Friday, October 17, 2014

Reconciling Relationships

Philippians 4:8-9 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

How does this verse apply to relationships? Let’s say that when a person becomes a Christian, they have to set healthy boundaries with certain people, perhaps people they are very close to, or people in their biological family. And let’s say that after a period of healthy-boundary setting that may have required establishing great distance physically, emotionally and relationally between oneself and the other person(s), a time of reconciliation has come (God will give us peace about when this time has come).

Philippians would confirm that if the reconciliation is God-ordained, then the opportunity for and beginning of reconciliation is good. However, this verse is often seen in an entirely positive, warm-fuzzy light, excluding any “tough love” components. I see it differently because of the word “true.” Focus on whatever is good and lovely, but don’t forget that Truth is also part of it. That doesn’t mean hold a grudge simply because the past is true. No. Doing that would negate the focusing on what is good and lovely. We are to go forth focusing on what is good and lovely but also what is True.

The truth is that we can now, as mature Christians with the Holy Spirit as our Guide, be reconciled within the healthy boundaries we have set. The fence does not come down. So, for instance, it is good for reconciliation to happen if and when it is God-ordained, but it is also true that we will not return to the old dysfunction of the relationship; we will not pick up where we left off. Hebrews talks about being at peace with others IN HOLINESS. 

So if, while in a relationship in the past, we engaged in gossip, drinking or constant freudenschade, that must not happen in the reconciled relationship. God has cleansed us of past sin through His conviction and forgiveness and our agreement with God that that behavior is sin. We have repented of our past participation in that behavior and have committed to not sinning in that way again. So the reconciliation, though a good thing when ordained by God, is only a true reconciliation when we conduct reconciliation within the boundaries we’ve worked long and hard to set up.

Scripture says, “be careful that you too do not sin” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Never underestimate the power of Satan to want “in” on this act of reconciliation, because this is the sort of thing Satan despises (read C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters). If we give an inch to sin in the premise that “I’m trying to be reconciled to so and so” we’ll soon find ourselves giving a mile, and we’ll be right back in the dysfunction of the relationship. That is why I emphasize that reconciliation must be ordained by God: to ensure that we are strong enough in the Lord to not return to our sinful ways with others.

Our standing firm will make the reconciliation process very interesting: the person will either not like the “new” us and our uncompromising ability to “not go there” with them. Or, they will find it refreshing and want to emulate us. For instance, if they see we will not gossip with them, they might feel relief from not having to participate in something they have often despised in themselves. 

In the years since my husband and I quit drinking, we find there are a select few drinkers who enjoy our company because they get a reprieve from drinking, or don’t feel pressure to drink as much as they do when they are with other drinkers. We have become a safe place for drinkers to go when they are trying not to drink, or trying not to drink to excess. 

The same can happen when we refuse to gossip, indulge in fraudenshaude with others, eat junk food, spend money, gamble, be critical, engage in endless political discussion, etc.

Most of the drinkers we know, however, have stopped coming around altogether. We’ve never said they can’t drink around us, but they don’t enjoy our company if we aren’t going to join them in holding a drink in our hand. And I don’t go out of my way to hang out with people who over-indulge in alcohol. That is simply a boundary. This is how truth works in the Philippians verse.

A reconciled relationship, whether folks respond positively or negatively to the “new” us, will not be the reconciled relationship movies or society portray. Society and sometimes extended family especially will tell you to kiss and make-up, forgive and forget and get on as you were. Or they will define a reconciled relationship as “I’m glad you people are ‘getting along’ and can now do everything together and talk on the phone incessantly.”

A reconciled relationship, however, when driven and guided by the Holy Spirit, is set within the parameters for relationships as set out in God’s Word, and most likely will look nothing like what the world expects.

A reconciled relationship may still be physically, emotionally and relationally distant. Though reconciled, we may still feel what I like to call “danger” around the person(s), and they may never feel safe to be around. Our comfort level within this reconciled state of affairs may never be what it once was with this person (which is a good thing, as Philippians tells us to focus on). We must remember that we have changed, drastically most likely. And most likely, the other person has not. The Holy Spirit is our counselor and our barometer of warning. If the other person(s) is still engaging in and wanting to draw us in to their engagement with sin, we will never feel at ease with this person(s). But we can stand strong in the reconciliation through grace (and not sin).

What this comes down to is a proper definition of reconciliation. The Bible is clear: do not harbor ill will, but forgive. Do not character assassinate, bear false witness against or hate (we must do all this even while setting boundaries and before reconciliation is even on the map).

We are to have peaceful relations with people. But peaceful does not mean capitulate. I’ve capitulated as a parent, only to see it blow up in my face in later dissension. “Peace” goes both ways. Our peace with God must not be broken by sinning with another person in order to have “peace” (a false peace) with that person. True peace is a clear conscience before God that I have treated a person--in thought, word and deed--according to my Christian convictions, which arise out of a deep relationship with Jesus Christ, His Word and His Holy Spirit within me. When I focus on the “whatever is true” of Philippians, I am focusing on the truth that I am accountable to one Person only: God. And when I please Him, I will not lead others astray, sin in my heart or actions towards them, or betray my relationship with God.

Others may not like our Biblical paradigm of reconciliation. But that isn’t our concern. Our concern is to obey the reconciliation God is bringing, and be at peace with that. God will never lead us into sin and that is why we can only trust Him to rebuild anything, including relationships, in the image He ordains. Another person may try to force us to reconcile on their timing and terms. But wait on God for His timing and His terms. That is the only True reconciliation that is Good.

copyright Barb Harwood

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11 (underlining mine)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12:14-15 (underline mine)

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