Let me tell you about a relationship in my life that’s been broken for some time, but has recently been restored…
We had been very close – enjoying lots of time together, traveling together. We’d had highs and lows before, but we’d always managed to fix them – or at least put a Band-Aid over the problem. But, last November, our relationship just stalled out. It wasn’t working. It was going nowhere. And, frankly, I just walked away.
In January, we decided to get help. But after weeks and weeks without any progress, things had literally fallen to pieces. I’ll admit I was frustrated, and about ready to walk away – forever. A friend encouraged me to try again, and recommended a different professional who was more qualified to help us. So, we tried again.
I’m very happy to report that, after our long 4-month separation, and a lot of investment, a lot of patience, and some big changes, as of last Tuesday, we’re back together and back on the road! We’ve been fully restored! We’re so happy, we even took a selfie together! (Imagine of a picture of me with my motorcycle, with the song “reunited” playing in the background – “reunited, and it feels so good…”) Yes – I’m talking about my bike, which has been broken down since November.
As much as I love my bike, today I’m talking about something far more valuable. Today, I’m talking about human relationships, and how to restore them when their broken.
One of my most treasured possessions is an old book I found at a used book store, called, Spiritual Friendship, by a 12th century monk name St. Aelred. It doesn’t have great monetary value. But, what makes it special to me is a note that’s written inside, from one nun to another, following the death of that nun’s best friend. The nun who gave the book actually underlined the passages she thought would be meaningful to her friend, and she wrote, “I pray you will find healing in Aelred’s words.” What a beautiful act of friendship – one friend praying for the restoration of another, during a time of loss and grief.
Aelred writes, “No medicine is more valuable, none more efficacious, none better suited to the cure of our temporal ills than a friend to whom we may turn for consolation in time of trouble, and with whom we may share happiness in time of joy.”
Made for Relationship
The Bible says, over and over, that we’re made for relationship. After God made Adam, he said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18). God took a rib from Adam’s side and made Eve – someone for Adam to share his life with.
Though Jesus spent time with the multitudes, he had a smaller group of friends, including the 12 disciples. He was particularly close to 3 of the 12 – Peter, James, and John – and maybe closest to John, who called himself the “One who Jesus loved.” Jesus was also close to Mary Magdalene, and to the family of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. As Jesus demonstrates, we were made for relationship.
For a moment – think about the most important relationships in your life, and the gift they are to you.
Now, think about the relationships that are broken, and need attention.
Relationships get injured. Even the closest relationships get wounded. Relationships can be damaged by neglect, abuse, or betrayal. Sometimes, relationships can be broken beyond repair. But, today I am talking primarily about relationships that get wounded and just need restoration.
If you spend enough time with anyone – no matter how much you love them – wounds happen. Careless words, stepped-on-toes, selfishness, confidences betrayed, birthdays forgotten, immaturity, neglect, annoyances, impatience, competition, insecurity, envy, jealousy, insensitivity, etc., etc. all do damage to valued relationships.
Loving God and Loving People:
Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-38). That’s one command in two parts.
There’s a direct and corresponding relationship between how we love God and how we love people. In fact, they are directly interrelated. As we love God, we will love people. As we love people, we are closer to loving God. Conversely, when we feel distant, bitter and resentful toward God or people, we are more than likely to feel the same about the other.
One of the most important ways for us to grow spiritually is in relationship. In fact, one of the ways we become most godly, potentially, is in the ways we relate to each other – growing in love, kindness, and grace.
I would even say that you will only become as close to God as you are to some other person. I would also say it is very difficult to be close to God when any of your human relationships are broken. The two are interrelated. In some mysterious way, the deep love and intimacy I have with my wife, my children, and my close friends makes me closer to God – and vice-a-versa. As long as I allow anger, bitterness, resentment or forgiveness to exist in my heart, toward people I am called to love, I will be handicapped in my pursuit of God.
For Lent, we are talking about how God can take what is damaged, broken, worn out, and trashed, and restore the broken parts into something new and beautiful. So, let’s talk about how, with God’s help, broken relationships can be restored. Of all of the messages in this series, I think this one might be the most applicable.
To repair, rebuild, and maintain healthy relationships, there are three things that we must learn how to do. Let me warn you – they are simple, but they are NOT easy.
Say you’re sorry
First – we learned by Kindergarten to say we’re sorry. When you do something wrong, admit it. Don’t defend it. Don’t rationalize. Don’t make excuses. Own your mistakes. Acknowledge that you did something wrong. Feel the sorrow for the pain you’ve caused. And, say that you are sorry.
Jesus said, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
Isn’t that interesting?!? Before God wants our offering, he wants us to be reconciled in our human relationships. And, Jesus puts the burden on us. If someone has something against you, YOU take the initiative to apologize and try to make it right.
Frederick Buechner writes, “To accept forgiveness means to admit that you’ve done something unspeakable that needs to be forgiven, and thus both parties must swallow the same thing: their pride.”
“Unspeakable” sounds a bit extreme. But, in most relationship conflicts, both parties have something to apologize for. As a Christian, for the sake of the relationship, we are called to take the first step toward making things right, by making the first apology. That means setting aside our pride, admitting we were wrong – even if the other person was too – and saying, “I’m sorry,” even if the other person hasn’t or won’t. And, of course, saying “I’m sorry” implies “I will try to do better from now on.”
Let it go
The second thing that we have to do to repair a broken relationship is to learn how to “let it go.” In other words, we have to let go of the annoyance, the anger, the resentment, the grudges, the hurt feelings, and the desire to get even, etc.
Jesus said, “I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:22.) The Apostle Paul wrote, “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27).
Letting go is learning how to forgive.
The Apostle Peter once asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Jesus said, “seventy-seven times!” Seventy-seven times! Let that sink in!
Frederick Buechner writes, “To forgive somebody is to say… “You have done something unspeakable, and by all rights I should call it quits between us… However, although I make no guarantees that I will be able to forget what you’ve done, and though we may both carry the scars for life, I refuse to let it stand between us. I still want you for my friend.”
Forgiveness is NOT saying that the wound doesn’t matter – like we are letting the wounder off the hook. Forgiveness is NOT saying that what was done didn’t matter. Forgiveness IS the decision to let it go, and not allow it to damage the relationship further. And, it is a decision – not a feeling. It is a choice – to let it go, seventy-seven times, or more, if we have to – to act into forgiveness, whether we feel it yet or not.
And, forgiveness not only heals the person forgiven and the relationship. Forgiveness also heals the forgiver. Carrying around anger, hurt, and bitterness in our hearts is toxic for us. We hold a grudge, thinking we are punishing the person who hurt us. But, in truth, the un-forgiveness in our hearts is harming us. Unforgiveness is like intentionally keeping the wound open, and reliving the injury over and over. Anne Lamott says that un-forgiveness is like, “drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
Finally, love anyway. When Jesus died on the cross, weighed down by human sin, he still loved us. We call that kind of love agape. Agape is a Greek word that means a love that is not based on any kind of personal gain. Agape is entirely based on self-giving, and even self-sacrificing – like Jesus did on the cross. It’s unconditional.
When you get hurt – love anyway. When you feel betrayed – love anyway. When you feel let down – love anyway. When you don’t feel loved in return – love anyway. And, when you feel annoyed, selfish, resentful, petty, vengeful, prideful, etc. – especially then! – love anyway!
As it says in 1 Corinthians 13, love – the kind of love that Jesus demonstrates – “keeps no record of wrongs” and always, “perseveres.”
I don’t want to mislead you. While I am sure these three things – saying you’re sorry, forgiveness, and loving unconditionally – are absolutely essential in restoring a relationship, I’m not saying it’s easy. It requires an amazing amount of courage, humility, and love. And, I’m not saying that if you do these three things, you can automatically fix any relationship. Unfortunately, some relationships are too broken to be fixed and some people are too broken to have a healthy relationship with.
But, regardless of the result, it’s the right thing to do. It’s the Jesus thing to do. Value people. Seek relationships. Protect your relationships. But, when your relationships get wounded – and they will – do all you can to heal them!