By Mary Wenzl
“MOM!” (Blood curdling shout.) “Taraya hit me, and she pulled my hair!” [Telena]
“She hit me first! Really hard, and it hurt!”[Taraya]
“No, I didn’t!” (Telena hits Taraya again) “MOM”![Telena]
“Ouch! … MOM!Telena keeps hitting me!” [Taraya]
“I hate you. You aren’t my sister anymore. I wish I had never been born to this family!” [Telena]
“Me too! Brat!” [Taraya]
[At this point, a harried MOM steps in to break up the fighting. She makes the children apologize to each other, maybe even hug. After a few minutes (or seconds), the children resume playing together as if nothing had happened.]
It is easy to redeem a broken relationship as children. An apology, a hug, a smile and everything can return to normal. All is well! But, at some point we grow up. As we approach becoming an adult, things change. It becomes harder to forgive and forget. Life does not so readily return to normal. A broken relationship remains broken, even though we may have tried to mend it.
The Blog topic this week is Redeeming Christmas; specifically, Redeeming Relationships.
When we become adults it becomes more difficult to fix relationships that have broken. Sometimes, we may not even know why it was broken; we just know a lot of time has passed since “he” or “she” called. I find it particularly painful to see people estranged from relatives, especially at this time of year. I can think of at least 10 people I know, senior adults, who are estranged from one or more of their adult children. They miss out on the joys of seeing their grandchildren and forming relationships with them. They are not allowed to speak into the lives of their grandchildren. This is my main goal as a grandparent, my purpose to keep on living. They also miss out on getting to give advice and share joys and tribulations with their adult children. Sometimes, there may be a good reason for the continued estrangement, such as the parent was abusive to their own children when little, or the senior parent has addictions or other character flaws that make it unwise to have their grandchildren around them. Usually, however, the broken relationship has occurred because of misunderstandings, pride, or often just procrastination. The senior, or adult child, may even fear contacting the loved one because they don’t know what kind of reception they will get.
I am now a senior citizen, having officially turned 65 in November. I am really saddened when I see senior citizens living alone, with no relatives with which to live and experience life. I was appointed as a legal guardian on two occasions to 2 such lonely seniors. I became their guardians because they needed medical treatment and were not able to give informed consent. There were no relatives or other close friends to step in to help. In both cases, these vulnerable adults had stopped staying in contact with family. I could only guess at the reasons, but there was no way for these 2 adults to make amends to their family members now, even though they really needed them. They both died alone, and I had to plan funerals for people I knew very little about. Not the end of life that I would wish on anyone, friend or enemy.
God has told us numerous times in his Word that relationships matter. They matter a lot. The first and foremost important relationship we need to keep fresh and alive is our relationship with God. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus instructs his people to take stock of their relationships before giving God praise through their gifts. Jesus said: “. . . if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to them, and then come and present your offering.” In other words, God wants us to redeem any relationships that are broken so we can approach God with pure hearts and minds when we worship Him.
This is a tall order for most of us. So, what are the consequences of NOT redeeming broken relationships? Frankly, there are a few relationships I have had in the past that I really had no desire to fix because the people were toxic to me; their actions had been very hurtful, causing me a lot of mental grief. Shouldn’t we just “leave well enough alone?” I have often heard this sentiment voiced by hurting people. What does it mean to “redeem” a broken relationship anyway?
I consulted a paper dictionary (yes, they still exist), and an online dictionary, and found there are numerous definitions for “redeem.” One definition that has a biblical ring to it is: “Redeem: To set free by paying a ransom; to deliver from sin and its penalties as by a sacrifice made for the sinner.” This is what Jesus Christ did for us when He sacrificed Himself for us on the cross. A Synonym for “redeem” comes closer to the context I want to convey: “Reclaim: bringing back to a former state or condition of someone or something abandoned or debased.” (Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th edition, 1999, 2000); Also . . . “to atone for: expiate; to offset the bad effect of; to make worthwhile: retrieve; Repair, Restore.” (Merriam-Webster’s online Dictionary)
When a relationship is broken, communication stops. There are no longer shared experiences to enrich our own lives and the lives of those for which we have loved and cared. Opportunities for growth are missed. Broken relationships can also act as a barrier to our ability to experience communication with our Father, God. Gone is the chance to share the gospel with loved ones, and lost are the opportunities to let someone experience the joy of being a servant, or helping a loved one. Bitterness takes up residence in a person’s heart, which displaces good, fruitful thoughts and emotions. People can “get stuck” in anger, and they stop growing in their spirit. Their relationship with God can be damaged and not reach the rich potential it was supposed to reach.
How do we know God really values relationships? God commands us to love another. I just finished a study of 1 John. One of the verses I found significant is 1 John 3:18-24:
“My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hand out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what He said, doing what pleases Him. Again, this is God’s command: to believe in His personally named son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep His commands, we live deeply and surely in Him, and He lives in us. And this is how we experience His deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit He gave us.” (Message version)
John tells us to show love for one another because, if we do not, we run the risk of abiding in death; of missing out on the deep relationship we can experience as God’s children. As Jesus laid down His life for us on the cross, we should be willing to lay down our lives for others. Redeeming a broken relationship usually does not mean we are risking death, but we should be willing to experience some level of discomfort in order to keep God’s command. Remember, Jesus laid down His life so that our relationship with God, the Father, could be redeemed.
God valued the relationship He had with us so much He sent his own son to earth, in human form; to serve as the way we could be redeemed to Him. One of the names for Jesus Christ repeated or referred to multiple times throughout the Bible is “The Redeemer.” The message of Christmas is all about God redeeming His broken relationship with us mortal human beings. We need to recognize how important God values relationships by doing the best we can to fix any of our own broken relationships.
Christmas offers the perfect time to attempt this. One of the reasons I used to avoid trying to mend a relationship was fear of how the person would respond. Would they be angry? Would I get hurt all over again, or would they ignore me totally, hurting me by their lack of caring, lack of response. The reason I believe the Christmas season is a good time to attempt reconciliation, to redeem relationships, is there may be less risk to us personally than at other times of the year. People tend to be in a better mood at the holiday times, have a more generous spirit, and therefore, may be more amenable to reconciliation efforts. A Christmas card sent or received is not very threatening, and may be just the bridge that is needed to start restoring a broken relationship.
What relationships have you left broken for too long? What can you do to redeem those relationships during the holiday season? If I were to attempt reconciliation I would start with prayer. I would include in my prayer a request to God for guidance on which relationships to attempt to redeem. God knows our circumstances are those the other person is experiencing. If you get the “go ahead” from God, be creative and brave; don’t procrastinate! Don’t miss the opportunity to redeem a broken relationship and follow God’s commandment to love one another. If you succeed, it will make this year a better Christmas for you and for the other person. It will also enrich your relationship with your Holy Father.