What About a Dysfunctional Relationship?
Hello everyone! A friend of mine pointed out to me the other day that much of the relationship sermons or even advice is pointed toward two functioning people, emotionally as well as spiritually functioning. Two people who are basically good and who have no dark baggage to speak of.
What about a dysfunctional relationship? Where one or both persons are not functioning and where one or both may have very dark baggage they bring with them?
I had to agree with her observation. Much relationship advice or sermons, at least in the church world, point to people who have either been Christians a long time, or who are basically functioning at a much higher level than some people are able to. They do not address basic relationship issues that may be encountered by a new Christian or by someone who has alot of baggage that God is still working on with them.
Now pastors and leaders, I am not saying you are failing or doing anything wrong. You are doing what God would have you do and by all means continue. However, I ask you, have you ever wondered if there is another side of relationships you need to be addressing such as the dysfunctional side I am addressing in this blog? What can the church do to address this as a whole? What do we need to recognize as pastors, leaders and Christ followers to change that and help those who are doing the best they can but who, for various reasons, may not be able to readily use the advice that is being promoted about relationships in the church world today?
It is my personal belief that the church must recognize some basic things for all people. First, not everyone grew up in church. Second, not everyone came from a loving family. Third, not everyone knows what a loving father is so they have no possible way to extrapolate that in any way to God the Father or Jesus or anything else the church world uses to define a good relationship. If the church can understand these basics first, we can move a long way into helping those who come from very dysfunctional backgrounds and relationships. It gives us a starting point.
It is also my personal belief that the church must understand that the foundations of love and respect that you hear about and see today in church discussion of relationships will not work for someone who has no idea what those are or who was never modeled such traits growing up. Love and respect aren't even defined in their world view much less acted out. They will be lost and at a loss to practice them. If there is any kind of mental illness or abuse in their history, that further complicates their ability to understand love and respect and certainly a loving Father God - they probably never had a loving parent much less a respectful one. Their entire childhood was based on fear and punishment yet we expect them to understand love, respect and grace- three things they never got as children.
Church, do you see where we are going off course here? Not intentionally of course, I simply think we need to develop new tools. Years of dysfuntion can't be corrected overnight by simply "using love and respect" when you have never known what those are. Year of dysfunction can't be corrected when you tell them, "God loves you, He is your Father now", when they have never had a loving father. Am I making sense?
If you are still on the fence, allow me to give you a personal example of why the current approach will not work. My late husband, Jeff, had both abuse in his background and mental illness. Now, I will say that each and every person has a choice and they can choose to change. However, that is easier said than done for people like my late husband with so much dark baggage. It takes a lot of time and a lot of God. It was not easy for him to change, in fact he really did not. He had encountered too much fear and punishment in his life. Telling him to love and respect someone was so foreign to him I don't believe it ever registered. He only knew manipulation and control so that is what he did. He never had a loving father here on Earth so I have no doubt he never really knew how much God loved him and could not even relate that to anything tangible. I do believe the church tried to help him but did not have the right tools to do so. He was so afraid I believe of any father figure, he did not want to find out who God was by reading the Bible. He had alot of baggage and many dark places that only God could do the healing and delivering that needed to be done. However, he never chose to let God do that healing because of fear. He in no way could relate to love, respect or grace - not on a real level anyway. I am thankful he at least realized Christ died for him and loved him (on some level in his mind) and accepted him as his savior - it was the one thing that kept his illness from being worse I believe. God is merciful and He loved him regardless. God knew the struggles he would face. He is with Jesus know and all is well with him.
I want to encourage the church and its leadership to look for ways to meet people like Jeff where they are and love them where they are. Recognize they won't get your sound bites or your cliches. They won't understand anything that hasn't been modeled to them. Don't ask them to read a book about love and respect and don't ask them to follow steps 1-5 at the marriage conference, they will not be able to do so, despite their desperate need to want to. Believe me, Jeff wanted to with all his might.
They will need consistent reinforcement, modeling and structure as well as healthy boundaries to help them. They want to be loved and they want to know love, they just don't know how to ask for it and have trouble responding to it. They want to know grace and they want to know respect, they just don't how to tell you - remember, it was never an option for them before.
I hope these words will get churches, leadership and all of us thinking about how we can better serve and help people like Jeff, with the understanding of course that the person has to meet us halfway. Choice is and will always be a powerful component for this to work. And most importantly, may we always see people the way God sees them. He see them as worthy of love, respect and grace and also as someone that Jesus died for, no matter what.
Until next time,