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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Two Lies that Burn Holes in Relationships

There are many factors that harm what could otherwise be healthily functioning relationships.  But there are two that are especially toxic - two lies that, left unchecked, uncorrected, un-remediated, will without a doubt wreak havoc on your relationships.  Think over them carefully and see if you have fallen prey to the trap of believing (and acting upon) these two lies:

1.  I cannot be happy/content unless others do/say/behave/operate according to a certain set of prescribed behaviours.  (These can be as varied as how the tube of toothpaste is flattened to whether my spouse/friend/child attends Church regularly).

What does this look like in relationships?  Here's how it goes...
  Scenario 1:
Joe wakes up one morning.  Kind of groggy, sleepy and headachy.  He drags himself downstairs and puts on the coffee.  Only to find the filter wasn't changed and it was day-old grounds left in the machine.  The water then spills over the top.  He fumes.  "Why didn't she change it!?"  Aargh.  He thinks to himself, "I would be content if she would change the filter after using the coffee machine."  He grumbles, whines, complains and harbours bitterness in his soul.

  Scenario 2:
Sally gets up at the crack of dawn to read her Bible and pray.  She wanders out to the living room.  Plops down with Bible in hand, ready to meditate and bring her soul into some kind of spiritual alignment.  "Hmm...so where am I today...oh, yes, Leviticus - can't wait!"  Her eye wanders and notices the dirty socks her son left on the floor last night.  She looks at her prayer list.  She tries to concentrate and pray.  Then she sees the colouring books and crayons left on the coffee table - and a few smudges where the 5 year-old went not just outside the lines, but the paper too - marking the new coffee table!  "Here I try to attend to my spiritual disciplines only to be distracted by the things my family fails to do!  Lord, I try to seek You with all my heart, but it's their fault I can't concentrate!"

  Scenario 3:
  Caleb comes home after school to find his secret Lego kingdom has been broken into by a little brother.  Some of his treasures are missing!  He rants and raves and blames and bears general ill-will to those in the immediate vicinity.  Surely he can't be joyful and content when such a travesty of justice has occurred in his absence!!

You get the picture.  In each of these (and many more real-life examples to be had in your home and mine) the person has fallen for the lie that other people are responsible for my general happiness.  I will grant that there is a shred of truth in the lie - which is what makes it so toxic!  Of course other people can make us happy (temporarily).  Of course if my husband showers me with affection and love I will rejoice in his love for me!  But if I live dependent on how others can make my life better I am failing to put my hope in God Who will never fail me nor forsake me.  When I look to others to please me, and crash emotionally when they let me down, I demonstrate that my joy is fickle and based on temporal things rather than on God.  God is our source of joy - not what others do for me or even what others do at all.

  Some might think, "Oh, I am not discontent because others don't do things for me.  I am unhappy, joyless, depressed, worried and anxious because others are living contrary to what I deem is God's best for them."  This is a whole other matter entirely.  Can I be happy if my child is living a depraved life, far from God and rejecting God's call on their lives to live in purity and obedience?  You may not be happy about the situation, but by all means, you can still find your hope and joy in God.  People face dire situations and tell of their fervent, unswerving hope in our sovereign God.  So, even if you find yourself tied up in knots over the life choices or circumstances in others' lives, you can still keep your mind on Him Who grants perfect peace.

"Peace I leave with you - not as the world gives...Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Do not be afraid.  Trust in God."  - Jesus, in John 14:27

The second lie is similar to the first:

2.  If I am hurting, then someone has sinned against me.
This lie can also be phrased this way:  If someone is hurting in a relationship, that is solid evidence that they have been sinned against and the other person has sinned.  (If that person were truly godly - obedient and holy - the result would be warm fuzzy feelings on the part of the other, there would be no sorrow or pain).

The problem with this lie is it makes pain the litmus test for sin.  It goes something like this:

"Sarah, I don't like the mess in the kitchen - in fact it bothers me to see it in such disarray."
(Sarah thinks to herself:)"Oooh.  Ouch.  Oh, that hurts to hear that.  I hate hearing how I've let him down.  He must have sinned in saying something because I am hurting so badly now."

OR:
"Sarah, I don't like the mess in the kitchen - in fact it bothers me to see it in such disarray."
(He thinks to himself:) 'If she knew how much it bothers me maybe she would get it cleaned up.  It is so sinful and wrong of her to not get the kitchen in order.  I am so upset by it - and since I am upset it is obvious that she has sinned against me.'

Both of these are traps we can fall into.  (In fact, these two scenarios encompass both lies!)

It is faulty because there are people in this world (probably all of us, actually) with faulty pain-detectors.  We feel pain at times we shouldn't and don't feel pain at times we should.  I can prove that this is a falsehood with the following scenarios:

Scenario 1:
Child throws food on the floor.  Child is reprimanded.  Child reaps the right consequences for such foolish behaviour.  Child is sad and hurting.  Child has NOT been sinned against, but certainly feels pain.

Scenario 2:
A drunk person asks for some beer.  You give it to him.  You are making him happier in doing so.  He feels no pain.  He thanks you.  He thinks you're great.  You are now best buddies!  In fact - you are harming him, but he feels no pain from the harm you are doing.  His pain-sensors are not a good gauge of whether he has been sinned against or not.

Scenario 3:
Husband is unhappy with his wife.  She talks too much.  She asks me to do things I don't feel like doing.  She doesn't know when to quit.  Because he is unhappy, that must mean she has sinned against him - right?  Wrong.  There is a good possibility she had every righteous, holy, good, godly intention in the things she has said to him.  His happiness is NOT a good litmus test for her culpability.

This is very dangerous thinking, because in some circles it is believed that we must 'respect the emotions of another person.'  The Bible doesn't really support this.  In fact, I daresay the prophets would be guilty a thousand times over of disrespecting people's emotions.  The concept of respecting anyone's emotions is ludicrous.  I can't say it any plainer or bolder than that.  I will admit there is often a measure of wisdom in taking into account the volatile emotions of others.  And there is the concept of effectiveness: that understanding how others feel can help things go well in general.  However, other than it being wise to give thought to these things, there is no rightness or wrongness in acting in godly principled obedience when it will cause pain to others.  We don't want to intentionally cause pain, but sometimes it is inevitable.  There are people walking this planet who are so pained by the tiniest of infractions (real or imagined) that there is no possible way to live around them without causing them emotional injury simply by breathing (or occupying space on this planet)!

So - please - extricate yourself from these two lies.  Go live in freedom and relinquish anxiety and walking on eggshells to a bygone era.  You are free - God does not want you living in constant fear (or pain!) because you either require others to please you or because you are afraid of sinning against someone by causing them pain.

This is no way to live!

 Life is too short for such headaches.



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