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Sometimes writing an angry breakup song isn't best
The catalogs of pop musicians is a great place to analyze examples of how human beings have been betrayed. The revision that is rampant in this number by Kelly Clarkson is noteworthy, right? She was in a relationship, and now she’s out of it. We don’t find out what happened or why they broke up, but it’s helpful to see how she related.
She declares at first that they were friends—clearly that was all fake. They became interested in each other, and it appears at a fast rate. She really thought they made the perfect picture—that’s all she ever said. In contrast, he never said that he just wanted to be with her.
She apparently gets hurt enough to get out of the relationship and the well-known refrain notes that she can breathe for the first time, and she is so moving on. She is in fact thankful for the clarity that she sees the world in thanks to the heartbreaking breakup she’s encountered.
She finally declares that he blew his chance—it’s over, no matter what he says, it’s not going to work.
She’s resolute about it, and depending on the circumstance, her course of action might be good. But there’s more to the conversation about what the rage and unreconciliation does to her.
We need to move on beyond the rage, I think. Especially when it comes to relationships within the church.
Most of the time, when something goes wrong, you just leave. Yesterday, we had a great celebration of our new covenant makers at the Love Feast—who are, in essence saying, that through thick and thin they are going to work this out with us. It establishes trust in the relationship.
But so often when the shit hits the fan, the covenant just seems like a silly tradition and our commitment is meaningless.
The church is designed to be a safe place, but when it’s not and someone gets betrayed, maintaining the integrity of the covenant doesn’t seem like it makes any sense. Even an appeal to Jesus doesn’t even work—after all, can’t they just worship Jesus somewhere else?
Before we get to how to figure out a relationship on the rocks, let’s try to do some good preventive maintenance.
Paul tells the Colossians, in a letter essentially designed to rid the church on Colossae of heresy, basic instructions on Christian living.
The first thing he says is that we need to renew our mind. Get rid of all the stuff that the world teaches you how to do—sexuality immorality, greed, lust, evil desires, anger, rage, slander, filthy language—all of that stuff erodes relationships. Try something new he says. And for us that might be the often-referenced third way of Jesus.
When things aren’t going the way that you think they should, don’t just do the predictable.Try something fresh. Try to really feel the renewal of your mind through Jesus.
In the church, that means doing it together. So stay in your cell when conflict emerges, don’t avoid the public meeting because you don’t want someone to see you there that you’ve been avoiding. We’re trying to work something out together.
Part of that renewal is a clothing yourself with new stuff. The list sounds nice too—it’s what we want to be like: compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient.
Paul knows this won’t be easy so he encourages the Colossians to bear with one another—be known for your forgiveness. Paul even thinks worshiping together helps us—so we really are not very serious Christians if unresolved conflict causes us not to worship together.
This is kind of the ideal way of things going about. But we might still be hurt or offended or wronged. Certainly at that point, the answer isn’t just to avoid the conflict—it’s to do something more serious. We actually have to confront it.
A community of conflict avoiders is one that’s filled with people lying to each other. Christians specialize in this and have a reputation for such hypocrisy. Jesus agrees, here’s what he says:
The first step is a dialogue between you and the person with whom you are having a conflict.
We need to express our emotions and our needs and not accuse the person of doing something that they may not be doing. We are responsible for our emotions and however we frame someone else is on us. Being assertive is about making ourselves vulnerable, not accusing someone of something else. That vulnerability alone breaks down enough barriers to allow some real healing to start.
Often, the best times to have these conflicts are not right in the heat of them. We might need to take a time-out if we are getting really angry, or upset, or tears are flowing down our face, or whatever else. Scheduling a time to have a dialogue is really helpful.
And then have your meeting. Listen to each other. Make eye contact. Put away your phone. Empathize, actively listen, validate. Understand, don’t judge.
Our instinct might be to skip the first step of mutuality. And start talking about it, venting like Kelly Clarkson does. Often times this doesn’t calm us down like we wish it would, it just ramps us up! It makes us angrier. It repeatedly dehumanizes the other person and all of a sudden they are all wrong and I am all right.
Murray Bowen calls this triangulation. Really, it’s a way we avoid the conflict. Person A and Person B need to have the conflict be Person A and Person C start relating instead. A new mother might preoccupy herself with her child rather than having a conflict with her husband. The husband is on the outside of the relationship then.
But sometimes even the scheduled conflict doesn’t work out. Every time you approach, no matter how long your job or shower was, you start getting white knuckled or your eyes start welling up and you start the accusations again.
Sometimes your plan involves someone else, it’s OK to ask for help. Sometimes, the conflict is getting intense even with a third person. Jesus tells us to involve the church at this point. The church, just like every individual in this scenario, has to be rooted in Christ and saturated with prayer before getting into this dialogue. A lot of times we end of condemning the prophets among us, the people who will guide us to a new truth that God is trying to reveal—developing eyes to see those people takes time and requires discipline.
The result if this doesn’t work is what we call “excommunication,” but Jesus leaves it a little open, I think. If the individual refuses to listen to the church, he says, treat him like you would a pagan or a tax collector. Jesus discipled those people and brought them along with him. They were those wandering sheep that he went after and transformed again.
Rooted in the Matthew 18 philosophy is a death to ourselves. Sometimes things aren’t going to go the way we think they should. Your mom won’t call you back. You write the mean song about your ex-boyfriend and you lose ten friends because of it. You brother betrays you and there’s nothing you can do about it. What do we do then? The only think we can do: suffer with Jesus.
Jesus gives the instructions regarding reconciliation in Matthew 18. And just a few chapters later, he doesn’t the chance to reconcile with his betray, whom he terms friend at the end of their relationship.
Sometimes we’ll find ourselves in situations where reconciliation is impossible, and forgiveness will have to sufficeForgiveness clears your heart of resentment and rage and malice. But it doesn’t clear it of pain. And even in those moments, may you remember, Jesus was betrayed too. He suffers with you. And he’s bought you. You are now His. You aren’t your own. So even your sense of entitlement might diminish then too. For Christians, suffering is part of the third way of Jesus. It’ll feel like we are like the Son of Man sometimes. We’ll have to lay down our lives sometimes, but let it be known it is your choice through God to do it. But we lay it down only to take it up again. No one takes it from us, but we do it on our own accord.