Rich and Seth were best friends growing up. They did all the normal stuff together: sports, youth group and girlfriend switching. No one was surprised when they decided to attend the same out-of-state college.
Nearly twenty years later, however, Seth and Rich rarely see each other. They talk a few times a year by phone and send each other Christmas gifts with a family photo. As 40-somethings, they’re busy with kids and careers…and they have the perfunctory “we gotta do that hunting trip” exchange at least once a year. But they both know that trip is unlikely to happen….
What do you think of their relationship? Did they, like most childhood friends, just drift apart? Does it seem superficial and perhaps dutiful? Or would you define it as healthy and warm, especially for guys who haven’t lived near each other in years?
However you perceive this friendship, what you don’t know is that a few years back something painful happened between them. The details aren’t that important. Some would think their conflict wasn’t all that serious, while others might see the issues as irreparable. Those outside such situations are often quick to judge…until hurt feelings and tension come into our own lives. What is important is that for nearly two years Rich and Seth couldn’t have a amiable conversation so they gave up.
The tension and anger between these two men could have destroyed them. The advice of the few people who knew about their conflict varied widely: everything from “it’s not that big of a deal, move on” to “you’re crazy if you don’t walk away.” These guys and their wives strongly disagreed on some weighty and longstanding issues between them that produced their heated interactions. Yet they agreed on the most important thing; they didn’t want to walk away from a decades-long friendship.
The truth is Rich and Seth’s relationship is healthy. Why? Because they decided to do what Else and JJ did. They humbled themselves and asked forgiveness. It wasn’t easy. Rich was afraid he had disappointed his life long buddy far too deeply. Seth’s resentment tempted him to wonder if he even wanted to try to repair the relationship. One thing we do to each other that isn’t helpful is try to impose our personal preferences on what friendship or care or loyalty should look like rather than allowing the Bible to define that for us.
I am going through a season where I’m battling relational temptations, too. Today I was contacted by a facebook friend who asked me if I ever felt troubled because “Jesus just isn’t enough.” She expressed her discouragement that her emotions and the circumstances of life were crowding in on her, and her relationship with the Lord was being pushed out. I empathized and told her I would pray for her…if she would pray for me.
When circumstances press in, and especially when relational challenges threaten our joy, we have to remember something: Jesus is enough. He was enough for Rich and Seth. Because they value biblical principles more than they prize relief from conflict, they chose to forgive. Their contact isn’t as frequent as some would say is “biblical” and they still work through temptations to be anger and bitter. But they are not allowing others’ “you should be’s” rule. Rather, they understand that the difficulties that took years to develop will likely take years to fully resolve. Forgiveness is the first step to God-gloriying fruit. As author Jerry Bridges says, the process of Christian growth (sanctification) requires “personal, vigorous effort anchored in the grace of God.” Rich and Seth are both learning how to patiently persevere through the Spirit-empowered, vigorous effort that change demands.
These men may never vacation together or invite each other into town for Christmas. The fact that they care about and aren’t bitter toward one another is cause for gratefulness. Being reconciled to someone when sin (yours, theirs or both) has caused a breach in your relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that things have to be “the same” as prior to when things went south.
What does need to remain is the awareness that God is in control even when hopelessness crowds out faith.
If you are either Rich or Seth, I invite you to join me in trusting in gospel-saturated hope that things will get better. “Better” may not mean the person or people with whom you are struggling will change. Believe me, if there was a way to reach in and change a person’s heart I would have figured that out by now! Not only can we not change another’s heart and perspective, we can’t even change our own.
But Someone can. Think about ways in which you are different than you were a year ago…two years ago…ten years ago. You and I aren’t different because we got older or decided to change. We’re different because God promised to complete the work He began at our conversion. He’s doing the changing of us!
I need fresh faith to focus on the needed changes and corresponding promise of grace in my own heart. Because God accepted the atoning death of Jesus Christ as payment for my sin and promises to change me (ever so slowly, it seems) I don’t have to worry about Him changing others. Like Rich and Seth, I can forgive and then let God define what change should look like in those with whom I’m struggling…and provide joy in the struggle.
Over time, friends can become enemies. Husbands and wives may drift apart. Siblings can lose contact. Parents and adult children will offend and hurt each other. Coworkers ask to be transferred to a different department. Sometimes it happens so slowly that it takes a shouting match or bitter tears to expose what’s been hiding in wounded or sinful hearts.
But the good news is there is hope. Even if the other person remains hard-hearted, we can choose grace. The baby in a manger grew up to die so you and I could be forgiven sinners. And then turn and forgive those who sin against us.
God and sinners reconciled. Sinners reconciled with each other. Glory to the newborn King that made this possible.