It’s inevitable. Like every year, this is going to be a year where relationship struggle will not be absent. While we are here on earth, it will not be heaven, which also means that there will be not-so-heavenly people around you. Whether a relationship with a spouse, kids, other family, co-workers, church members, fellow-leadership, or neighbors, you are going to encounter battles in your relationships. It’s just a part of life.
Are we ready to handle those? If someone were to ask us, “What is your theology for how to handle relational disappointment?” how would you respond? What is your plan? No plan is a bad plan. And avoiding people will not do.
One of the greater, and unnecessary, complicating factors in such struggles is an insufficient theology for facing disappointment in relationships. It’s unnecessary, because our God has equipped us thoroughly with the tools from his word to adequately face the inevitable disappointment of human relationships. So, since we are going to frequently disappoint and irritate each other this side of heaven, we must have a response-plan in place which honors God by aligning with his word.
Here are a few responses to prepare us for a right handling of inevitable relational struggles:
1. In relational struggles, our response needs to be aiming for God’s glory.
“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
Simple, right? But, what are some of the unfortunate aims to which we succumb in the heat of relationship battles? For me, it’s been things like just keeping the peace, having everyone like me, winning, or not upsetting anyone. While some of these can be good things, they are not man’s chief end. Instead, they might be by-products of correctly-handled conflict. But if we’re not careful, they can quickly become idols in relational scuffles.
Just as in all of life, our highest aim in any relationship struggle needs to be the glory of God. So then, in relational battles, a focus on God’s glory asks, “What specifically do I need to think and not think, want and not want, do and not do, in order to bring God glory in this struggle?”
2. In relational struggles, our response needs to be an embracing of God’s sovereignty.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…” (Rom. 8:28–29).
When the irritation and disappointment come, there are two truths we ought to preach to ourselves. First: “God is in control of this situation. It is not out of control.” God was not asleep at the wheel when that person irritated you (again).
It’s safe to say that the more emotionally volatile we get in these situations, and the more derailed we become, the lower view we have of God and his good sovereignty.
The second thing we can preach to ourselves in interpersonal scuffle is this: “God loves me enough to expose and eradicate my sin through relational struggle in order make me more like Christ.” This takes Romans 8:28 all the way to verse 29. Often the good that God brings about in all things for his beloved is bringing something hard in our lives (like relationship battles) in order to make us more like Jesus. We combine an affirmation of God’s sovereignty with his unceasing work (this side of heaven) of making us more like Jesus. Sovereignty orchestrates sanctification. When that’s our mindset, we will focus more on becoming like Christ than on our fluctuating feelings. And when God’s sovereignty in our sanctification overtakes man’s irritation of our feelings, a peaceful joy will result. For best outcome, invade irritation with sanctification.
Overall, then, we do well to remember that it’s not about us. Relationships, our lives, and everything else; it’s all about God. Our relationships are for God and from God. God is to be our focus and aim.
During relationship frustrations, a focus on God’s sovereignty asks, “How specifically does God want to make me more like Christ from this relational struggle?”