HEATHER MOLENDYK | CONTRIBUTOR
Claire and Jen were those young moms that spent more time together than sisters. From school choice to playdates to daily phone calls, the friends were inseparable. At least they were until Jen refused to speak to Claire at church one Sunday. Claire attempted to restore the relationship every way she knew how. Fifteen years later, the kids are grown, and Claire still doesn’t know what she did to hurt the woman who used to be her best friend.
At the local middle school, Jordyn isn’t faring much better. Her lunch time is spent trying to find a place to eat in peace. What started as a fallout between two friends, has now morphed into a drama that has the entire school taking sides. Jordyn bites into her apple while longingly watching the table where she used to be part of the group. Would things have been different if the injured classmate had been as open with Jordyn as she had with the other girls?
Relationships are messy. As sinful creatures, we often make mistakes and hurt one another whether intentionally or accidentally. Fortunately, we serve a God that does not abandon us to the messes our sinful natures create. He walks with us, teaches us, and gives us the power to do hard things.
Jesus teaches His followers how to manage relationships in the book of Matthew. Though the teachings of Christ might make us squirm, Scripture is incredibly clear as to how we are to navigate the struggles that come our way.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matt. 18:15a).
If you have been hurt by someone, Jesus lays the responsibility on you to begin the journey of reconciliation. There is no caveat if you are timid or shy. There is no free pass if any form of confrontation makes you break out in hives. Jesus does not endorse giving the silent treatment to someone until they notice that something is wrong and then ask you about it.
No, ma’am. God’s Word tells us to go to the one who has hurt us and speak gently to them (Prov. 15:1; Jam. 1:19-20). Present your case by clearly stating how you have been hurt by words or deeds.
Children should be encouraged to practice this skill on their own as well. Giving children the opportunity and space to sort the problem out themselves puts them well on their way to becoming strong, confident adults who can respectfully advocate for themselves.
“If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15b).
If the conversation goes well and everything works out, well done. Offer a prayer of thanks that a healthy relationship has been restored. However, if the first attempt fails, Jesus provides direction for the next step.
“But if he does not listen take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (Matt. 18:16).
Sometimes, even well-meaning people miss or struggle to understand each other. Sometimes having an objective party listen to a conversation is beneficial because they can help clarify points or keep a conversation focused on the main point.
If the first attempt to resolve a conflict fails, now is the time to get someone else involved. Plan a time to sit together with a wise, objective third party to resolve the issue at hand. If you are a parent walking your child through conflict resolution, this would be the step in which having a parent of each child sit together to guide conversation.
It is important to be a focused listener. James 1:19 teaches us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” A focused listener does not speak, make excuses for bad behavior(s), or blame someone else. A focused listener listens and takes appropriate time to reflect. Reflection may take a few minutes or a few days. (Be mindful of the ages of the parties involved as well as the seriousness of the conflict. Make a judgement call based on the circumstance.)
If everything works out and relationship is restored, praise God! If this attempt fails, Jesus directs His people to the next step.
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church” (Matt. 18:17a).
When mediation fails to resolve the conflict, it is time to take it to a higher authority. Now is the time to bring in a pastor or (in the case of children at school) a school administrator. If even this attempt fails, Jesus has some strong words.
“And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17b).
Sadly, many Christians jump to this stage immediately following the failure of the first step. Too often, we cut people out of our lives without giving them due process. There is a time when we must step away or distance ourselves in a relationship. Jesus acknowledges that. However, I fear we often jump to that stage way too soon.
Our goal as the Family of God and the Body of Christ is to maintain peace and unity.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (Col. 3:12-14).
Tucked away in that passage is the final step that we must never forget to do: forgive. Forgiveness is not an option. It is a command.
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14-15).
I have yet to find any Scripture reference in which God’s people have the option not to forgive each other. In fact, Jesus offers a dire warning that if you do not forgive others, “your Father will not forgive your sins.” May we be a people who set aside our pride and are guided by the holy Word of God.
As we enter a new school year filled with relationships, let us follow the teachings of Jesus and model the beauty of Godly relationships. Let us keep short accounts with one another, forgive one another, and lay claim to the gift we sinners need most of all: forgiveness.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash