Thursday, October 24, 2013

Friendship: What about when it's hard?


“But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”   Matthew 5:44-45

Ouch! Really? On the one hand, I don’t think of myself as someone with enemies or even someone who is persecuted (except when I remember back to painful days of vicious bullying in middle school). But then I think of all those days when my heart has ached for a friend to listen, for help to come through my door, for the reassurance that someone cares enough to be near even when my life is discouraging, relentless, overwhelming. This is not just my own heart’s cry. This is a common experience among most of us but especially someone who is facing a crisis.

Those of us who work in ministry with struggling people know that, for most people enduring life-altering circumstances, there is a sense of isolation and loneliness that invades which is often more upsetting than the initial crisis itself. Despite that fact that our family was overwhelmed with support in the early season of Carly’s life, there have also been many days when each of us has felt very alone — even abandoned.  In those moments or seasons, whether our feelings were fair and reasonable or not, these are dangerous thoughts to entertain because they tend to morph into things like bitterness, defensiveness and more isolation. 

We’ve all been there. Maybe you’ve felt forgotten by the world as you struggle with disability or some other adversity. Perhaps you’ve experienced the rejection of a friend, child or spouse. Maybe you have just longed for more or deeper friendships. In any case, you probably understand the insidious progression the mind can take when given opportunity to wallow in disappointment and dissatisfaction, particularly when relationships are involved. 

Navigating relationships is no easy thing. It’s hard to live in community but impossible to live without it. God designed us to need others and commanded us to love Him first and everyone else next. In fact, Jesus said all that mattered in life boiled down to those two things. “But,” you may ask, “what do I do about those people who have hurt or disappointed me? In particular, what do I do about those who are likely to hurt me again…and probably AGAIN after that?” The rhetorical question here is, “Am I supposed to be a doormat and just love and let live?”

Whenever I’m wrestling to find healthy, godly and satisfying answers to my question, “What should I do, Lord?” it helps me to reconsider what God’s ideals are and then find basic principles for living from His good design. 

In the case of relationships, here are some goals I find essential to keep at the forefront of my mind:
Keep God’s standard of holiness (Matthew 5:2-16)
Have a generous heart (Matthew 18:21-35)
Seek reconciliation (Matthew 5:23-24)

From a practical perspective, here are Biblical steps I try to take toward the goals:
  • Pray for reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)
  • Ask God what I should do to please HIM in specific situations and relationships. I’m no longer trying to figure out what will please someone else or make me look good. I’m simply trying to do what is right according to God’s design because I’m increasingly trusting that His way is the only way to be fully effective and satisfied. (Proverbs 16:7)
  • Seek everything from God first, the One whose delight it is to surprise me with His presence and overwhelming love. Expect nothing from earthly man who will always fall short. (Philippians 4:6-7, Ephesians 3:16-19)
  • Identify godly, healthy boundaries and follow through on them with the same vigor I use to resist sin.  This is a hard one for me! (Proverbs 22:3)
  • Saturate my mind with God’s Word and walk away from everything that involves holding a grudge, seeking revenge, harboring unforgiveness, becoming defensive or participating in someone else’s sin. (Romans 8:5-6, Philippians 4:8)
  • Pray blessing on anyone who has hurt or disappointed me. I often ask for God’s help to see others the way He sees them. (Romans 12:14)
  •  Trust God to be my protector, defender and advocate. Quit trying to do it for myself! (Psalm 40)
  • Keep reaching out to serve others, asking for help when it is needed and growing in Christ-centered relationships. I need God’s help to resist my fears, skepticism and sense of vulnerability. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

How about you?

How would your relationships change if you obeyed Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:38-44?

What godly relational boundaries would keep you from participating in sin and allow you to experience freedom in Christ yet enable you to show God’s love to someone who challenges you?

I hope you will take time to read the extra Bible references provided, particularly if you find yourself struggling in any relationship. There are great riches for you in God’s Word! May the Lord bless you as you seek to know His heart and enjoy your community more. 

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