Thank you so much for your love for one another on this blog. I am so very grateful that you are such warriors on each other’s behalf. I know so many of you are very busy and the time you take to thoughtfully respond to one another deeply touches my heart. I so wish I could meet all of you.
I am planning to do a women’s conference in 2018 called CONQUER 2018 – Be Brave, Grow Strong. I’m not clear on all the details yet, but my hope is to hold it in October. I would love for you all to consider being a part so that we can meet and you can meet one another.
This week's Question: I want to love unconditionally outside of a relationship. Long story short, I have chosen to drastically limit my time around my in-laws because of their (mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law) recurrent expressions of control, condemnation, and lack of respect for me (and my “no “) and the lack of repentance and ownership they express when they have been confronted on these behaviors.
I have heard you say that unconditional love does not mean unconditional relationship. I set up a goal to work towards reconciliation this year – foolishly thinking I was ready, but realizing God is still working on me to bring me to a healthier place. I don't know where my in-laws stand on desiring reconciliation.
This gets complicated when my husband is reluctantly limiting the time we spend with his family, but he still calls or spends time with them when he's at work. If he talks to them on the phone when we're together, he will leave the room so that I cannot hear their conversation. I feel guilty for not “getting along” with them when that is so important to him and I feel some betrayal when he spends time with them and that he doesn't allow me to hear his conversations with them.
What happens when the old habits continue on the offender’s part and my hurt continues as we work on a relationship? What if I am sometimes the offender/abuser? I cannot truly show love if I am “easily provoked” or if I am “taking into account a wrong suffered” according to 1 Corinthians 13. How do I live in a healthy way, showing love, if I am exposing myself to additional potential hurts?
Am I called to bear these new hurts in order to achieve reconciliation? I don't understand how we give people the ability to show us change if we are exercising boundaries that were set in place that remove us from those unhealthy situations. I am pretty sure this is a destructive relationship because the offenses show a pattern of behavior, although there are many times my husband causes me to question my sanity when he says I take things too personally and that I shouldn't feel the way that I do. Help!
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NASB).
Answer: I think you bring up an important question and challenge that every one of us face when we are interacting with someone who has hurt us, has past patterns of abuse that we fear still creep into the present, or is unchanged.
First, I don’t think God requires us to have a close and personal relationship with everyone. It’s not even possible. Quality relationships take time and we are limited finite human beings both in our time and our energy resources. Even if we wanted to, we could not be close to our children, our grandchildren, our spouse, our in-laws, our neighbors, our church community, people we work with, etc.
Jesus had close personal friendships with Peter, John, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He loved everyone, but we don’t hear him being in close fellowship with everyone. Loving someone doesn’t necessarily mean that you are always “close.” If that’s what loving people meant, then it would be confusing when Jesus taught us to love our enemies.
However, at the end, you quoted 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter on the actions and attitudes that love displays. I think those are good attributes for all Christians to aspire to.
God calls us to love one another and that as Christians we are to be known for our love for one another. Click To Tweet
I don’t believe that means that we have to be close friends with everyone. But as much as it depends on us, we treat others with patience and kindness, even when we have to speak hard words. We don’t brag as if we are better than someone else or behave in ways that are unbecoming to the person God calls us to be. I believe as mature believers, we should not be easily provoked, even when others try to push our buttons, and we don’t continually dwell on sins that someone else has done. We may not trust him or her because of serious and unrepentant sins but we can still be kind.
When, at the end, 1 Corinthians 13 says that we should “believe all things and hope all things,” I don’t think it means that we put our trust and hope in people. Jesus didn’t. Nor does “endure all things” mean we allow people to hurt us without protest. That would be inconsistent, with other Biblical teachings such as Jesus taught in Matthew 18. But I do believe that we hope in God and always trust that even in a tough interaction with someone, God has something to teach us in that moment.
We hope that God will mature us through our experience with a difficult person or situation. We bear all things with grace because we cling to the truth that nothing is wasted, even when things are bad or hard. God promises “all things work together for our good, to conform us to the image of Christ”(Romans 8:23,24).
When attempting reconciliation with someone who has engaged in destructive patterns, of course, you are going to have some bumps and uncertainties as to whether or not things have really changed. But to even consider that possibility, you will need to have some interaction with him or her, even if that interaction is superficial or at a distance.
When you do have those small doses of interaction, however, is it respectful? Is it kind? Is it safe? If there is something that smacks of old history, does the person catch herself? For example, in last week’s blog conversation, someone gave an example of her mother grabbing the check for lunch without asking if that was okay with her and her husband. When she and her husband gave her mother feedback that they would like to be asked, her mother apologized and asked if it was okay with them that she takes care of the check. That was new history. Even in a small, casual lunch, this couple learned that their mother would hear them. New history is that their mother would ask about how they felt about something instead of just assuming. Will she always do it perfectly? Probably not. But they did learn that they could give her feedback and that she was willing to self-correct. Just that change is a huge help in repairing a broken relationship.
From your question you say you have become more aware that you are easily provoked and that your in-laws can still activate your buttons. Your husband’s continued contact with his family also triggers you. Perhaps it’s time for you to focus on your own triggers and what’s unhealed and insecure about you instead of focusing on them.
One thing that’s been helpful to me is whenever someone causes me pain, instead of staying focused on what he or she is doing wrong, I ask myself and God a couple of self-reflection questions. Here’s one: What area in my own life is unhealed or immature that is being poked at right now that I need to take a look at?
Here are some more questions I might ask myself when I feel upset when someone has been disrespectful or thoughtless. “In what ways am I disrespectful or thoughtless towards myself?” Wow, that opens up a whole new way of looking at things. Perhaps I was triggered because their thoughtlessness is pointing me to a bigger problem in my own stewardship of me. Or here’s another question, “In what ways am I disrespectful or thoughtless towards others?” You know the old phrase, “it takes one to know one.” Perhaps I’m so reactive to thoughtlessness in others because I’m guilty of the same at times.
By taking my focus off what the other person did TO me, and more on my own reaction to it, it often helps me see that I have my own stuff to work on. First, it helps me see that I am not often taking very good care of myself and that’s when I feel the most hurt when others don’t treat me the way I’d like them to. Second, it helps me see just how guilty we all are to not treating people with kindness and love at times. It’s that exercise Jesus told us to do by taking the log out of our own eye before trying to remove the speck out of someone else’s eye.
I find that once you care for your self and value yourself as God’s daughter, the small stuff other people do doesn’t bug you so much anymore. You aren’t as easily provoked because you are secure and do KNOW who you are (Psalm 139:14). You aren’t as easily threatened or intimidated or even hurt by someone’s different opinion or style of relating. You don't take it personally. It’s about that person, not about you.
When you are secure in God’s love and in his identity as well as in your own self-care and stewardship, you can meet a person (who you don't’ like or feel is difficult) in a social situation – like Christmas, or a dinner, and be kind and patient and gracious with your boundaries in place for your own self-care and well-being.
If someone’s behavior at that event crosses the line, you can graciously excuse your self from the interaction and take a break or leave. The difference is that you don’t expect or demand relationship – and therefore you don’t look for mutuality and reciprocity from him or her.
We love the other person unconditionally. Therefore she doesn’t have to like us or treat us a certain way in order for us to treat her kindly or patiently or with care. He doesn’t have to agree with our view of what happened for us to care about him, his health, his well-being, his point of view, without having to get sucked into an argument. I can let people be different than I am, I can let them disagree with me, or even think poorly of me without falling into anger or despair because I am secure in who God thinks I am and I am loving well. Does that make sense? That doesn’t mean I allow people to hurt me or chronically treat me poorly. It just means that their treatment of me is a reflection of them, not me. In the same way, my treatment of them is a reflection of me.
Sometimes those who have been victims of other people’s mistreatment believe that their boundaries can only be effective when they act cold, angry, or hard-hearted, which is the opposite of love. But that’s not true. Did you know that you could have very good boundaries and still be kind and loving at the same time? Perhaps that is what God is teaching you to do so that you are a light and an imitator of God who lives a life of love (Ephesians 5:1).
Friend, how have you been able to show love to unlovely people or those who you have struggled to be in good relationship with?