Jesus once told story of a wealthy man who forgave the debt of a man to whom he had loaned money. Later, the man whose debt had been erased went out and showed no mercy to a man who owed him money. When the wealthy man found out about the man's ungrateful, vindictive deeds, he went back to the man who had been released from the debt and threw him in prison to be tortured until he had personally repaid all the debt. Jesus gives us a powerful warning: "My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart." (Matthew 18:21-35)
This story is about our relationship with the Lord. If He has forgiven us and humbled himself to the point of death to bring about our debt being paid, then we owe everyone we meet the grace, love, mercy and forgiveness that we have received. If we do not forgive others, no matter how unjust their actions were, our hearts will be damaged and we will feel far from God.
I was talking with a godly, older, wiser friend of mine the other day, and she said, "You know, I have lost so many friends over the years because of issues with my children."
She was referring to a situation in which one of her children had been immature and offended one of her friends, and the friend held it against her personally. What a travesty! To lose a friendship over a silly incident is a waste of a good friendship. If we expect our friends and their children to always be mature, we will surely become disappointed and disillusioned. Yet I see it happen all the time. No wonder so many people are suspicious of Christians, if they act just like all other normal, self-centered people, rather than like those who have been redeemed!
There is so much potential for broken relationships--hurt feelings, different values, different philosophies, immaturity, insensitivity, harsh or careless words, bitterness, and irritation.
The reason for broken relationships today is because there is so little glue--no commitment--no covenant that says,
No matter what, I will be loyal to you. I will commit to loving you, not with feelings, but with my heart, because God has loved me.
Our children need to see this kind of loyal love demonstrated so that they will stay faithful, strong and true in the difficult relationships they will encounter. They need to know that loving unconditionally is a choice, an obedience.
So many people are brokenhearted because of the actions of others.
But our hearts don't have to stay broken. We can always choose to love, even when we are not loved by people--because God is absolutely, forever committed to loving us.
"I will never leave you or forsake you." Hebrews 13
"Nothing can separate us from the love of God." Romans 8
"I pray that you may know the Father's love, with which he has loved me from the foundations of the world." John 17
The Role of Humility
I have found that I have had to humble myself so many times in relationships--sometimes when I was wrong, but many times when I thought the other person was wrong. Do you know what I've learned? The more you practice humility, the easier it becomes. We are the most like God when we love and "cover a multitude of sin" with our words and compassion than at any other time. He has not called us to judge, but to love.
In reality, we all sin, fall short, come up short in some way or another. And so we must understand that everyone we meet comes up short, too. Humility says, "I will never be perfect. I will not condemn myself for being perfect. I will not condemn you for not being perfect."
Does it hurt to be ignored or mistreated? Of course, but if we love Jesus, we are called to love and forgive, not because the person deserves it, but because He wants us to! We love out of our commitment to Him. Loyal love, humble love, "I don't care what you have done--I will always be your friend" sort of love is what makes us, as Christians, a picture of His reality in this world.
There will be times when relationships are beyond repair. There are so many things in a fallen world that are broken or damaged from generations of sin. Many people are emotionally fragile and scarred, and beyond the ability of being healthy in their responses. These broken friendships break our hearts and the hearts of our children. I wish I had obtained more training earlier in my life or had tools to access those who were incapable of having healthy relationships, sometimes toxic relationships. But, scripture tells us,
"As far as it is possible, be at peace with all men." Romans 12:18
Proverbs tells us not to relate to fools, (unhealthy, immature, or destructive people). So we can see that there was some provision for the possibility of being in relationships that we cannot mend or control because we do not control the behavior of others.
Yet, if we want to be free from the prison of emotional chaos, we have to forgive, we move in the direction of sowing love whenever possible. We grow in humility and giving grace because of our love and obedience to Jesus. Growing in love in relationships takes a lifetime, but Jesus teaches us how to pursue love one lesson at a time and extends His grace as we grow.
And sowing love will produce a wonderful crop of love--eventually! I was talking with Nathan the other day and he said, "You know, Joel is one of the people in the world I most admire. He is a great big brother to follow. I think he is one of my favorite people in all the world."
Victory! Amazement! They love each other and prefer each other! And it only took over twenty years! Little by little, we sow and water and in time, the seeds will bear fruit.
Are you a committed believer? Then choose to love! It is your spiritual service of worship to Jesus because of how He loved us.
We love because He first loved us. May God give us the grace today to love.
"But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men." Luke 6:35