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Relationship Goals

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Dispel some of that darkness bottled up inside you, with the grace first shared to us by Christ that is now ours to share with those around us.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens the countenance of another” (Prov.  27:17)

Many years ago, I attended a local chapter of a certain recovery program – one that is hosted in churches nationwide. For me, the most impactful aspect of that program was when we’d gather in a group and discuss our struggles with no pretense. We were free to admit our sins and struggles with just one caveat. No one was fixing anyone at that moment. This was just about honesty in the journey. I remember back then being bothered by that. Christians have a habit of turning people into projects. “Iron sharpens iron,” and all that. People feel the need to slap a law on addiction, sin struggles, and the like to get them to stop doing it, whatever it is. I was just as guilty of that as the next guy.

But, I get it now.

Instead, I’ve come to realize that sometimes addressing our struggles and our sins needs to accentuate listening. Sometimes church ministries and programs need to be about being in the moment with that person, hearing them, and maybe putting an arm around them. I had a pastor do that for me when we first met, and he reminded me through various conversations over the years of one more vital detail. This is something that stuck with me and made me rethink how I saw theology and God.

He said, “You are forgiven…’

This has made me wonder if iron sharpening iron and specifically, men sharpening men, as Proverbs say, is less about behavior modification and more about reminding each other of our sanctification hidden in Christ.

I started considering absolution as the sharpening stone that smoothes out the jagged edges of our messed-up lives.

If I could go back and say one thing to those with me in that recovery program I mentioned above, I wish that after a session, I would have said, “God has paid for this too. You are forgiven. God’s grace covers every square inch of it. Full stop.” 

Jesus once told the rich young ruler to give up all his possessions to follow him. He’d eventually walk away sad. His sadness went deeper than the threat of actual possessions. He was sad because of for him, his very worth was tied to what he had. To give up anything publicly is an extremely vulnerable act, and he wasn’t prepared for that. Most of us aren’t. That’s why faith in Christ looks more like a journey through a rocky obstacle course in a desert heat rather than a gentle shuffle over a paved road on a crisp fall day.

Could you give up your possessions right now? What if it was something, not so clear-cut? 
What if it was deeper than coveting a thing? What if it was a concept or idea about who you are and what gives you value and meaning?
Let me tell you something I have trouble letting go of…

Guilt.

I have never felt fully free of it. But at the cross, I know I am. Still, I hold onto it sometimes with a white knuckle grip because some part of me finds a worth fulfilled in that guilt. I hold onto what I think is some well-deserved feeling of aching remorse for my actions. This creates a cycle that allows me to validate feeling down or bad about myself. More than anything else, that’s the burden I struggle to let go of.

This will probably be a lifelong battle. But, at my age, I’m just a little more than halfway done. So there’s that.

We all have different things that are hard to let go of. We all have a little bit of that rich young ruler in us. But unlike that young man who walked away, in Christ, we have someone holding onto us who is far more precious. We have trouble letting go, but Christ is with us in that struggle, validating that, while on earth and in his humanity, he both carried our struggles for us and let go of them for our benefit.

It’s actually only because Christ has already taken care of our struggles that we can let them go, which I believe begins when we release these to others. I’m not talking about some supernatural, new age, spiritual law of letting go. It’s much simpler than that.

Having honest and open conversations with friends can take away some of the build-up inside of you. The build-up of:

No one understands what I’m going through.
People will never look at me as normal again if I share this.
This will make me less of a man.
I can’t cry. I can’t show emotions. That’s not what guys do.
I feel like a complete failure. I am a complete failure.

Being able to honestly share your struggles, even the hard ones that are packed away pretty deeply, with someone who can remind you of God’s love and forgiveness, and also say “me too,” helps take away the power of those feelings of darkness. Speaking them out loud brings them into the light, and the light of truth dispels the darkness of lies that whispers, You are alone.” The light proclaims, that you no longer need to be. 

I recently wrote about grace, and how important it is to allow grace to reign in your life, especially in the rough times. I also wrote about the law and how our inability to keep it can build up in us until it shows us how grace covers the mess it leaves behind. Most recently, I gave you my thoughts about the need to reach out to others before you (or they) reach that desperate hopelessness that somehow convinces some that their only option left is the possibility of ending life.

To get beyond that hopelessness requires relationships. It requires two people or more, willing to sit down and commiserate a little, maybe even laugh when able, and most of all, remind themselves that life shouldn’t be lived alone. That promise is bigger than all the barriers you might put up.

I took a road trip to Michigan for a 1517 conference a few years ago.  The conferences are excellent, and I always learn something good from them. Honestly, though, the best parts are not when I sit in those chairs as a passive recipient; listening to whichever great speaker is up there. The best parts are the in-betweens, the deeper conversations over a meal, or a beer. That’s when the sharpening occurs for me. 

While at this conference, I met up with my friend Don twice. We didn’t solve all the problems in our lives. I couldn’t tell you we even felt better as a result. But, it was nice to sit there and be honest about life. The second time, it included a mutual friend, Mike. I hope we parted knowing life is not meant to be lived alone, and that we can confess our struggles to one another. That we can find glimmers of hope within it.

Though typically pessimistic-leaning, these moments are opportunities for me. They make me feel a bit more optimistic, a bit more hopeful. The best parts of my trip to Michigan were those two nights, and other moments like them when I got to share meals and conversations with some of my other friends, like Kathy and Brian. 

This is all I want. This is much of what I need, interposed within all of the theology I learn, and all of the truth I find out about grace and mercy, within all the sharpening found in the words of absolution, and the proclamation of forgiveness.

Find friends, find family, find someone to reach out to who will walk alongside on a road, or share a meal with you. Find someone to be honest with. Dispel some of that darkness bottled up inside you, with the grace first shared to us by Christ that is now ours to share with those around us. 

That’s my hope: to see men and women give out grace to each other, and receive it back.
Yes, even for you, too.
Because you need it… Just like I do.