Week 3 – Relationships
Relationships that work are one of the best blessings and most important parts of our lives. Whether it is with your spouse, in your family, with somebody you’re dating, or with your friends, RELATIONSHIPS are the most important part of life. But not all relationships are healthy or good for us.
We are in week 3 of a series called Fences. So far, we have talked about two fences that God has put in place. But today, our focus shifts to a fence that we may be forced to put in place ourselves. It may sound harsh at first, but there may be a need to erect a fence to protect yourself from unhealthy, unsafe, toxic, manipulative, or dysfunctional relationships. There may be a time when you are forced to place a fence around your heart.
Back to Solomon and the book of Proverbs 4:23. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23 (NIV) When you see the words “above all else” in the Bible, it is wise to pay attention. Your heart represents your inner person. This is about guarding everything that is important to you.
Your core values reside in your heart. Your thoughts and your emotions come from the heart. In fact…Your heart determines the COURSE of our life. That is why it is important for you and me, to make sure our hearts are protected. Sometimes a fence may be required to protect our heart. Before we get to that…
Two Key Components to Healthy Relationships:
Both elements must be present and balanced for relationships to go well.
We all need lots of grace, don’t we? For a long time, I never understood grace.
I am not saying I fully understand it now, but I am learning. “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” – 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)
Grace is basically the reality that God is for you. He is for you. He is on your side. He wants you to make it. Grace means that there is nothing I can do to make God love me more. He doesn’t love me more if I perform well. On the other hand, grace means there’s nothing I have done to make Him love me less. It helps to know that. That’s the nature of grace.
Grace comes to us in two directions: First it comes VERTICALLY. The vertical form is when grace comes straight from God. It comes from His Word. It comes from the Bible. It comes from the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit. That’s the vertical part of grace.
Then it comes HORIZONTALLY. This is where we extend grace to each other. This is what Peter is talking about when he says we are to be the stewards God’s grace. We are the delivery system God chooses to use to deliver His Grace to others. I think it helps to understand the difference between justice, mercy, and grace.
JUSTICE is when I get what I deserve.
MERCY is when I don’t get what I deserve,
GRACE is when I get what I don’t deserve.
Have you ever been in a situation where you got what you didn’t deserve, in a good way? That grace! Great relationships are typically full for grace. They are GRACE-Full. Great relationships have lots of grace. When grace is gone and we’re dealing with judgment and condemnation, there is a tendency to shut down and pull away.
In an environment of grace, it is safe to open-up without the fear of condemnation. You can feel safe in a relationship that is characterized by grace. The second component of great relationships…
“Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” – Ephesians 4:15 (NIV) Truth is about what’s real. Truth is found in the Word of God. None of us have a corner on the market when it comes to truth. There’s always more truth to hear, more truth to learn, more truth to know, and more truth to apply. But truth is never a club to be used to beat someone else over the head. Truth is spoken in love, from a heart of redemption, with a desire for health and growth.
Grace provides the SAFETY we need in relationships.
Truth provides the STRUCTURE we need in relationships.
We all need healthy doses of both grace and truth to have a healthy relationship. Grace and truth must be integrated together if a relationship is to be healthy. Grace says, I’m for you no matter what. Truth says, I need to give you some honest feedback. We need someone with the courage to speak truth into our lives. And we need courage and humility to hear it. Grace and truth go better TOGETHER.
So, what does that have to do with fences and relationships? Let’s talk about it…Relationships quickly get out of BALANCE when you have someone in your life who is out of CONTROL. The Bible talks a lot about out of control. “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” – Proverbs 25:28 (NIV)
Do you know anyone who is out of control when it comes to personal relationships? Do you have any out-of-control family members? I am talking about someone whose words, actions, or attitude is out of line, or out of control. They’re impulsive. They act out. They’re destructive. They trample grace on the ground. They take advantage of everything and everyone. They are all about themselves.
And you can’t discuss it because they won’t listen to the truth.
Perhaps the best example of an out-of-control relationship is a relationship with an addict. An addict is imprisoned by something. It could be anything – alcohol, drugs, pornography, some other substance, or some behavior. Everything in life centers around them and their addiction. Without a fence, they will trample the life right out of you.
When you love that person, the temptation will be to start taking responsibility for their problems, their pain, their emotions, their behavior, and their addiction. The tendency is to try to fix, enable, or rescue them which is called co-dependency. There is no balance of grace and truth in your relationship. Instead, the relationship is characterized by manipulation, lies, and control.
Those who live in these conditions are in bondage. It is a miserable way to live. It is certainly not what God intends. Nobody, other than the Lord, should have control over you. So, it is up to you and me to acknowledge that we have choices.
You have freedom to make choices in every relationship. You have freedom to have a voice in every relationship. But there are people who don’t want you to have that freedom. They make you feel like you have to go along to get along. To keep from rocking the boat, they make you feel like you have to do everything their way. And if you have a different opinion, or make another decision, things will blow up. That’s what has happened in the past and that is why you feel like have to walk on eggshells when you are around that person today.
It’s not easy to be around a controlling person. They may have a hard time controlling themselves, but they have no trouble trying to control you and others. There are Two Primary Tools of Controlling People: Some people attempt to control others by a) ANGER. If you don’t do it their way, they will be mad and they’ll make sure you know it.
As long as you do it their way, everything is fine. But the moment you don’t, they blow up and shrapnel goes everywhere. Their standard mode of operation is to manipulate and control people and circumstances. If you don’t do things their way, they’ll get angry, rant, rave, and raise their voice. They’ll escalate things, blow up, get short with you, use hurtful and hateful words, do hurtful and hateful things, they might even get violent. They attempt to control by anger.
Others attempt to control by b) GUILT. Guilt doesn’t say, if you don’t do it my way, I’ll be angry with you. Guilt says, if you don’t do it my way, I’ll be hurt. I’m not mad, I’m just hurt. Both anger and guilt can be a form of control. Neither one is healthy. And I would imagine that every person hearing this message has been on the receiving end of one or the other or both of these unhealthy tactics. And if you are willing to take an honest look in the mirror, I am sure many would have to admit that you utilized these two tactics yourself.
These behaviors are not the way God intends for healthy relationships to operate.
And that is why we need fences. Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend have written some incredible books on this subject. They didn’t call them fences, they referred to them as boundaries. I am sure many of you have read some in the Boundary series. If you haven’t, I highly recommend them. There is Boundaries in Marriage, Dating, Boundaries for Leaders, Boundaries with Kids, Boundaries with Teens.
Boundaries are really what fences are all about. And fences help us restore balance in relationships. They show us how to protect our heart. In our daily lives, fences are often placed on a property line. You might put a fence around your home, or around your property, to delineate an appropriate boundary.
Fences help us determine RESPONSIBILITY.
When something goes wrong inside my fence, it is up to me to fix it. If my plumbing goes bad in my house, that is my problem. If my neighbor’s plumbing starts leaking, I could go over and help but ultimately, his plumbing is his responsibility.
Remember Proverbs where we are told to guard our heart? Your heart is your property line, and you are responsible for everything that goes on inside that boundary. With that in mind, I want to suggest a couple of fences that are wise to consider when it comes to relationships and the important matter of guarding or protecting our heart.
Fence #1 – Learn to love others without RESCUING them.
Loving and rescuing are two very different things. Make no mistake about it, rescuing, enabling, and co-dependent behavior are not the same thing as love. Love says, “I’m on your team. I’m on your side. I want you to win. But I’m not responsible to fix your problems.”
The Apostle Paul had this to say in Galatians 6…“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2 (NIV) But then, just three verses later, he says…“…for each one should carry their own load.” – Galatians 6:5 (NIV) So, what are we to do with that?
We are to carry each other’s burdens, but each of us are to carry our own load. In the original language, the term “burden”, as it is used here, refers to a crushing load that you can’t carry on your own. It could be a health crisis, a financial crisis, an emotional breakdown, a divorce, a lost job, etc.
We’re to help carry each other’s burdens, these crushing loads, that we cannot carry ourselves. But the term “load” is more like a backpack, which is something we are to carry on our own. This includes our thoughts, feelings, emotion, our values, and things that we cherish. These are some of the responsibilities we are to carry personally. Life goes better when we help carry each other’s burdens/boulders, but we don’t try taking care of their load/backpack.
God never intended for you to fix someone else’s emotions, or their financial problems, or their bad attitude. That is up to them. Have you ever tried to take a miserable person happy? It doesn’t work. We need to learn to love each other without rescuing.
Here’s a simple question that will help you determine if you are loving them or rescuing them. Simply ask – Should they be doing this themselves? It is very simple. Is this something they should be doing themselves?
I am talking about things like getting a job, getting clean, getting sober, getting rid of a bad attitude, solving their own financial problems, getting a handle on their anger, or their attitude, etc.
These are things they should be doing themselves. The only exception to this is when you’re watching TV and your wife says, honey, can you get me a glass of water? Guys, please don’t say, “no, dear, I won’t do that! That would be rescuing. I heard this preacher talking about this and he said you should get your own water.”
Bad idea, guys. Please don’t go there.
Fence #1 – Learn to love others without RESCUING them.
Fence #2 – Learn to confront others in LOVE.
Learn to tell the truth in love. Jesus spoke to us in Matthew 18:15. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” – Matthew 18:15 (NIV) Go have the tough talk.
Guys, we need each other to tell each other the truth. We all have blind spots. One of the functions of relationships is to say, you missed a spot. You may not be aware of the tone of your voice. You may not be aware of your own behavior. You may not be aware of how you’re affecting the people around you. So, this is how we are supposed to love each other.
What you’re trying to say to this person is, I’m not trying to beat you up, and I’m not trying to judge you. I want a better relationship. This is about us. I want a better us. Here are some practical skills that can help you deal with the out-of-control relationships in our lives.
1. Start from a position of LOVE.
Start from the position that says, I want this person to win. Jesus said it like this: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” – John 13:34 (NIV) You can love someone without liking them. Did you know that? You don’t have to like somebody if they’re unlikable. But you do have to love them. Love is a choice. Think about it. God loved us when we were totally unlovable.
And we’re supposed to love other people even when they’re totally unlovable. You start from a position of love.
2. Say no when it’s BEST to say no.
No is a good word. There is nothing wrong with a heartfelt NO sometimes. No can be a fence that you are putting in place not only for your health, but for the health of the relationship. When you put up a fence by saying no, you are essentially saying, “That just doesn’t work for me.” That’s such a great statement.
It’s nice. It isn’t t mean. It doesn’t close off the conversation. Just say, “No. I’m sorry. I can’t do that. That doesn’t work for me.” That tone of voice you’re using doesn’t work for me. Those hurtful words just don’t work for me. Your inappropriate behavior doesn’t work for me.
3. Enlist CONSEQUENCES if necessary.
Sometimes you’ve got to go beyond saying no to doing no. This is where you move beyond words to actions. This is where consequences come into play. “A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty; rescue them, and you will have to do it again.” – Proverbs 19:19 (NIV) There is a price tag on inappropriate behavior.
Anybody ever had a rage-aholic in your life? They have learned that all they have to do is rant and rave and raise their voice, and they can get whatever they want. They just throw an adult version, as if there is such a thing, of a two-year-old temper tantrum. They love to keep everyone walking on eggshells. There is nothing healthy, sane, or reasonable about it. Don’t do go there. Don’t do it. The Bible calls them foolish. And there is a better way to live.
But to get there, there will likely need to be some consequences. For instance, If you continue this behavior, I’ll leave the room. If you continue treating me this way, I will leave the house. If you continue talking to me like this, I will end the call. When I choose to enlist consequemces, I have erected a fence. Enforcing consequences may be difficult at first. It will feel mean. But it will get easier, and it is worth it.
Let’s face it, if what you’re doing hasn’t worked by now, it probably won’t. So, why don’t you give this a try? It may get worse before it gets better, but these principles align with scripture, and it is worth a shot. I want to leave you with some good news.
There is always HOPE for a great relationship.
This is really what fences are all about. Fences aren’t about destroying things. Fences are about protecting things. They’re about making relationships better. “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.” – 2 Corinthians 13:11a (NIV) God wants to help you develop, nurture, and restore healthy relationships.
I suspect many of you have someone in mind right now. There is a strained relationship with a son, a daughter, a parent, a sibling, a coworker, a friend, etc. If you are facing relational turmoil right now, I think we can agree that is not God’s desire. He has something better in mind. Are you open to what He might say to you?
God certainly wants you to love them, and He’ll give you the grace to do that. You will probably need to set some limits, and He will show you how. And you may have to enforce some consequences, and I believe God will give you the wisdom and courage to know how to do that effectively as well. If your present approach would work, things would have changed a long time ago.
You may choose to punt the problem down the field a few yards from time to time. That may help us keep the peace for the moment. But inevitably, the issue cycles back around, and we pick up right where we left off. It is time to change the narrative. And with God’s help, we can do it. He wants to help us establish and build relationships that are fully balanced with grace, truth, and love.