Bad Relationships, Forgiveness and Walking Away

September 28, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

We are doing a relationship series  at The Grove Church.  We have been given people the opportunity to ask questions that they can post anonymously on the website.  The hope has been that people would be open and honest about the issues that they are struggling with and these questions would shape the specific content of the series.  I have been overwhelmed by the number and types of questions, but in a good way.  I’m always encouraged when people open up and are willing to ask for help.

sadnessI was also surprised by what was far and away the most asked question.  Nothing else was even close.  The question was asked multiple times in different ways.  What am I supposed to do when a relationship is not working? Is it ever OK to just walk away?  People came at it from multiple angles and  you can feel the desire to honor God in broken relationships but also the hurt over the pain and disappointment.

This clearly is a complicated issue that doesn’t have easy answers.  Hard questions rarely have easy answers.  The simplest answer is “It depends, and it’s complicated.”  A 30 minute sermon was inadequate in covering the topic and a 1000 word blog post is even more so.  However, if the questions that we received as a church are any indication, then this is definitely a topic that we need to be talking about.  So let’s at least get the conversation started with a few questions and steps to consider when wrestling with a broken relationship.

1) Is the relationship a mandatory relationship or an optional one?  If the relationship is mandatory and one that you have made a lifelong commitment to, then the answer to if you can ever be done is no.  You are a parent, child, spouse, brother, no matter what.  These people are your family.  In some very difficult circumstances, you may have to set some boundaries with these relationships but you do not get to say that you are all done.  You stood before God and said that you would be a husband or wife forever, “for better or worse.”  You already pledged how you would handle “worse”, if you are facing “worse” right now.  You have freedom in your friendships, dating relationships, even in your work relationships if you’re willing to walk away from your job.  You do not have the freedom in your family.

This is assuming that we are not dealing with abuse.  Abuse is another matter.  If you believe that you are being abused, talk to a counselor or pastor immediately.  I’ve seen it both ways.  I’ve seen people in abusive relationships think everything is ok.  I’ve also seen the opposite.  People believe they are being abused and really they are just yelling at each other.  Regardless, seek help and counseling immediately.  Do not walk through that alone.

2) Have you talked to the person about the problem?  Sometimes we suffer in silence or passive-aggressive weirdness and never truly come to the person and say, “this isn’t working.  You’re hurting me.  Something needs to change.”  If you have not done that, then you have failed in what God has called each of us to, which is to confront someone who has sinned against us.  Go to them first and see how they respond.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

3) Have they asked for forgiveness and humbly asked for another chance?  Usually there are 3 responses.  One is to not be sorry and therefore you know that the behavior will continue.  The second is they are genuinely sorry and they want to change.  In this instance, the way forward is fairly clear, you need to forgive and give them another chance. (Exception is dating relationships.  You still need to forgive, but you can step out of these relationships at any time.  You are not obligated by forgiveness to keep dating someone that you know you don’t want to marry.)  The third option is a little more difficult to manage.  They say that they are sorry but not in a genuine humble way.  They say “sorry,” but you know that it’s going to continue. This leads to the next step.

4) Have you forgiven them?  This needs to be true regardless of how sorry they are.  Forgiveness is not optional and bitterness is never ok.  If you are holding onto resentment and unforgiveness, then you are in sin and are not in a place to make a good decision.  You have some spiritual work to do.  Do that first.  Then you will more clearly be able to determine what is the next best step for the relationship.

5) Is changing or ending the relationship best for both of you?  It should be.  If you are hurting each other, then a change is necessary.  Even if just one of you is the primary cause, you would still need to make a change.  This relationship is causing them to lash out and sin, and it is not good for them either.  They may not see it, but it’s true.

6) Have you asked God for wisdom? James 1:5 says that God will gladly give wisdom to anyone who asks.  If you are in a difficult situation, there is nothing better to have than God’s wisdom.  He’s offering, so take it.

7) Are you trying to do this alone?  If so, then don’t.  You need friends, counselors, pastors helping you make good decisions.  We rarely make good decisions in isolation.  Reach out to some trusted confidants and ask for help.

8) Finally, if you now believe that a change is necessary, are you trusting and asking God to restore the relationship in the future?  Even the worst of relationships can be restored at some point.  I have had some relationships that seemed that would be broken forever come back after five years.  God is in the miracle business.  Changing your relationships doesn’t change that.  Move slowly away but expect God to do the unexpected and bring healing and unity to you and to them.

Again, this is just a primer.  You need help and wisdom to walk through this and God has offered and your friends would love to be there as well, I’m sure.

What do you think? What have I left out? Is anything here oversimplified? How do we walk through broken relationships?

Forgiveness is Never Free

This last Sunday we talked about the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant and the very touchy, but incredibly important issue of forgiveness. (Listen here.) In the parable, a king forgives a servant a ridiculous large debt, millions and millions of dollars.   This servant in turn goes out finds somebody that owes him a few thousand dollars, chokes him and throws him in jail.  (no smartalecs, it wasn’t dollars.  I know that this was in Israel in the first century.  Where did you learn to be an obnoxious nitpicker like that?  From me?  Oh, well, um, let’s continue)  The king hears of this and throws the first servant in jail for being ungrateful.

The point that Jesus is making is that since we have been forgiven so much by God, we can only forgive other people.  The debt that we had was so large, to not forgive someone else a smaller debt, would be ungrateful.

As I was getting ready for this sermon, I was finishing up a book called Prodigal God.  Highly, highly recommend it.  The author, Tim Keller, said something that stuck with me and repeated on Sunday–forgiveness is never free.  Someone pays.  If you owe me $100, someone will pay that.  Either you will pay me back or I will eat the loss, paying for it myself.

Similarly, if someone hurts me emotionally, wounds me, someone will pay.  I can choose not to forgive and make them pay for it by the way that I treat them, until they hurt like I hurt.  Or I can forgive them and I’m the one that deals with the hurt and pain.  I choose not to pass it back to them.

If you owe me $100, and I say, no problem, just pay me back $10 a month for 10 months, that’s not forgiveness. That’s a payment plan.  If you hurt me, and I am mean to you, cold to you for a season until I get past it and then “forgive” you, that’s not forgiveness either.  That’s a payment plan.

This is one of the reasons why forgiveness is so hard.  Someone still has to pay.  We are making the decision that we will pay.  I will take the hurt and pain and there will be no payback.  That’s easily described but not easily done.

Circling back to the parable, this is where what Jesus said is so helpful.  If God has forgiven us so great a debt, a debt that Jesus himself paid for us (remember, forgiveness isn’t free), then I just had millions of dollars wiped off my account.  I have lot of money to give back.  You and I are good.  I have experienced so much forgiveness, I cannot help but pass that on.

When I am reminded of the hurt, I don’t think about how I can get them to pay me back.  I’m reminded that I said that I would pay.  Then I’m reminded of the One who paid so much for me.  Then I can pass that forgiveness.

It’s not easy, because it’s not free.  It can become easier when we remember the forgiveness we’ve been given.

Forgiveness Takes Time

August 25, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

If you know me at all in the real world, then you by all means should know about my golf rooting interests.  I have never been a fan of Tiger Woods.  It always had more to do with him being the overwhelming favorite and the way the press fawned over him, not anything personal.  I’m not saying that that there weren’t things about him personally that rubbed me the wrong way.  Dropping f-bombs on live national TV, that’s not cool.  I would often with friends rant about him and advocate for my favorite golfer, Phil Mickelson (I’m a lefty golfer as well and have followed him for about 13 years now).

When all of the new allegations came out last fall, his name became a punchline and a lot of people moved over to the rooting against Tiger Woods camp.  Certainly not the TV commentators, nothing has changed there, but that is a rant for a different day.  However, the one thing that I could not escape is that there was a real woman and two real children swept up in this.  My heart broke as I thought about Tiger’s wife, Elin Nordegren.  Not in a “You go girl.  Take him to the cleaners kind of way,” as if all that is involved here is money and ruining an arrogant celebrity.  This is a real woman who, by all accounts, genuinely loved her husband.

There is an interview with her coming out in People Magazine this week. (Will you judge me if I buy my first issue of People?)  They are teasing it today, and in the snippets that they give, it is apparent that she loved him and that her heart is broken.  She says that she never knew.  “I’m so embarrassed that I never suspected—not a one. For the past 3 1/2 years, when all this was going on, I was home a lot more with pregnancies, then the children and my school.”  I suppose a cynical person could say something to that.  Usually I am just cynical enough, but not this time.  My heart breaks for her as she tries to figure out what to do and how to put a life back together.  Again the cynic can go to $$$, but would you trade money for the life you have, for the people that matter most, for the tears shed by those little ones?

This post could easily turn into me taking shots at men, calling them to step up, take care of business at home.  It likely would, except I was struck by something that Elin said, “Forgiveness takes time.”  I know nothing about Elin’s spiritual life, but I wonder how someone in her situation could possibly forgive apart from experiencing the forgiveness that God offers through Jesus Christ.  What can it look like?  How long would it take?  Do you just get increasingly less angry until you don’t care anymore?  Do you have to build a different life and move on first?

It takes me a long time to stop burning angry for significantly smaller things and I have the Holy Spirit whispering at me, “Forgive like God through Christ forgave you.”  Forgiveness means that I will no longer hold this sin against you, as if you had never done it.  Forgiveness means it’s over.  How do you truly forgive?  How do you get beyond forgiveness meaning, “I’m not going to be demonstrably angry with you…for now?”

I’m convinced that it is only through experience.  You have to have experienced that kind of forgiveness to give it.  God has to have shown you that you are completely forgiven and experience that grace.  When God has forgiven us so much, how can we not pass that on?

It’s not easy, that’s for sure.  Forgiveness takes time, and Him.

Giant Curveballs, Control Issues, Closure and Forgiveness

August 2, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

There may be a conspiracy afoot.  The conspiracy is out to derail my productivity.  Well, that may not be entirely accurate.  The conspiracy I believe is against my particular plans and my definition of productivity. Furthermore, it is most likely targeting my need to control.

I had a great plan.  I mean a great plan.  We were going to sell our house in late May or June, move into a house in Fayetteville and be “settled” by August 1st when I started the new job.  That plan was demolished and we moved into an apartment 3 days ago.  Apartment living with 2 pre-teen girls sharing a bedroom is interesting(?), challenging(?), exhausting(?), awesome(?).  Whatever it is, it is not consistent with productivity.  I have a lot to do.  Becoming the lead pastor of a church right before school starts gives one a to-do list of epic proportions.  When life is so chaotic that you can’t even make the list, much less start executing it, even a low control guy such as me can start to get the shakes.

However, Monday was going to be different.  The first official workday.  Get up, leave the apartment (sadly of course), and go get it done.  Chick-Fil-A has free wi-fi and I have a sweet new MacBook Pro.  So we are in business.  Then the afternoon before, I get a phone call.  There are hundreds of people I would have expected to hear from before this person.  (This enters the intentionally vague portion of the program).  This person wounded me pretty deeply a few years ago.  I worked for restoration and never really got it.  Through Jesus and his love for me, I found legitimate forgiveness for him.  No bitterness.  No residual anger, but nothing close to a restored relationship.  He didn’t (at the time) want it.

Then at the least opportune time it would seem, he calls and we are going to have breakfast the next morning.  He left me plenty of opportunities to say no.  “I’m sure that you are still busy” (Yes) “You’ve got a lot to do” (Yes) “and you don’t have time” (Yes).  How do I say no? Answer: I don’t.  I can’t.  I have my plan.  God has his.

At first, we are chatting like nothing has ever happened, which is fine.  Whatever God has planned and whatever this guy has planned is great.  Then he starts reflecting on the past, apologizing for stuff, and expressing a desire to reconnect.  I’m blown away.  We have a great conversation, and it might be fair to say that we are friends again.  I don’t know what to say or think.

God has his own time table and plan.  I had an idea about what “needed” to happen this morning and God had another.  I had an idea about when this relationship would be restored, and God had another.  My heart needs to be ready for what God has for me.  Is my heart ready to forgive? to restore relationships? to respond to his priorities in my life?  Or do I have a closed heart that is focused on my ideas and plans and can’t sense what God may be up to in my life?

I want to be the person that can release what I want and think I need for what he wants for me.  But if it’s all the same, I would like to get my to-do list going.  However, there is nothing, nothing, that will happen today as significant as what already has.

Lord, how many times should I forgive?

Recently in a sermon, I was preaching on forgiveness.  I was fairly strong in the statements I made about the limits we put on forgiveness.  You can see that sermon here: In some circles that has caused quite a stir.  We don’t want to have to forgive everyone for everything, especially if they have hurt us repeatedly or deeply.  “You can only hurt me so many times” and “Well, I can’t forgive that.” is what we say.  However, there appear to be no limits on what and who we are to forgive.  I am reminded of this, because I was reading in Matthew 18 today.

In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus tells a story about a man who owes the king 10,000 talents, the equivalent of millions of dollars.  In today’s money, that would be roughly 1 cagillion-babillion dollars.  It is an unreasonable amount of money.  It is such an outrageous amount of money that it makes the story bizarre.  Why would the king let such a debt run up? Why on earth would the king forgive such a debt?  Yet this is how Jesus describes our situation before God.  Our sin has run a cagillion-babillion dollar debt and he has forgiven us.

The servant after having his debt forgiven, then comes across someone who owes him a few dollars.  Rather than showing parallel mercy, he has that guy thrown in jail.  Again, this is absurd.  If the bank calls me and tells me they are getting rid of my mortgage and then I see someone who owes me $10,  I’m thinking, “no big deal.  I will make it up 100 times over after the first time I miss my mortgage payment.”  At least I would like to think that I would.  In fact, we do not forgive this way.  God has forgiven us of our sins which are great and we turn around and hold huge grudges for significantly smaller offenses.

Why do we do this?  One of two things (or both) are true.  First, we do not believe that our sin has truly run up a cagillion-babillion dollar debt (I believe this is the first blog post in history to use the word cagillion-babillion 3, now 4 times).  We think that God has only forgiven us a little.  Second, we don’t believe that by comparison people offending us represents just a few dollars.  Hurting me must be a lot of money, simply becomes I am just that important.  If you accidentally cut me off in traffic, that’s at least $10,000, isn’t it?  I mean you delayed me getting to where I’m going by at least half a second.  If you gossip about me and hurt my feelings, that’s off the chart.  At least that is what we believe.  However, by comparison, people’s sin against us are small compared to ours against God.  Do we believe that?

What are you holding on to? What grudge do you have? Whom have you not forgiven? Remember how God has forgiven you, celebrate that forgiveness and then forgive as God has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)