Protecting Relationships

Protecting Relationships

Long-lasting hurts stemming from thoughtless dialogue, unreturned or broken possessions, promises and unpaid debts damages and often destroys precious relationships with family and friends. Comments, emails and phone visits based on last week’s Restoring Confidence has inspired this week’s blog.  Becky wrote:

I like the blog! Oh, my, the sickly and broken relationships that I have experienced! Anymore, I take in stride, with some pity, those who go ruining friendships/relationships. Those souls are already troubled, so my getting all unsettled is only going to keep me irritated, and won't phase the offender any more than what will come back around to them at a later time.

The emailer reflects the truism that feelers need to keep tucked in their top pocket:” What a person says or does reveals more about them than you,” echoes the reminder Don’t take anything personally mentioned in my Self Esteem and How to Get Along with Everyone books. We cannot avoid all inappropriate dialogue and actions, but we can be very selective about accepting discouraging comments. Becky continues:

“As God gives Grace and Love, so I too, try kindness, at least a cordial attempt, when in the presence of those who have been hurtful. Sometimes, a gathering will test our spirit of such matters. Yes, testing in a dare to not-spit-those-angry-words, but to walk on by and take a cleansing breath. I'm working on a couple of loved-ones to practice the technique, with nothing to lose and everything to gain in the peace of heart and mind and less crinkled creases on the face. Becky

Mending relationships requires, patience, insight and healing from the residue of sore spots. Mastering being impeccable with spontaneous words, keeping them honest, appropriate, and kind does get easier with intentional discipline as the next responder encourages:

Love this blog. Everyone has been there. The goal is to not stay there! I hear the disappointment so often from others, and understand it all too well. This has given me the opportunity to share what much prayer and time has revealed to me. What others have done with what I have entrusted to them (finances, time, confidence, love, friendship) is on them if my contribution has been given with Christ-like actions. It gives me a chance to honestly "self-reflect" on my actions helping to make sure my future actions align with God's word. I then can clearly pray for those who disappointed me as God would have me to do. It has taken me time to get to this point but God's healing grace has made it possible and has brought me much comfort. Being disappointed can lead to depression and hopelessness but God offers us so much more. Always be ready to share what God has done for you and be a blessing to those who need healing. Joni

Jim and I learned early on that ministers are often approached for financial and other loans. When we were trying to help people spiritually, it seemed normal to assist with physical needs like lending books, tools, cars, and money. We trusted others like we trusted ourselves but unfortunately, many borrowers soon forgot to repay or return. We never told anyone who, not even their parents, nor did we have the heart or courage to ask them when they were going to settle-up. The sad part is counseling many pastors and wives who for years have carried bad thoughts about parishioners who took advantage of their effort to encourage. Their hearts need mending as well.

As you probably know from experience, it’s not just a clergy problem but expands to irresponsible friends and family members taking for granted those who’ve managed well financially or may persuade family to share their meager resources to help pay off a credit card, repair a car or other debts. This often falls into the category of elder abuse, another topic. Abuses of generosity among family and friends are widespread. I’ve counselled many families trying to sort out those hurts rendered by loved ones who borrow in an emergency but fail to repay.

Rather than let others’ abuse gnaw at us, Jim and I agreed that anytime we helped anyone with money or possessions, we would mentally consider it a gift in case they never repaid the debt or returned items. That helped us to avoid bitterness and be wiser about loaning in suggesting ways to afford what they needed, like budgeting. The story that Jim liked was “If you give a person a fish, he has a meal for the day, but if you teach that person to fish, he will be able to take care of his needs from then on.”

Like others, we’ve opened our home for a few days to many months. A man, new in town, who visited our church requested a place to sleep for a couple days while he found an apartment and a job. But he didn’t leave for six months, even bringing his adult son.  Our kids know many stories.

But we were willing to help others based on the kind of help we had received previously and also in the interest of ministry. One case takes the cake, though. When a single gal who was making spiritual progress and seemed to be adjusting to many bad decisions resulting in financial needs had a job opportunity but no way to get there, asked if she could borrow my car.  I never saw her or my car again.  I have no clue why we didn’t report it to the police.  I don’t remember her name, only what she looked like. We never told anyone about her theft. We chalked it up for a good lesson in being better stewards with God’s provisions.

Financial help was rendered to me when I was a single student at Moody, living on a shoestring. Several times I’d discover that someone had deposited a large-to-me sum into my Moody account. I have never forgotten those anonymous gifts.

Then, after we were married and Jim was completing college and seminary with a family of four, we were benefactors of others’ generosity. We’d find money in our P.O. box, and we never discovered who filled our empty freezer with meat.  When Jim’s dad bought a new car, he offered his old car at a low price. But after a few months he made the car a gift when he became aware of our financial struggles. Both a dentist and a medical doctor canceled our debts.  So, we have benefitted over and over as we prepared for ministry. When you’ve been given a lot, you naturally want to give.

We learned that giving hand-outs without adequate background information is not always the wisest kind of assistance.  A good practice is to preface the request with “I’ll think it over and get back to you.” We found that waiting a day or so often reveals an addiction of some sort and financing an unhealthy habit is counter-productive. When you do give a loan, asking the receiver to sign an IOU agreement indicating how and when they’ll repay contributes to their accountability.  A signed agreement like that when you offer housing to anyone with a date to leave actually holds up in court in most states.

We’ve spoken to parents who’ve bailed their kids out of credit card debts over and over. We advised them to keep track of their financial advances and let their offspring know that what they do not repay will be deducted from their inheritance.

You’ve heard the troubling lament, “I just can’t forgive my child, relative or friend for taking advantage of me”.  Just because you remember how someone cheated you, or said awful things, doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven. Years ago, a well-known Mennonite preacher explained: “You know that you have forgiven if you do not identify the person responsible for your loss.” But, since God has endowed us with memory, we remember the bad along with the good. Choose to avoid dwelling on losses.

Doing everything possible on your part to protect relationships no matter what the cause of the rift is a worthy life-long project. Take care of the problem as soon as you become bothered, because nothing is more comforting than harmony and peace of mind.  Do not hesitate to invest in brief personal counseling.                        I look forward to hearing your stories.

He who gives to the poor will lack nothing. Prov. 28:27. (NIV) The Lord Jesus himself said: it is more blessed to give than receive. Acts 20:35. (NIV) Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 1 Tim 6.18.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Rom. 12:18 (NIV)

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.  James 3:17-18 (NIV)

Father, we thank you for the wisdom and peace that you                                                                     give as we protect and nurture relationships.