Category: Relationships

Responsibility Makes and Breaks Relationships

One of the key theological patterns in the book of Acts, I find, is that of repentance preceding the receipt of the Spirit which precedes the revival of an individual’s soul.

Indeed, corporate revival relies on the same concept: repentance of the community that precedes the blessing of God’s Holy Spirit on that community which precedes a revival within the culture of the community. Revival relies on repentance.

But what is repentance other than taking responsibility? First and foremost, owning our personal sin.

In recent months I’ve come to learn much more about the patterns in abuse, as God continues to call and equip me to minister in that direction.

The hallmark difference between someone who could abuse versus someone who does abuse is the taking of responsibility. The perpetrator of the abuse avoids taking responsibility at every turn, and at every cost, and it is debatable whether they genuinely believe they cannot be responsible for abuse, or whether they intentionally subvert any accusations against them. The former is evidence of spiritual deception. The latter is evidence of sociopathy.

The well-rounded conscience receives negative feedback and weighs it for truth, even when it hurts, because negative feedback generally does hurt, and because negative feedback is generally meant well. But the damaged conscience, the seared conscience, has lost the capacity for introspection, or simply insists on not going there.

The simplest way of saying it is this: the most obvious indicator of an unsafe person is their incapacity for taking responsibility. If their default is to blame others for things they alone have control over, there is a big problem. If this attitude isn’t addressed, if there is no hope for repentance, it’s only a matter of time before they get themselves into trouble and others along with it.

Relationships fail for the lack of responsibility.

Unsafe people do not take responsibility.

Safe people, on the other hand, walk humbly with God, by being receptive to negative feedback.

I know there have been times when I’ve been weak, where I have been susceptible to resisting and at times refusing negative feedback, and it has always harmed me, others, and the relationships in view. Nothing good comes from one party or both refusing to take responsibility.

The key task of life is to discern well what we are responsible for, and to take that responsibility.

Taking responsibility is God’s decree for our lives, because relationship is the imperative of our lives.

Sometimes we can take too much responsibility, and provided we don’t ‘enable’ an unsafe person we’re in relationship with (who does not take their responsibility well), it generally doesn’t cause much harm, and it is generally very good for us, because God sees the humility in a person living for peace and blesses them for loving others.

But taking too much responsibility when the unsafe person cannot or will not take theirs just propagates the pattern of co-dependence and abuse. The pattern begs to be broken.

Repentance, we should know, is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. Neither is salvation, because there is a fruit attached. The sign we are saved in the Kingdom of God is the fruit we bear. There must be signs of ongoing repentance and fruitfulness.

There must be signs of an ongoing ability to respond well in our lives.

And the blessing we receive in taking responsibility is we take control of everything we can control, and we surrender control for everything that is beyond our control. And that is wisdom.


Responsibility and Control in Relationship

There is one key determinant in gauging mental, emotional, and spiritual health:

To what extent does a person have the capability to take their responsibility versus their propensity to control others.

Those who receive counsel well take their responsibility.

Those who receive counsel poorly are those who tend to blame-shift and try to control others.

Couples who take their personal responsibility individually enjoy progress.

Couples where even one individual who insists upon staying in conflict mode do not progress.

But this article extends well beyond couples.

It extends to the farthest reaches of all our relationships, with others, with God, even with ourselves.

If people experience us as controlling we’re not only untrustworthy, we’re also unsafe, and not a pleasure to be around.

Let’s remember God made us for relationship, which has its aim in being a pleasure to be around (not that we’re ever expected to achieve that all the time). If people experience us as taking our responsibility, they’re free to enjoy relating with us as a person who is a pleasure to know, because we’re safe to be around. To be a blessing is always our aim.

Two pivotal questions remain:

  1. How can I be less controlling?

Needing to have control indicates we’re controlled by fear, which is driven by insecurity.

Because we all have the proclivity to be insecure, we do need to take responsibility for the possibility we can be controlling. The sheer awareness of being insecure helps us regulate the need to control situations and others. This is done simply in owning responsibility for such awareness. We see our controlling things as wrong and we repent of such attitudes and behaviours. This is actually one very effective way of taking responsibility.

  1. How can I take more of my own responsibility?

For many who honestly struggle with needing to have control, this is a hard question. But wherever there is the endeavour to live a more God-pleasing life there is the capacity to achieve the goal. Living responsibly is the way to live a God-pleasing life, because it’s the life of faith – of trusting God to the extent of loving others.

Whenever we live responsibly we’re less of a burden and more of a blessing to others. It would misrepresent the truth to say this trend is absolute, but it’s a reliable guide.

We take more responsibility when we hold ourselves to short account, particularly when we use the prayer from Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” What this prayer is truly beseeching God about is clear. God already knows our heart; He knows our thoughts. The prayer is asking God to make it clear to us what He already knows. It could be as follows:

Lord, You know my heart, please show me.

I submit to Your testing of my attitude;

show me the truth of my thoughts.

Reveal any sign of wickedness

(about this situation or other)

And continue to lead me, please. AMEN

Those who take responsibility, seek God’s awareness of truth, which requires intimacy to walk humbly with God.

  1. Some traits of the responsible:

They attend to what they can control, and they accept what they cannot control.

They’re honest before God to the extent of hearing another person out who has a complaint against them.

They’re quick to own their contribution of fault, but they don’t enable others’ irresponsibility.

They own their current relationships and are happy to cut unsafe people out of their lives and don’t feel guilty about it.

They’re for the most part logical, reasonable, reliable, rational.

They take seriously the hurts of others, living at peace with everyone as far as it depends on them, especially regarding behaviours for which they, themselves, are responsible.


Making Sense of the Attitude of Forgiveness

If I’m a student of grief, I’m also a student of conflict, and whilst understanding of grief leads to acceptance, understanding of conflict leads to forgiveness. This is the premise:

When you forgive you let go of what you cannot control.

Let me be frank. I’ve wandered two quite unique journeys of reconciling myself to peace, in making matters right in my own mind and heart, through forgiveness.

Incredibly I found complete peace when the most significant person in my world ended our relationship. Almost immediately I could see where I’d messed up in that relationship. I owned my contribution. Forgiveness was easy because I took the log out of my own eye.

But there is another path I’ve had to walk, where I felt abused, and there has been no effort from others involved to reconcile matters, despite our efforts. A completely different path for someone who has experienced the ease of letting go by letting God have His way. I can tell you that this ease of letting go was as real as could be, yet it was nothing about me being in my power – all God’s power, because that’s how God works – through our letting go.

So, with the experience of forgiving a betrayal about as deep as anyone could be betrayed, contrasted with experiences of not being free to let other situations go, I have prayed long and desperately to understand something more of the riches of God in the grace He gives and the grace He takes away.

Suddenly I’ve come to an understanding that in experiencing both kinds of hearts – soft and hard – God has shown me both the depths of His grace to enable us to let go and the extent of our sin to resist His movement of softening our hearts. I know both intimately. Both states of heart have been important experiences. I thank Him for both.

God has allowed both and has invited me to compare them in the light of His grace.

What He’s allowed me to see is compelling.

Until we’ve not been able to forgive, we’ve not come to the place where we’re desperate enough to give forgiveness another try. Until it’s been impossible to forgive someone who abused us or betrayed us, we don’t dig deeply enough into the mysteries of the heart’s rebellion in unforgiveness. We remain in self-protection mode. But we also remain locked out of the freedom Jesus seeks for us to have and knows we need. A freedom from the perpetrator, so they may no longer do us any harm.

In those difficult situations where letting go seems impossible, we’re given the opportunity to develop an attitude of forgiveness, acknowledging forgiveness is classically a two-way process requiring protagonists to give and receive forgiveness.

It helps in our developing this attitude of forgiveness when we acknowledge it makes logical sense to let go that which we cannot control. To let go of that over which we have no control. It makes no sense to continue to hold that which can only be bad and that which can never be good for us.

When you forgive you let go of what you cannot control.

While we prepare for ourselves a heart ready to forgive we have another opportunity: to prepare our hearts for what God is doing in the mix of what was a troubled relationship.

God brings us all to account. Even if we’ve experienced the worst kind of abuse and our offender is the worst kind of sociopath, we have equivalence in our relationship with God. The Lord calls us all to account. We must be ready for ours with a clear conscience for what that might entail. And pity them if they refuse their own readiness!

You have control over how God will judge you.

Sometimes God wants us to be tough on a person for their own good; it’s the loving thing. We can be tough in kind ways. We can be firm in gentle ways. We can hold our ground in ways that is inoffensive. We can prepare to meet the offender in the grace they withheld from us. We can rise above the standard of their sinfulness. We do not need to trust them if they’re not trustworthy. We can make things right.

When you forgive you do what God wants, by doing what is within your control.

When you act in grace, you forgive by action.

When you forgive you exhibit God’s power to love a person, not according to what they deserve, but according to the victorious holy standard of God.

For, in forgiving a person of their sin against Deity you let yourself off the hook of God’s judgment, while there they remain, standing in the Dock.

The only way they can make it right with God is if they make it right with you.

When you forgive you do what God wants, and you get out of His way and let Him do what He will do.

These kinds of things demonstrate an attitude of forgiveness acknowledging in faith that God catches up with every sinner this side of eternity or the other.


That Relationship You Need a Miracle for

We’ve all been in this place. And yet, another grief falls upon us.

There is a relationship that shatters us in the process of its shattering.

Whether the relationship is intact or not is immaterial. There is a grief in both aspects of relationship: in absence especially, but also in presence. Ask the spouse of the one with dementia. What was so precious is gone, forever. Sometimes presence resembles absence in the cruellest of ways.

This is not just about marriage; it’s about best-friendships, collegiate and professional partnerships, and soul-mate relationships of all kinds of designations – some that we never designed and never thought could ever work but did.

This is about any situation of grief that impacts you over a relationship that needs a miracle. Sometimes that miracle is that you can let the relationship go. Such a process is a gradual learning, of risking courageously, of giving back to God what life has taken from us, and of honouring the compelling truth.

Maybe you’re not ready to let go just yet. Sometimes that miracle you seek is one that gives you the strength to hold on.

Hope rests in faith to hold on or wisdom to let go,

but oh what strength it takes to trust in tomorrow.

What Happens Too Frequently

Something joined us together, five months or fifty years ago, in all manner of circumstances and situations we either could have or would not have predicted.

A glue formed between us, and while things were good they were so very wholesome and productive and good. It wasn’t just the love we shared. There was something beautifully elusive that formed between us, through the dynamic that we shared. And what is most frustrating is we can only attest to the potential that was borne between us as one of us or both of us looks back.

Perhaps they moved on without us. Maybe we had to move on from them. What happens too frequently is something unravels; destiny or death. It sneaks up and happens suddenly or we could see it coming. Sometimes there are warnings and it’s infuriating when every method of communication is exhausted and there’s still no response.

The shattered relationship completely deconstructs what identity we’ve built together. It reconfigures our philosophy for life. It shakes us to the core. It could bring us back to who we were. It can cause us to question who on earth we are. It can lay us waste.

The Answer…

“… unless a deliberate effort is made to restore and strengthen a [damaged] relationship, it will generally deteriorate.”

– Ken Sande, The Peacemaker, p. 219.

Reconciliation is a weird concept. It is highly negotiable in nature. We can find we’ve made all sorts of agreements with ourselves, but these were couched in terms only we could conceive. Sometimes their terms are completely what we could never have expected. We need to be ready for repentance.

There are myriad possibilities when it comes to reconciling, whether it’s a person-to-person reality, the revival of circumstances that once were, or reconciling it’s over, and every varietal between.

Sometimes reconciliation is impossible, and acceptance is the destination where hope is finally revived. A necessary severing takes place. A moving on brings healing and restoration. In these cases, acceptance is reconciliation.

The only thing we can do is honour the truth held above – a deliberate effort is needed. If that effort has been made and to no avail, we work on acceptance. If the effort is necessarily ongoing, so be it; we’re called to a season of patience that could last a year or five, or a decade or more. Ours is the wisdom to leave it with God.


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.