THE RECOVERY CHANNEL SERMON SERIES
HOW TO REPAIR RELATIONSHIPS
SEPTEMBER 10, 1995
I want to talk about something that runs contrary to almost every instinct known to man. This subject affects every human being from every culture, nation and socioeconomic level. All you have to do is hang around on the planet for awhile and you are going to run into contact with this topic. It destroys marriages. It destroys families. And it wrecks businesses. What is the subject? Making amends with people we have hurt. Reconciliation. Restitution. Those fun words. Many of you are saying this to yourselves as I am talking, “Ed, that sounds great, making amends with people I have harmed in my past and repairing relationships but I don’t want to get stuck in the past. I want to press on and get involved in the future. Let bygones be bygones, I have asked God for forgiveness, isn’t that enough? Give me a break.”
It is great that we have asked God to forgive us but the Bible pleads with us to do some radical, relational repair work. Some radical, relational repair work in your life and in my life. The Bible says there are some benefits that will accrue in our lives when we get serious about relational repair work. Before I talk about these exciting benefits, I want to talk to you about some barriers that we all face when we consider making amends with other people. For your future to flourish, you have got to take a step back in your past and deal with relationships.
Just for a second I want you to imagine your relationships on a freeway. That’s right, on a congested, busy freeway which you can call the Relational Freeway, a nice street, a street that runs right through the center of your life and mine. As you are driving along you look back in the rear view mirror and you see some people kind of choking in your exhaust fumes, some people that you have harmed, that you have hurt, that you know you need to do something about. You want to do something about these relationships because the Bible tells you to, but if you are like me you see some roadblocks. These roadblocks keep most people from ever having the relational freedom that they desire.
The first roadblock is something that we all can connect with, self deception. The old self-deception roadblock. We are driving along the Relational Freeway and we look at self- deception as a very imposing barrier. People who go through this barrier have freedom but those who don’t say this. “What me, hurt someone in my past. No way. My past is clean, not me. You have got the wrong man. You have got the wrong girl. I’m sorry, I have not hurt anyone.” Do we have any persons here who have been involved in self-deception? Is this a roadblock that is keeping you from making amends with someone?
The second roadblock is self-defense, or the Bruce Lee/Chuck Norris roadblock. This roadblock is one that keeps a lot of us from ever making amends. We say, “He hurt me. She hurt me. I was just a little bit wrong, they were the ones to blame. Not me. So if you think I am going to walk into their office, into their life, and apologize for my small fraction of being wrong, you’ve got the wrong person. I will just sit here very sedately and very calmly and they can come in and apologize to me. I am not going to do that.” Self-defense.
Another barrier is self-image. That operates with those of us who say, “I’m a father, I’m a pastor, I’m a coach, I’m a teacher, I’m a friend and I am not going to lower my self-esteem, I am not going to lower who I am and make myself vulnerable to get a relationship right. I am not going to do that.” The self-image thing. You don’t want to tarnish that self-image, that pride, that ego.
The final barrier that we face is the self-protection barrier. That is those of us who get all nervous and apprehensive and our palms get all clammy when we think about making a relationship right. We are fearful of doing it. And for most of us we spend our lives never having the freedom, never making amends with people we should because of these four imposing barriers. And the majority of us do this. Now I am going to turn this sign around and when I turn it around, I want you to say the word together, I will say one, two, three. When I turn the sign, you say whatever it is. Here is what most of us do. OK. One, two, three. Detour. Detour, that we what we do. Think about it. Think about it.
I was in Chicago with my wife a couple of weeks ago and we were driving in a rental car. As I was driving along I saw where I wanted to go. Then suddenly I saw barriers and the word Detour. And, of course, then we got lost. Here is what we do. We are driving along. “Oh self-protection, self-image, self-defense, self-deception. I’m going to do the detour thing.” And we detour. And we go off on this farm road or off that exit and we get lost and finally, ultimately, the detour ends in a dead end. There is nowhere to go, the guilt, the shame, the remorse, the anger that we feel because we have not really dealt with these barriers robs us of the kind of relational fun and freedom that God desires us to have.
Here are the barriers. Now let’s talk about the benefits. You think Dion Sanders has a lot of benefits. Hey, you ain’t seen nothing yet because the Bible lists three benefits that will accrue into our lives when we deal with these barriers, when we say we are not going to do the detour thing. The first benefit of making amends with someone you have wronged in your past is that your emotional health will increase. Your emotional health will increase. God has emotions. God has feelings, too. We are made in God’s image, we have emotions, we have feelings, too. And God wants us to have emotional freedom to feel great emotionally.
This past January a few of us in our church traveled to the Holy Land. We had a great time in Israel. We toured much of the country and we walked where Jesus walked. I, being a shopping kind of guy, bought a lot of toys and trinkets for the kids and some things for Lisa. I packed all those things in my suitcase. And I learned something, something pretty elementary. When you go on a trip and you buy stuff, your bag is a lot heavier when you depart than when you start. Am I going too fast for anyone? Here I am walking through the Tel Aviv airport with my luggage and my deltoid was about to rip apart because the bag was so heavy containing all the stuff for four children and my wife and myself too. We carry baggage, as we talked about throughout this series. And we carry a lot of relational baggage. Every time we hurt someone, every time we say no that we don’t want to go back in our past and make it right, we put some more weight and some more junk into our bags and we carry that weight around. We don’t realize it, it is wearing us out emotionally. We are drained, we are tired, we are devastated because we have not dealt with the contents in the bag.
Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another.” People often tell me, “Ed, (cause that’s my name), I know that God has forgiven me but I don’t feel forgiven.” Have you ever felt like that? I have. Usually when we don’t feel forgiven we haven’t brought closure to our past. We have not looked in the rearview mirror long enough to go back and make some things right. We have that vertical forgiveness from God, which is ultimately the most important thing. God, however, also instructs us to horizontally reconcile. And once we have those two aspects of forgiveness and we have made amends, then emotionally we have that freedom. Do you have anyone in your life who you kind of avoid? If you are at the grocery store pushing the cart through the aisles and you see someone, him or her, do you act like you don’t really see them? Maybe you are at a restaurant or a mall or wherever you are, and you kind of want to avoid a person because you don’t really feel at peace with the other party. In order to have peace with your fellow man, to have that emotional security, to know that you could be anywhere on the planet and lock eyes with someone and your conscience will not flinch a bit, you need to forgive and make amends. Your emotional health is a benefit of making amends with people you have harmed.
Another benefit of making amends is your relational health, your relational health and my relational health. When we do the relational thing, making amends, then, talking about being healthy and having freedom, our relations really begin to take off like a rocket. Jesus said these words in Matthew 5:23-24, “If you are on your way to worship, (or on your way to the ten o’clock service at the Fellowship of Las Colinas, to personalize it) and realize there is a rift in a relationship, first go and make amends.” First go and make it right. The Apostle Paul said in Romans 12:18, one of my favorite verses of scripture, I love this, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Live at peace with everyone, that is relational health, relational peace. Parents and future parents, you want to do something that speaks volumes to your children? You apologize to them when you have messed up. Some of the defining moments in the Young household have occurred when I have taken a child aside, or I have looked at my wife Lisa and said I was wrong and I am sorry. And sorry is, like Elton John wrote years ago, one of the hardest words of all to say. But the Bible even takes it a step further. You can say I am sorry all day and night but the real test occurs when you say the four most difficult words to another individual. Will you forgive me? Will you forgive me? We are great at pseudo-apologizing. You know what that is? It is just saying, “Hey, if I hurt you in any way, I am sorry. I didn’t mean to but I just said this and did that and if it really kind of makes mad, hey, sorry about that. Everything is fine.”
When you say, will you forgive me, you are making yourself vulnerable. You are putting the weight in their lap, on their shoulders and saying you have the choice to either forgive me or not. When you apologize to someone, do you say I am sorry and then take it even deeper and say, will you forgive me. Those words are radical, relational words.
This happened in my life for the first time when I was in my early twenties. Will you forgive me. You see I ran a basketball league for a bunch of guys and I played in the league. My brother was on my team. One evening the referees didn’t show up. So, instead of cancelling the game, I picked a guy in the stands to ref the game. I didn’t know this guy, he seemed to be a nice person and he said he knew about basketball. So we began to play the game. He was out there attempting to officiate and the game began to get out of control. Elbows, shouting matches, etc. I was the leader of the league, commissioner so to speak, and I had had enough when I saw my brother get knocked down and no foul called. Here is what I did. I did something terribly wrong. I walked up to the guy in front of everyone and said, “Give me your whistle. You are out of control. You know zip about basketball. Someone is going to get killed. Give me your whistle. You sit down in the stands and we will continue to play. This is a joke.” That is what I said to this man. I was totally in the wrong. Totally, completely wrong. The guy did not sit in the stands. He walked out of the gym. Immediately after the game I started doing all of these barrier things. “Me? Me apologize to him? No way, I haven’t hurt him. That guy needs to take it, he was horrible. He was the one who almost hammered my brother because he didn’t call a foul. Not me. I run the league. I am in seminary. No, I’m not going to apologize to him.” And then it moved to this one, fear. “Can I look at that guy again that I embarrassed in front of all of those people. No, I’m not going to do it.” So I tried to explain it away and rationalize it. And then I began to feel that my prayers were airballs, just kind of missing. And something was wrong, something bad was wrong and I realized that I needed to say those four most difficult words in the English language, will you forgive me. Will you forgive me. First of all I had to find the guy. How do I find him? Because the Bible says in Romans 12:18, “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you.” I didn’t want to look too hard for this guy, you know. But I found him. Made an appointment with him, walked into a conference room. I looked at him and I was both nervous and scared. It was a traumatic experience for me. And I said, for the first time, as an adult, where I really understood all the implications of it, I said, “I was totally wrong. I am sorry, will you forgive me?” And he said, “Yes.” Are we best friends today? No. Have I seen him since. No. You cannot go into reconciliation thinking once you ask for forgiveness, then you will be best friends, Andy and Barney, for the rest of your lives. No, it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes it does. But you have to take care of what you need to do. As Romans 12 says, as far as it depends on you. Now in a family context it should draw you tighter together, however, with other relationships, oftentimes it doesn’t. Some people don’t want to release you because they love hating you. And you are talking about releasing the object of their hate. They like to hate you. They love to dislike you. They might rage all over you, they might come back at you. Fine. Make sure your attitude is one of love and one of a Christ-like character and you will begin to have that relational freedom. The moment I walked out of his office, out of that complex, I felt God saying, “Thumbs up, Ed. Yeah, you blew it but you did what I want you to do and what I instruct you to do in My word.” You see what we do can effect the emotions of God. I talked about it five weeks ago. I did a message titled What Makes God Smile. And what we do, what we say, where we go and how we reconcile and if we reconcile will delight the heart of God. Our relational health.
The third benefit of making amends with people we have hurt in the past is the spiritual benefit. Our spiritual health will increase. Again, in Matthew 5 Jesus said that if you are on your way to worship and you remember you have a problem, a rift in a relationship, first go and make that right. In Matthew 5 He talked about a man named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a Jew, working for the Roman government, ripping his people off left and right. Zacchaeus falls in love with Jesus and then he walks out on his porch and he announces to all the people he has stolen from that he will pay them back four times more than what he had stolen from them. That is real restitution. That is real relational repair work. Jesus talked about reconciliation because He knew that if we have a problem between ourselves and another person it will impede our spiritual progress. Jesus knew that. And Jesus looks at our lives and I believe that He thinks this. “Here I lay aside My majesty and My glory to live on this earth for thirty-three years, to die on the cross for all the world’s sins, to rise again, yet, Ed Young, (or Roy, or Susan or Bill or Ralph or Sharon) will not lay aside their pride, their ego and do what it takes to reconcile a human relationship, yet I did what I did for them.” I believe that Jesus thinks those thoughts and wonders why we still are fearful of the barriers. You want to feel that spiritual walk with Jesus that He desires? You begin to make amends and you watch and see what happens.
Now I will get to the fun part. If you have your bulletin, take it out and kind of wave it. Because here is something I really want you to do. I want you to take out your bulletins and write a couple of suggestions. I want to give you a couple of ways for you to make amends and for you to know if you are to make amends with someone.
Number one. Make a list this afternoon of those people in your life that you have hurt and briefly list the circumstances or describe the scenario. It could be a coach, it could be an ex-spouse, it could be a former best friend, it could be a pastor. Write out the name of the person and the circumstances. Now let me stop here and say something about this step. We have varying different types of persons who will be doing this exercise. Think of them as a continuum. On one end of the continuum is the person with a rhino skin. This person believes that they have never hurt anyone in their life and he or she will not be able to think up even one name. This person needs to call in a friend who knows them well to help them with their list. The friend needs to say, listen you are out of control in this relationship, you did walk all over that person at work though you didn’t realize it, you did hurt your spouse’s feelings. And then the person can see what he or she has done.
On the other end of the continuum we have the butterfly. That is the person who is so soft, he or she is beyond tenderhearted. Guilt sticks to them like velcro. And when they write they will require many pages. Oh, I hurt this person and that person. I feel so bad and terrible. I need to make amends with the entire world. That individual needs to invite someone to review their list. The reviewer will advise them to chill, relax and let me go through your list and see the ones you really need to make amends with.
Make a list, list the circumstances.
Now, number two. This has to do with what we say. That is the tough part. What do you say to someone? Here is what you doay. Think about someone that has harmed you in the past. And think about how you would want that person to make amends with you. And that is how you would act and what you would say. So do a role reversal. How would you want that person to make amends with you?
Now let me give you are warning and don’t miss this warning. Some here have been involved in adultery, promiscuity, or perhaps fathered a child out of wedlock. This exercise is not meant to provide an opprotunity to show up in someone’s life and wreck and ruin their world. For certain situations you will not want to go back. That is why you need to invite a mature Christian into the equation to help you see if there is any potential to injure someone. If there is, don’t do it. But seek some counsel and some advice. It is not a time for you to drag your relational luggage to the person, unzip or unfasten it, and say here is this nice bowling ball, wham, and here is this one, wham, and it’s your fault too, I am going to implicate you. So make sure you use great, great discernment. But don’t use this warning as an excuse not to make something right.
There we have it. I have talked to you about making amends with others. That is part of the road to recovery. I am not finished yet. You thought I was through, didn’t you. I’m not. I want to give you another aspect of this exciting step and I am going to do this in about two minutes. Not only is it important to make amends with people in your past, we have exhausted that subject, also for us to really have freedom, we have to release others and forgive others who have harmed us. We have to release others and forgive others who have harmed us in our past. Why do I need to do that? Why is that so important? The Bible lists three reasons.
Number one and this can be found in Colossians 3:13, we need to forgive because God has forgiven us. That is one of the reasons I need to release people that have harmed me in the past. God has forgiven me. Colossians 3:13. “Never hold grudges. Remember the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” If you have a tough time forgiving people in your life it usually means you don’t feel forgiven. You need to remember Colossians 3:13. The Lord forgave you. You’ll never have to forgive someone more than Jesus has had to forgive you. You never will. And one of the reasons, again, that I should release those people is because God has forgiven me.
The second reason is because resentment doesn’t work. It just plain doesn’t work. I like what Job 5:2 says. “To worry yourself with resentment would be a foolish, senseless thing to do.” I have never met a person who has declared that they feel so much better because they are resentful, that they love the resentment that is invading their life.
The third reason for forgiving people in your past is, and this is a big one here, we will all need forgiveness in the future. I know I will. Won’t you? I am going to read you a scary verse. Mark 11:25. “When you are praying first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins too.” In other words, if I am still holding onto something, if I still have that animosity, that resentment, that grudge when I am praying, God, the Bible says, is not going to release me and forgive my sins the way He wants to. He wants us to mirror, to reflect His character. And He says we should forgive others seventy times seven. Not just once. Not just twice but continually. And the evil one will bring that person back up in your mind, in my mind so we have to keep on forgiving, keep on releasing.
Making amends with people we have hurt, releasing people who have hurt us. We know what to do. Now, let’s go for it and watch and see what the Lord does.