Recently I was struggling with my relationship to a person who had failed me. We were working on an event together, but when it came time, they didn’t come early to help. During the meeting they acted like a participant, not a leader. I was left doing all the preparation, all the serving during the meeting, and all the clean up myself. But what hurt the most was they seemed clueless about it. They didn’t seem to care that I was working my tail off while they were relaxing during the breaks.
When someone hurts me or offends me, I want them to acknowledge the harm and the distance that has been created. I don’t want them going on as if nothing happened. I want them to say, “Hey, I’m sorry I lied to you. I’m sorry I was mean to you. I’m sorry I was missing in action at the meeting.”
A trivial example of this happens when someone blatantly cuts me off in traffic and as they go whizzing by they don’t even give an apologetic smile or a little wave of thanks. Even a scowl would be nicer than completely ignoring my existence and the fact that they have just transgressed my right to go first. [That’s why I sometimes lean on my horn, to say, “Hello!!??!!. I’m here, and you just walked all over me. Did you notice?”]
Of course with the traffic violator, there’s not much skin off my back. Chances are I’ll never, hopefully, encounter them again. But if a friend or a family member, someone whom I’m interacting with on a regular basis, is oblivious to the harm and pain they’ve inflicted on me, that feels much worse. I once had a relationship like this. This person wanted us to be close but would consistently slap me around [metaphorically] and then wonder why I was gun shy. Finally, the other person initiated a heart to heart talk to figure out how we could be closer, I told her how I felt hurt, abused, misunderstood. Instead of telling me she was sorry for how I felt, her response was basically “I don’t know what you’re talking about, you must be mistaken. I haven’t done anything to hurt our relationship. It’s your problem.”
That gave me a glimpse into how God might feel when I shrug my shoulders and take a ‘I’m a pretty good person’ approach to our relationship. Sometimes I know I’m in deep gunk. I’m desperately aware of how horribly I’ve screwed up and wrecked havoc in my life and in the lives of those around me, to say nothing of my relationship with God. But a lot of the time I come to confession [maybe in church, maybe by myself] and I draw a total blank. Not killing anyone: check. Not committing adultery: check, Not taking the Lord’s name in vain: check. I look at my scorecard and scratch my head. Surely Psalm 51 is not for me. I’m a pretty good person, no major glitches, just a few warts here and there. What’s the big deal?
The problem is God doesn’t see it that way. If I say I haven’t done anything to hurt our relationship, I’m calling Him a liar. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” [I John 1:8]. That’s how He sees it.
My trouble is I’m taking a law-based approach, rather than a relationship-based approach to my faith. If a policeman sees me cross a double line as I’m driving down the road, he’ll give me a ticket. Once I pay the fine, I can go on my merry way. There is no emotion involved, and no relationship. It’s like training a two-year old. You do x, you have to pay y.
However, there’s a big difference between breaking a traffic law and breaking a relationship. A relationship between two individuals means having a give and take, enjoying each other, sharing, being close. When that gets damaged, it’s not like crossing a double line. It’s like hitting a car. There is visible damage. The headlight is smashed in, the bumper is bent. If I want to be friends with the owner of the car, I can’t walk away and say there’s no problem.
If what matters is not having a clean scorecard but a good relationship, then I need to look at things from God’s point of view. Have I cut Him off without acknowledging His presence? Have I ignored Him? When He has tried to point something out to me, have I responded with “I have no idea what you mean”?
To have a healthy relationship with Him, I need to be aware of how I’ve put distance between us, how I’ve put up barriers. Of course He knows this already, just like I know the guy in traffic is cutting me off. But it’s still important for me to acknowledge what I’ve done. Otherwise, I may end up wondering why we aren’t as close as I’d like to be.
The bottom line is I don’t want to be clueless. I want to see where I am sick and in need of healing. I want to see where things are damaged and in need of restoration. I want to be sensitive and know how I have grieved God.
Best of all, I can do this without fear or shame or guilt because He always forgives. He always offers me grace. He does not harbor resentment or bear a grudge against me. He may be angry, but it is an anger that comes out of love and wanting what is best for me.
When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the LORD”—
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.