Get Outside Your Circle

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxIt’s a bit easier to perpetuate the cause and effects of hurt when you hang out with a group that isolates itself and allows the hurt to multiply. We all need reality checks, and we don’t get them from the people closest to us if they’re not willing or able to shine a revealing light on the truth of a situation. We connect with people because we have things in common with them, so we affirm one another. However, when the affirmation becomes a crutch and pulls a blinding shade over accountability, we’re in trouble.

We need to choose friends who love us just the way we are yet aren’t content to leave us there—just like God. Affirmation is great as long as it’s biblical. However, our circles of friends—even in churches—can become gossip fests. Once the can of gossip is opened, it’s incredibly difficult to secure the lid on it, but the effort is worth it. We do a lot of damage spreading hearsay or gathering breakneck momentum based on our opinions instead of factually-based information and biblical truth. When our small groups of friends or Bible study groups begin to share opinions and gain momentum of what we think is happening or should happen with an individual or the church as a whole, it’s not long before we take the small leap that rationalizes we’re being “led by God.” Just because we’re a group of Bible-believing church folks who come to a consensus doesn’t mean our conclusion is God-directed. Were biblical principles followed throughout the process of coming to the conclusion, or was there misguided rationale, misinformation, and inappropriate sharing? You cannot reach a Spirit-led result with a man-led process.

There are many boundaries drawn between the “us” and “them” in churches. It can be old versus young or paid staff versus volunteer staff. It can be “old-timers” versus new members or regular attenders versus members. The division of groups is often perpetuated by assumptions. Because we tend to hang out with people most like ourselves, we quickly make assumptions about other groups as well as about what those groups must think about us. It isn’t long before we feel slighted, justified, or entitled, and the space between the groups widen.

The way to build a bridge between groups is to get to know individuals in other groups. It takes effort, because we have to reach across the aisle to approach the very people we have some unflattering assumptions about. We might find some aspects of the assumptions to be true, but we’ll likely find many more exceptions if we open our eyes and hearts widely enough to recognize and acknowledge them. If each person in your circle of camaraderie gets to know three people in one of “the other” circles, how many assumptions would be proven right and how many would be shaken or shattered? It’s worth a try to find out. Test the all or nothing perspective.

When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

God’s family is certainly not exempt from hurt, including the hurts that come from within. People in churches are just as vulnerable to unjustly criticize, gossip, neglect, and offend one another as anyone else. It’s true that God sets us apart to reflect his image to the world, but to believe Christ-followers are perfect representations of Jesus will, to say the least, lead to disappointment. What (should) set Christ-followers apart from the world is how they deal with one another to heal the hurt. Will they do the hard work it takes to unite or will they further divide into quarreling, backbiting, judgmental factions? Which will you choose? Healing the Hurt , is PurePurpose.org’s current series to help hurting communities cope in biblical ways.

The Illusion of Ice

Do you ever have conversations that ignore what needs to be said?

There’s “that one topic” that no one wants to talk about, because it wreaks havoc on the family gathering, ministry meeting, or friendship. At some point, the topic came up, words were said, feelings were hurt, assumptions were made, and now it has become “that one topic.”

It’s like confidently walking or skating on ice, as if the ice is actually the ground, the foundation under your feet. It’s not. There’s water somewhere under the ice. Water that is likely moving, full of life…and dangerous. You don’t want to remember it’s there, because even the thought of it chills you to the bone. If you keep everything above the surface, no one gets hurt. Sure, someone might fall and get a bruise, there might be a slight conflict, but no one plummets into frigidity. To risk that seems like a death wish.

But it doesn’t go away. Some people won’t even inch out onto the ice, no matter how solid they think it is, because it’s not worth the risk. They’d rather stay on the shoreline and watch safely from a distance.

So, should you or shouldn’t you break through the ice?

It’s not an easy answer.

Yes, at some point, if you have an ongoing relationship with someone, you will need to break through. You’ll need to talk with someone about the topics that created a chasm, because it’s the only way to heal the chasm, but how can you do that? What happens when your brother makes a choice that you would never have made, and he knows you disapprove, so every time it (or any other conflict) comes up, he feels defensive and you feel judgmental? What happens when you do your best to expect the best from your adult child, but she repeats the same mistake over and over? Every time you even begin to talk to her about it, she shuts down and walks away. What happens when that mistake in your marriage gets brought up with any conflict even when there’s no connection whatsoever? What if no one is willing to talk about that family member who died and everyone misses but can’t push through the pain enough to remember together?

Relationships aren’t easy. Sometimes we want to stay on top of the ice because we’re scared of breaking through. Other times, we want to stay on top of the ice, because it’s the only opportunity we have to keep any kind of relationship with the person. It’s less about avoiding and more about maintaining with the hopes of restoring.

There’s no easy answer of what exactly you are supposed to say or do in your specific situation, but I know the direction that God wants us to always move toward: restoration. Sometimes we get to restore a relationship with a person, and sometimes our restoration focuses more on our relationship with God. Either way, we win. God wins. Because we honor Him through the process. We don’t try to figure it all out. We don’t try to avoid all conflict and pain. We don’t try to control all the details. Instead, we sit on the edge of our seats, ready to follow God wherever He leads us. We have our skates nearby. We also have a sledgehammer in case He leads us to break through the ice. In the meantime, we might have to wait for the ice to melt so we can wade through the water and meet someone halfway across the creek.

Have conversations as often as you can…especially with God.

Restore the joy of Your salvation to me, and give me a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:12)