When a Relationship Is Not What We Hope

There are times in all our lives when there is a relationship that doesn’t quite meet our hopes. There is a particular kind of relationship that continues to elude us with a loved one or a friendship that has experienced fracture.

It is quite a common theme in my pastoral, chaplaincy, and counselling work to be confided in to the extent of:

‘Please help me, I’m so sad because of this relationship – I don’t feel close, or they don’t seem to care, and I don’t know what to do about this situation or my sadness.’

Professionally, of course, these moments leave me feeling out of my depth, but then I quickly realise that hardly anyone is expecting me to fix their problems. What I have to offer is the care of listening and interest of and capacity to journey with a person. I am still so amazed by what the Holy Spirit can do when I’m feeling hopeless and useless in my own strength. In endeavouring not to fix the person’s problem, the person is ministered to by the Holy Spirit operating through me.

I recall a time when a particular relationship was not only strained, but the relationship, as it had been, was over. I was impelled into grief; cast into the place of loss that I was completely ill-equipped to handle.

When people say God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, part of me wants to laugh, but part of me also gets angry.

Life does give us more than we can handle.

God allows this to bring us to an understanding of Himself in our suffering.

This is why we need God, because at times life cannot answer our questions of it, and only God at those times can help.

… but never in a way we initially expected…

The above relational situation taught me so much, because at some levels there was no hope. I had to get used to the fact things had changed forever. There was no way of reconciling the relationship to how it was. I was forced to adjust. But I also found a way to reconcile with this person in a way that only God could have procured. And yet there was a blessing in disguise, a God compensation if you will, for the fact that things had changed irreparably.

God takes us deeper into Himself, and, as a compensation, we get a gift that nothing in this world can provide.

That can, however, seem short-change for those who have not yet experienced such a compensation. For whatever reason, they may never experience what I and many others claim as faith-facts. But it’s only as we press on in within our pain that we stand to benefit in a way that is entirely of God.

When I go into some of those moments with others, pastorally or therapeutically, so many in a moment of sharing are overcome by their sadness and heave out their tears. Again, I can feel quite useless, because it is completely inappropriate to console them in a way I would like to. Such consolations I talk about I can only give to family, otherwise others and myself are vulnerable to a possible inappropriate use of the power God gives me to care. And yet, stopping short of such consolations is the very power of God, as God gets me to step out of the way, so His Spirit can work in this situation of my holding and containing of the person.

Still, the sadness of being in some kind of relationship that doesn’t rise to the hopes we have can very well feel overwhelming. And yet, God’s power doesn’t seem to operate until we get to this place of feeling overwhelmed.

Feeling overwhelmed is like arriving at first base in the economy of God’s ministry for the grieving.

And there is something very precious about a person-to-person relationship that is both safe and intimate at the same time.

Such a therapeutic relationship works for healing through the power of God because, and only because, it is platonic. Such a relationship does not and cannot rescue a person from their immediate pain, but somehow gives them the courage to continue on in the journey of hope toward resolution.

And I would argue that the effectiveness of the counselling relationship is because of that very reason: we do not interrupt the flow of God’s healing Spirit that requires a person to do their own work even while they’re urged onward in faith by any of us privileged to walk alongside with them.