Admitting I need or want people is terrifyingly hard.
Accepting, much less confessing to someone that I need or want them in my life automatically gives them an incredible amount of power, and I’m scared of being manipulated.
No one wants to be taken advantage of. No one wants to feel used. No one wants to hold out their heart only to have it shattered by broken trust or the selfishness of others.
But it happens. And I’m learning that, even if it does, I still need people, and God-honoring relationships are worth having your heart shattered for. Just ask Jesus.
I’ve been in Romania for three days and my stomach has yet to settle into the new timezone.
This morning, I woke up at 3 a.m. with my belly screaming like it’s never held food before. Please. The reality? Only seven hours prior, it demolished a ridiculous amount of pizza. Bless.
Anyway. While those absurd hunger pains were disrupting sleep, I perused Twitter and saw this short video clip of John Piper. In it, he says,
“Here’s a little warning: When you get to heaven, you will not hear out of the mouth of King Jesus, ‘Wow, you were sure shrewd not to be taken advantage of.’ I promise you, that will not be one of your rewards. And if you were taken advantage of 50 percent of the time, and the other 50 percent met some need and glorifies Jesus, even if you don’t know which is which, He does. And He doesn’t really care whether you got ripped off or not. You’ve got plenty.”
Piper was talking about giving money to beggars on the street, but it applies to relationships as well, doesn’t it? I’m quite certain Jesus will not say to me as I stand before Him, “Well done thou good and faithful servant—I’m so impressed with how well you protected your heart from people! Wow, extra jewels in your crown for that one. Good job not risking vulnerability or trusting Me with the outcomes of your relationships.”
Even as I wrote that, pangs from the Spirit went through my soul and I had to repent of self-management and idolatrous trust in my own sufficiency to shield myself from people. This is conviction central for me.
If I choose safety over loving boldly, I’ve let fear rule.
If I choose self-protection over extending my heart to others (even to break), I’ve let fear rule.
If I choose isolation over being known, I’ve let fear rule.
And in every selfish move, I’ve made an idol out of emotional safety.
There is no safe place on this earth. The only safe place is looking beyond this earth for refuge and security.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold [refuge; fortress] of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?”
“Of whom shall I be afraid?”
Too often, I answer, “ANYONE WHO KNOWS ANYTHING ABOUT MY HEART.” I freak out when sharing insecurities, struggles, background, or anything that isn’t sunshine and roses. It feels like complete exposure and, as previously stated, like arming someone with a freshly-sharpened sword and the power to wield it over me. I overthink and overcomplicate every “vulnerable” conversation and then sit and wait for that person to either reject me or abuse the trust given (even in the tiniest amounts).
So, most often, I don’t.
I “hold [my] cards close to [my] chest,” as my former boss told me a couple weeks ago. I don’t let people in. I hold them at arm’s length. I don’t open myself up. I don’t share my heart. I don’t accept love from people (because it will just go away). I cage my heart. I trust my own abilities to protect myself. I believe the lies. I let fear have the final say. I resist grace. I refuse the Gospel.
I. I. I. The Is have my eyes.
Do you hear how much pride and self-isms cover those actions? Oh my word. It’s not only repulsive, it’s a complete distrust in the One who became that very sin so I could be severed from its power.
The Gospel whispers freedom to my fear-laced heart.
Hope to my struggles.
Beauty to my ashes.
Victory to my failures.
Security to my fears.
Resurrection to my sin-deadened parts.
Jesus to my soul.
And Jesus knows more about the risk of relationships than I’ll ever comprehend.
How does the Gospel free us from self-protection?
“Have this same attitude in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus [look to Him as your example in selfless humility], who, although He existed in the form and unchanging essence of God [as One with Him, possessing the fullness of all the divine attributes—the entire nature of deity], did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or asserted [as if He did not already possess it, or was afraid of losing it]; but emptied Himself [without renouncing or diminishing His deity, but only temporarily giving up the outward expression of divine equality and His rightful dignity] by assuming the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men [He became completely human but was without sin, being fully God and fully man]. After He was found in [terms of His] outward appearance as a man [for a divinely-appointed time], He humbled Himself [still further] by becoming obedient [to the Father] to the point of death, even death on a cross.” -Philippians 2:5-8, AMP
Jesus was manipulated and taken advantage of. He was spit upon, betrayed by a friend, unjustly rejected, and crucified by the very ones He came to save. He—the holy, holy, holy One—humbled Himself to the point of death and quite literally had His heart pierced by others. He was not defined by people’s response or treatment of Him. His identity was not in His ability to keep Himself from pain. His heart was open to sinners, enemies, and traitors (spoiler: that was me). His death is our life. His power is our promise. His victory is now shared with all who follow Him.
To not have that same mindset and focus on the Father, who alone establishes our identity, is direct disobedience to the command to have the attitude of Christ.
Self-protection is not the attitude of Christ. And when I’m trying to protect my own heart, I’m grasping for the position of God, the only One who can give true safety.
And, if we are to model the attitude of Christ by considering others as better than ourselves, I’m not only being disobedient by cocooning myself in fig leaves of false security, I am considering self-protection as more important than ministry to you, and I’m certainly not following Jesus’ example to become your servant. In fact, I’ve replaced the command and desire to be your servant (to serve you and consider your growth and wellbeing above my own) with a sick desire to serve myself and make sure I come out of our relationship untouched by pain and untarnished by rejection.
Praise God that Jesus did not share my mindset.
The Gospel frees us from the suffocation of self-isms by proclaiming the beauty of Jesus whose heart was shattered for our (eternal and present) security. The Gospel frees us from seeking to protect ourselves by giving us a refuge in the God of the universe (no big deal??). The Gospel frees us from our sin-soaked mindset by giving us the power to say no to our evil desires and embrace the holiness of Christ.
Praise God that Jesus gives redeeming grace for this twisted heart.
Every kind of relationship on this earth is between two sinners, therefore it is raw, hard, messy, and worth it.
That’s what I’m learning in this fire of mercy.
“God created us to be relational beings because He is a social God. God lives in community within the Trinity as Father, Son, and Spirit, and He made humanity in His image.” -Timothy Lane, Paul Tripp, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making
We can’t do this life alone. I can’t do this life alone. We were never designed to. We need each other. But when I’m obsessed with staying guarded because I know you’re going to hurt me, I’m denying both the sovereignty of God and the power of the Gospel.
And I must constantly be reminded that the biggest problem in relationships is not the other person and how they might hurt me, but me. The greatest obstacle and hindrance in relationships is me and my sin.
“What happens in the messiness of relationships is that our hearts are revealed, our weaknesses are exposed, and we start coming to the end of ourselves. Only when this happens do we reach out for the help God alone can provide. Weak and needy people finding their hope in Christ’s grace are what mark a mature relationship. The most dangerous aspect of your relationships is not your weakness, but your delusions of strength. Self-reliance is almost always a component of a bad relationship.” -Timothy Lane, Paul Tripp
Let’s be clear: I’m not advocating not exercising wisdom and discernment in relationships, vulnerability, and accountability. Not at all. I’m still trying to figure out the balance of not being naive while also loving people in big, bold, capital letters and allowing others to love me. (Real talk: the last one is the hardest for me.) But this is what I am learning:
Heartbreak is not something to fear.
Our hearts can break for others in a way that heals and gives life.
Our hearts can be broken by others in a way that is redemptive and shines with the glory of the Gospel.
“The shattered relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the cross provides the basis for our reconciliation. No other relationship ever suffered more than what Father, Son, and Holy Spirit endured when Jesus hung on the cross and cried, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27: 46). Jesus was willing to be the rejected Son so that our families would know reconciliation. Jesus was willing to become the forsaken friend so that we could have loving friendships. Jesus was willing to be the rejected Lord so that we could live in loving submission to one another. Jesus was willing to be the forsaken brother so that we could have godly relationships. Jesus was willing to be the crucified King so that our communities would experience peace.” -Timothy Lane, Paul Tripp
Since this blog is already super long, what’s another couple of quotes from Relationships: A Mess Worth Making?
“Relationships are costly, but so is avoiding them. If you choose to avoid them, you will minimize the conflict in your life, but that safety has liabilities of its own. If you choose to face conflict head on, it is full of risks and the potential for great hurt, but it can also be redemptive. Either way, you will not remain untouched by your decision. What is your tendency? Do you tend to avoid conflict? Do you rush into it? Or do you move into conflict with a God-centered perspective?” -Timothy Lane, Paul Tripp
“If what we have been saying about the triune God is true, you must move toward people, not away from them. Remember, Father, Son, and Spirit were torn apart when Jesus died so that we might embrace rather than exclude one another.” -Timothy Lane, Paul Tripp
I’m not sure how to complete this blog because this is definitely not a completed lesson in my life (and won’t be this side of heaven).
It will forever preach the sermon of my desperate need for a Savior, desperate need for redemption, desperate need for grace upon grace.
And praise the Lord He’s met (and is meeting) the need.
So here I stand (I can do no other), learning to trust God and open my heart, while putting off the old patterns of the flesh and seeking grace to embrace and emulate the mind of Christ, come what may.
Soli Deo Gloria.