As I’ve been talking about sadness this week, several people have contacted me saying the thing that most tempts them to be sad is trouble in their relationships:
- Marital strife, disappointment or shame due to a spouse’s sin
- Lonely years of unplanned singleness
- Spiritually passive teens
- Misunderstanding in a friendship; or no close friendships at all
- Unresolved extended family tension or unmet expectations
- In-law challenges
- Hurtful words or actions from co-workers
- Spiteful adult siblings
I agree with author Paul Tripp who calls relationships “a mess….”
In my life, the problem is when I think the solution is for someone else to change. Take this morning, for instance. Benny and I had a tif over a decision he made some months ago that has affected me in ways he didn’t anticipate. As the consequences of that decision have become clearer to us both, and especially to me, the temptation is to think, “If he had only listened to me. My goodness. He needs to stop/start…(fill in the blank).” My default reaction to challenges between us is to blame him and/or consider how things would be better between us if he would just change. (Ha…I’m sure he probably thinks the same thing!)
Paul Tripp says, “The fatal flaw of human wisdom is that it promises that you can change your relationships without needing to change yourself.” Ouch. I’ve been taught the wonderful principle that the only person I can help to change is myself — and that real change can only come by the work of God in my and others hearts. But in the moment (you know that “moment”) when the hurt or anger of relational disappointment happens, I all too quickly rush to how he needs to stop doing this or start doing that.
The season of sadness through which I’ve been walking in teaching me so much, mostly about God but also about myself. I’ve been investigating scripture, getting counsel from a friend and praying for God to change me. But this morning all that went out the window and during my interaction with Benny there was no talk of how I need to change!
The fact is Mr Tripp is so right, relationships are a mess — but a mess worth making. (You can take a look at his and Tim Lane’s helpful book by that title here.)
When I’m tempted to give up or curl into a ball of unbelief and hopelessness that things will change, I’m reminded that difficult relationships are just a reminder that the only Person who will never betray, disappoint, gossip about, reject or otherwise sin against me is God. People — including me! — are flawed, broken, weak and in need of change. There will never be a husband or child or friend or sibling or parent or boss that won’t do and say things that cause us pain. But God will always and only be good, loving, faithful and patient.
He will never turn away from me when I sin.
He will always be there for me; never too busy or distracted or pre-occupied to listen to and help me.
He will never betray or abandon or reject me.
And every time someone important to me does any of these things (and more) He will empower me to run to a throne of grace where He stands eager to help, comfort and sustain me.
Why, then, do I look to people for what I already have from Him? Why am I surprised when sinners like me don’t understand what their words and actions to do my weak heart? Why am I more eager for others to change than I am for me to change?
People weren’t meant to give me safety, comfort and security. If I found these things in them, would I know I need God?