses the verb katartitzo as an appeal to experience mending of divisions in the church (1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:11) or a restoration of a fellow believer whose missteps have generated some relational distance (Gal. 6:1). Remember, Paul was writing here to churches he had established, believers he knew personally and had invested in. Just so we’re under no illusions here, the reality is that mending relationships is something we all need, even in — or especially in — the church community. It’s true. Just because I’m a church member or a ministry leader, I cannot expect to be completely immune from interpersonal conflict or relational divisions.

BUT because of my relationship with Christ, I can experience the power of the gospel to transform who I am and how I respond to these situations in a way that heals instead of hurts.

So how do I do that? How can I be a part of mending relationships instead of messing them up? The following may not be an exhaustive answer, but they’re principles and practices that I’ve personally found to tip the scales toward restoration.

HEART CHECK

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Galatians 6:1

In this passage, Paul addresses a specific situation in which a fellow believer is caught in some sort of moral misdirection. I believe that the same counsel the apostle gives for the spiritual restoration of one who trespasses against God can be applied to the interpersonal restoration of those who trespass against us. And it all starts with checking our hearts. Before approaching any effort to restore and mend a relationship broken by offense or distrust, we ought to step back from the situation (one that is in all likelihood very emotionally charged) and ask ourselves a few questions:

  • Am I spiritual? In our day, we often talk about being spiritual in contrast to being religious, or in reference to our priority for heart relationship with God over and above the external forms of religion. But that’s not the question Paul has in mind. In the broader context of all his epistles, being a spiritual person is set in contrast to being a carnal person, i.e. living in the Spirit and not the flesh (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14-3:1; Gal. 5:16-26). Paul is saying that the first qualification for approaching anyone in need of restoration is that we live lives dependent upon God alone and not ourselves. If we live our lives by the power of God’s Spirit and not our own, we’ll restore relationships by the power of God’s Spirit and not our own.

  • Am I gentle? Any and all effort to mend a relationship should be abundantly saturated with a spirit of gentleness. We often associate gentleness with weakness, but in the Bible gentleness is a strength that knows how to hold itself in reserve. There are times when we may feel very strongly about what has caused relational rift. But a spirit of gentleness makes sure we use our emotional strength not to prove ourselves right but to produce restoration.

  • Have I considered my own faults? Have I been there before? Let’s admit it. We tend to identify others’ trespasses and faults more quickly than our own. Sadly, this can mean that we sometimes attempt to correct others’ trespasses and faults before correcting our own, or even before knowing that we need to be corrected ourselves. When we’ve been offended, we can spend a lot of time and energy analyzing that offense, the motivations, the coulda shoulda woulda’s of the situation. But have we spent that much time and energy considering ourselves and our own tendencies toward that kind of offensive behavior or destructive decision? Considering ourselves first gives us a chance to remove the plank from our own eyes prior to focusing on the speck in someone else’s eye. Considering ourselves first can lead us to the kind of humility that guards us from a holier than thou approach to restoring relationship.

SPEAKING & THINKING

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 1 Corinthians 1:10, NKJV

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11, NIV

Can you hear the pleading heart of Paul? The bookends of the Corinthian letters center around the appeal to be mended, perfectly joined together, fully restored. Aside from checking our hearts before approaching the work of mending relationships, we ought to speak and think in lines that moves toward unity.

Voice of oneness. Part of Paul’s appeal to be perfectly joined together involves speaking “the same thing.” It reminds me of the builders of the Tower of Babel whose eventual inability to speak the same language resulted in division and confusion. Metaphorically, when we don’t speak the same language or when we’re not on the same wavelength of understanding, it’s impossible to experience mending. On the flip side, have ever noticed how many of our relational dysfunction is a direct result of poor communication and subsequent misunderstanding? While the appeal is to “speak the same thing” in 1 Corinthians 1:10, the parallel imperative is to encourage one another in 2 Corinthians 13:11. But more than just speaking in a positive tone and looking for things to affirm and encourage, the biblical term for “encourage” literally means “to call alongside.” It points to a form of communication characterized more by talking with. This is probably the most difficult dynamic of mending relationships, the nitty gritty of communication. Whole books have been written on this subject, but for now this point is essential:

When we’re striving for full restoration, we must be willing to talk with the person, not just talk-to or talk-at or talk-about.

This makes a world of difference. Talking with means we’re journeying together toward understanding. Talking with allows for us to not just speak the same thing but to also hear the same thing about a situation.

Mind of oneness. The other factor for experiencing relational restoration in the Corinthian bookends involves not just speaking the same but thinking then same. In 1 Corinthians 1:10 it’s having the “same mind,” and in 2 Corinthians 13:11 it’s having “one mind.” It reminds me of Paul’s appeal in Philippians 2:5 to have the same mind that Christ had, the mind of sacrificial humility, the mind that would esteem others better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3). The key isn’t just thinking the same as the person we’re seeking reconciliation with (which really may be quite impossible), but thinking of that person as Christ would think of them even if we don’t end up seeing eye to eye with the other person. That kind of mind cultivates oneness in spite of differences in opinion. When we approach the work of restoration with this mind, we’ll focus not just on what’s different or what’s needing correction. We’ll focus on serving and sacrificing…even if that means we don’t think the same about an offensive situation or break of trust.

Would you join me in praying for the power of the gospel to mend our relationships here on earth? May God produce in us a love that believes all things, hopes all things, bears all things in our relationships.