Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Oh, Those Refining Relationships

"Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another."
Proverbs 27:17

I had the joy of spending three weeks with my granddaughter in Washington. She is delightful, smart, and very tenderhearted. She told me about a close friend whose parent's are getting divorced. I listened and asked questions, giving her a chance to verbalize the emotions she is experiencing for her friend. She, of course, was sad for reasons she explained quite well for a nine year old. I told her I was sad for the same reasons, but that I was mostly sad because I believe relationships are a tool God uses to help people become the best people they can be. I know some divorces are inevitable, but often when people give up on relationships they don't always become better people.  

I wasn't sure she understood, but later in the week she shared about a classmate who is struggling in all of her relationships. She tends to bully, starts fights, and lies to teachers to get others into trouble. She's been advised by her parents and teacher on how to handle the situation so I simply reminded her not everyone will like her and that doesn't mean she is a bad person. I encouraged her to follow the advice she had been given and asked her what she would like to do in this hard situation. Very thoughtfully she said, "I think I want to become the best Katie I can be." I was so proud she understood the connection between the difficult relationship with which she was faced and the refining process it could bring about if she practiced choosing to be true to the person she wants to be. It won't be easy, especially in the face of bullying, false accusations, and hurtful behavior and they may never become friends, but she can still grow to be the best Katie possible by how she chooses to respond.   

Our discussion left me doing a lot of reflection on God's refining process. Sometimes it comes through trials and tribulations like illnesses, financial stresses, and natural disasters, However, most often the refining takes place in relationships. The people God uses in our lives may be authority figures, acquaintances, close friends, or family members. They may be enemies--the overt ones, the subtle ones, and the passive ones. Any person God has places in our lives, no matter how brief or how long, can be used by God to sharpen us.

Some refining relationships that I have had were easy and fun relationships. They were mutually enjoyable and had minimal conflict. In most of those the people were encouraging people who spoke God's truth into my life, helping me tear down strongholds that were a result of lies I had grown to believe. They helped me identify those lies and then repeatedly spoke His truth until I could own it as my own. These relationships allowed me to experience love that was unconditional, patient, and kind which is the love God pours out on us. That experience of love broke down strongholds that kept believing I was unloved and unloveable, which has changed drastically how I live.     

Some refining relationships I have had were very hard. Some were riddled with conflict that stirred up fears I didn't want to face. These fears included the fear of anger, both mine and that of others. The fear of my anger came out of my fear of the sinful behaviors and ugly thoughts that often arise out of unresolved anger. The fear of other's anger flowed out of a desire to avoid their harsh words or actions that deeply wound. It also included the fear of being rejected, keeping me from confronting when God called me to confront and causing me not to be true to myself. It included the fear of being totally unloved and alone, which led to ugly codependent and clingy behaviors. It included the fear of having others find out how perfectly imperfect I am. These fears sometimes drove defensive behaviors, making me quick tempered. Sometimes they came out as self-protective behaviors which caused me to withdraw, closing my heart off from those who wanted to know it. Sometimes the fears silenced me, causing me to become invisible. Essentially the fears hindered my ability to love well.

Some of the hard relationships exposed my sin and I hated that. I wanted others to think well of me, and most of all I wanted to think well of myself. But some of the difficult relationships exposed unresolved anger, impatience, frustration, unbelief, and insecurities. Some of the the relationships exposed selfishness that made me care more about a slight than another person's heart. Some of the relationships exposed pride and a demanding attitude that flowed from the pride that made it hard for others to hear the needs, desires, and wants I poorly and angrily expressed.

Some of the hard relationships were difficult because others didn't know how to love any better than I did. That often drove me to do everything I could earn love that they were incapable of giving, which was exhausting and left me feeling frustrated and alone. God used those relationships to teach me to be be satisfied in Christ's perfect love and to learn to focus on demonstrating love instead of trying to get it from people who didn't have it to give. 

Many years ago I told our pastor that I could be really good and sin a lot less if I could live alone. But, with four kids under the age of five at the time, being alone wasn't possible. Luckily the wise silver haired pastor smiled and told me relationships were the tool God most often used to refine us and He would never be through refining this side of heaven. Over time it became more obvious to me that the sin residing in me wasn't caused by others, it was merely being exposed and that in itself isn't a bad thing. It is good because it is proof that God is working in me. As I began to grow in an understanding of God's love, grace, and sanctification, I became more accepting of refining relationships and my humanity. I quit wanting to run from the hard of the relationships I had.   

From those refining relationships, the ugly and judgmental thoughts about others reveal more about my heart than it does their's. I can choose to either deal with my heart and become more gracious and loving or I can stay judgmental and grow more ugly and judgmental. The defensive words that sometimes erupt from this mouth reveal old wounds that need healing or lies I believe that need to be taken captive with His truth. I can either choose to do that business or I can grow more defensive and hot-headed. The ugliness that occurs in my relationships exposes my selfishness and my lack of skills in communicating. I can either choose to deal with my selfish heart and humbly learn communication skills that help me speak in loving ways or I can choose to nurse hurt and grow angrier, more disagreeable and become a pro at demanding. 

The refining processes has taught me it isn't all about me, while at the same time is is all about me. By that I mean another person's words, behavior, and attitude is about their heart and their relationship to God, not me. However, God desires for me to care about their heart instead of personalizing their behavior. He often desires to use me to invite them back to the truth so they can know His heart. It is about me in that the emotions that surface, the words that can lie on the tip of my tongue, and the attitude writing itself on my face in response to another is mine to own. It is an opportunity to choose to be refined or not.  
Even my relationship with Jesus is a refining relationship. There were times He hasn't answered prayers my way, exposing a lack of trust on my part. There were times I was hurting and He remained silent. At first I believed I wasn't being seen or heard by Him, but learned His silences ware an invitation to keep pouring my heart out to Him until the sin, the unbelief, and the pain were drained, allowing His truth to sink deeper and my intimacy with Him to grow as my deepest heart needs were covered by His love and His grace. I've learned the only way out of the painful shame I bore was to accept both my humanity and His deity. This allowed me to walk through the heat of the shame of imperfection as He continually covers me with His blood and cools the shame with His acceptance.  

The refining God has done with me has helped my faith grow and I'm confident of my relationship with Him, of His love, of His grace, and of the goodness of His plans for my life. The refining He has done has removed toxic shame and helped me learn to walk in the truth of who He is and who He says I am because of what Christ has done on the cross. The refining has helped me come to understand that this life isn't about me getting everything I want, but about me resting in His love and learning to love well. 

Oh, those refining relationships...they can be hard. But they are the tool that God uses to whittle away at all that is not holy and all that keeps us from bearing His image. It is those refining relationships that allow His glory to shine through these cracked earthen vessels that we are to a world that desperately needs Him. 

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!