Choosing Relationship Over ‘Results’

There are many forms of suffering for which we may very well be blameless – traffic accidents, loss of employment, serious medical conditions, stock market downturns, etc. Since we all tend to experience these kinds of misfortunes from time to time, it is relatively easy to sympathize with another as they live through the realities of life in a fallen world.

But what about friends or loved ones who have heaped hardship upon themselves through foolish choices? How do we walk alongside friends when we can see that their suffering is at least in some measure a consequence of sin, selfishness and pride?

Jesus and the Rich Young RulerAs I ask this question, I think of my own history. Prior to coming to Christ as a single mother in her late 30’s, I made all kinds of foolish choices, but especially in the area of relationships. At the time, I didn’t have a faithful Christ-following friend to walk through life with me. Even if I had, I don’t think I would have listened to them if they had tried to tell me I was making foolish choices. I said I believed in God, but I didn’t want to think about whether or not He had any relevance to the choices I made on a day-to-day basis.

But I sometimes wish I’d had someone close to me who had at least tried.

I wonder what kind of an impact it would have had on me to have had those conversations to reflect on as I broke up with a poorly-chosen boyfriend and sat back, considering which direction to go next.

Of course, God’s timing is perfect, and in my case He called me in just the right time and in just the right way. I don’t ever question that. But it does inform how I think about the importance of speaking truth in love when we see people we claim to love making foolish choices or straying from the truth they say they believe.

It’s not easy to speak truth in love. When we see people messing up their lives (and maybe even ours) as a result of their hard-heartedness or just plain old stupidity, it’s easier to pull back and quietly cluck our tongues than it is to engage. The fact that they may not listen to us even if we did speak only helps us let ourselves off the hook. Or just as often, maybe we tell ourselves that because we’re flawed sinners who have also made foolish choices, we have no business telling someone else they are headed down the wrong path. This, too, lets us off the hook. In either case, we stay silent when perhaps – even if it seems futile – we should have spoken up.

Radical in His love, Jesus is a Master of not just “tolerating” fools and evil hearts, but of actively loving them as they flap about in their confused states like a fresh-caught fish flailing wildly on the floor of a boat. If we Christians want to be more like Jesus, then, it follows that we should aim to at least attempt to follow His lead. Jesus didn’t fail to speak to those he saw making poor decisions, even when he knew they would not immediately receive it well. He demonstrates this supremely while interacting with the Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10:17-31: “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Verses 21-22)

Jesus must have known this rich young man would not respond well at that moment. Because we are not God, we cannot know if anything we say to a straying friend will make an immediate difference. And because we too are sinners, we do have to be humble about how we speak to another’s sin and foolishness. With that in mind, I think there are a few things we can do to at least attempt to be a faithful friend and Christ-follower to someone who may be going astray.

First, we should always pray for God’s direction in the situation. “Should we speak, and if so, when?” We can also ask that God would soften the other person’s heart to receive what might be hard truth.

Second, we should always ask permission before trying to share our thoughts with someone. Note that Jesus did not offer up His opinion to the rich young man first, but that the man came seeking Jesus’ advice. If someone we love isn’t asking for our advice, we can ask their permission to speak freely about our concerns. If they are not open to listening to you, you have at least shared with them that you have a concern, and you can continue to pray that God might bring them to a place of willingness to listen. They are now free to come back to you at any point if they want to talk more. Or not.

Lastly, if they do open the door for you to speak, I think it’s wise to start out not by pointing the finger at the other person’s dopey behavior, but rather to first acknowledge our own history of pride, stubbornness and foolishness, and how those character flaws have produced suffering in our own lives…before pointing out what we see in them. In taking this “lower seat” approach (Luke 14:7-11) to relationship, we free the other person either to 1) be more forthcoming about their own struggles and misadventures, or 2) ridicule us for our confession and continue right along in their blindness. Either way, though, we have done no wrong, and we can live at peace knowing we have spoken truth in love.

We can’t know if anything we say or do will be something that God uses down the road to bring repentance. But we can pray before we speak, asking God to use our feeble efforts to His glory in the lives of people we love. We do know that God is faithful, and we can trust Him with the outcome.

Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV)
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

Jesus reading from the scroll of Isaiah in Luke 4:18-19:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

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