Hope for a Hurting Relationship

white daisy flower bloom

“And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. 37 And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. 38 But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. 39 And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark and sailed unto Cyprus; 40 And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the Churches.” (Acts 15:36:41).  

As the narrative unfolds, the story is told of how Paul, the converted former killer of Christians, longed to revisit several churches he was concerned about. Approaching Barnabas, whose name means “Son of Consolation” Paul said, “Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do” (Acts 15:36).

It was a wonderful suggestion for two reasons.

First, by the visit of Paul and Barnabas the local church would be strengthened through spiritual accountability. There is an old adage, “People tend to do what is inspected not what is expected.” The business world recognizes this concept and has supervisors to make sure work is being done. If Christians are not encouraged, and exhorted to good works, there is a tendency to move away from gospel duties and privileges. For this reason, pastors are to “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim 4:2).

Second, by the visit of Paul and Barnabas, the people in the congregation would know they are loved, thought about, and cared for. Some people do not know when they are being shown love and grace. The people of Palestine, for example, once enjoyed the presence of Jesus Christ for thirty-three years. Many did not know that Love was in their midst.

Some people do not want to be bothered; they just want to be left alone. And yet it is right that some way be found to let others know they are thought about and cared for.

As Paul and Barnabas discussed the details for their journey, Barnabas must have said something to this effect. “Paul, if we are going to go on this short-term mission’s trip, I need to contact John Mark so he can prepare as well.”

It was at the mention of John Mark that Paul suddenly grew tense. Did Barnabas really intend that John Mark should travel with them? That was not going to happen.

John Mark had no courage. He could not be depended upon. He had deserted the work of the ministry during the first missionary journey. In Pamphylia, a place known for robberies and murder, John Mark had grown frightened, and turned back. “No Barnabas”, said Paul, “I do not want to work with John Mark.”

Before too harsh a judgment is passed on John Mark, try to put yourself in his place for a moment. Imagine yourself as a missionary to Nigeria in Africa, or some Islamic country in the Middle East.  As an abstract idea it may seem exciting to be willing to put yourself in harm’s way for the sake of the gospel. But the limitations of the heart may prove to be too great. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Perhaps Paul had expected too much of John Mark. Bitter memories of being deserted mixed with a fundamental distrust of John Mark, made Paul determined that he would not work with him again.

Barnabas saw the situation differently. It was true that John Mark had turned back during the initial efforts to evangelize the Gentiles. But it was also true that John Mark had repented of his weak response and wanted another chance. “Paul, why should John Mark not be given another chance?”

During World War II, America was fortunate to have as the Fleet Admiral a gifted Commander named Chester William Nimitz. During his cadet days at Annapolis, a professor spotted Nimitz as he engaged in a prank that broke the rules of the Academy. Nimitz thought that he would be brought before a disciplinary board, and perhaps expelled. But nothing happened, except that he learned a lesson on the meaning of grace. In later years, as he dealt with men under his command, he used to say, “Every dog deserves at least two bites.”

Barnabas thought that John Mark deserved a second chance. Christian grace and charity wanted to give him that second chance, but Paul said, “No.”

As Barnabas pressed his point, so did Paul, until soon there was more heat than light on the situation, and more emotion than was proper. Finally, they each reached a breaking point. It was decided that they could not work together, pray together, preach together, or have any type of daily fellowship with one another, and the heart asks, “How can things be going so good and then get this bad?”

In order to arrive at some sort of an answer, it is helpful to comprehend the relationship cycle. Myron Rush has observed four types or styles of relationships that may be classified as co-operation, retaliation, domination, and isolation. Before these four relationship styles are examined in detail, consider these preliminary summary statements.

Relationships tend to start out in a co-operation style.

As problems appear, the desire to retaliate emerges if one feels victimized. 

As problems grow worse, the need to dominate the situation tends to take over.

Finally, the pain and stress become so great isolation is sought.

When the question as to “Why?” this happens, “Why do relationships move from being productive and rewarding to a destructive level?” several factors are noted.

First, sometimes a relationship will disintegrate because there was a wrong reason for entering into it. Generally speaking, people enter into a relationship in order to have their needs met. Therein lies part of the problem. When a relationship is formed simply to get one’s needs met, and there is no interest in meeting the needs of the other person, the relationship is doomed to trouble. When confrontation comes in such a causal relationship, there will be nothing to hold the hearts together.

Second, sometimes an unwillingness to attempt to meet changing needs will lead to confrontation, isolation, and termination of the relationship. Just as needs change within a relationship, so do goals and interests. In order to maintain an ongoing co-operation style relationship, those involved must make sure their goals and interest remain compatible.

That in turn demands communication. In order to meet changing needs, and maintain compatible interests, it is necessary to communicate in those areas of the relationship. New, and changing needs cannot be met, if it is not known they exist.

At the risk of being misunderstood, it does seem that some women are known for assuming that men know what is on their hearts and mind. They operate off of the assumption that men know why they are upset, and if they do not know, they should know, and since they do nothing to change the situation, then they are just plain no good! So there! Guys are often left wondering what in the world happened! What happened was a failure to communicate on all levels.

And there is something else. Many relationships fail because of a failure to make the relationship a priority. One mark of how important something is can be measured not only by the amount of money spent, but by the amount of time invested. If there is a desire to discover a person’s priorities, look at how time is spent. Time represents life. Generally speaking, individuals invest time into what is most important to them in life.

With these general principles in mind, consider the four relationship styles, beginning with the most positive, that of co-operation. The co-operative style is the most encouraging, because the focus of attention is on serving others, and that pleases the Lord. The Bible says, “Look not every man on his own things but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:4).

In co-operative relationships there is mutual trust and respect, and that is earned through the meeting of needs. We trust and respect those individuals who continually meet our needs.

In co-operative relationships there is mutual encouragement of creativity, and decision making, and that too is good. People need to feel needed. In a co-operative relationship there is a feeling of mutual ownership of the plans, projects, and accomplishments, because there is a mutual input of creativity, and decision making. There is shared leadership.

 As wonderful and idealistic as the co-operation relationship is, apart from engaging in joint problem solving, a willingness to be transparent and a willingness to forgive and forget mistakes

the co-operation relationship style will give way to the retaliation relationship.

The retaliation relationship style always develops as a result of a decision to put our needs ahead of others. There is a thought process that is followed.

The first conclusion made, is that the needs of self are more important than the needs of others. This is not a hard mindset to embrace, for the natural impulse of the heart is to think that the needs of self should be met first. The wisdom of the world re-inforces this natural self-centered tendency, reflected in part in the foundational documents of American society. By way of illustration on July 4, 1776 in the city of Philadelphia, a group of men declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  When the needs of the colonist clashed with the needs of the Royal Crown, the colony decision said in essence, “Meet our needs first.”

The second conclusion made, is that the other person will no longer voluntarily meet our needs. At this point trust ceases, and self is convinced that the other person is more committed to meeting their needs than ours. It is then felt necessary to try to force the other person to meet our needs. This is done in a variety of ways, such as raising the voice in anger, using sarcasm, or the silent treatment.

The temptation comes to take more aggressive action towards the other person by leaving the room when they enter, offering no helping hand or arguing about meaningless issues.

What happens next, is that the other person is viewed as a barrier, blocking the way of having our needs met. The logical outcome is to do whatever it takes to remove the barrier.

All of this leads to the next phase, which is a struggle for domination and control. The philosophy is embraced, “I must do everything in my power to win.”  In the name of expediency, deliberate distortions are justified, not to mention lies, and outright deception. There is selective rage or, to make bad behavior appear noble, offense is taken on behalf of someone else. In this way new alliances are formed, and new allies are found.

The relationship now degenerates into perpetual conflict. Nothing that is said, or done, is right. The conflicts increase, because no one likes to be dominated, and domination is now the grand objective. In the end, no one really wins, or dominates.

As the retaliatory relationship is condemned in Scripture, in such passages as Romans 12:19-21, so the domination style is spoken against in Ecclesiastes 4:1-3. “So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. 2 Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. 3 Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.”

This is a sobering passage to read, because it presents God’s judgment for domination relationship styles, and for good reason.

In the domination relationship style, the person being dominated begins to avoid conflict. A “Peace at any Price” mentality sets in. But this is not healthy, because the personality of the individual being dominated is suffocated. The dominated person’s creativity vanishes. The oppressed person becomes the slave of the dominator, to a certain point, until the art of counter manipulation is learned.

During the days of slavery, in the ante-bellum south many a black slave learned to walk slow and talk even slower, just to avoid work or a beating.

All matters being relatively equal in time the dominated person will seek isolation from the oppressor.

A feeling of rejection, a sense of hopelessness, and deep bitterness characterize the isolation relationship. Avoidance now becomes the goal. Communication ceases almost in total. Mistrust skyrockets. More problems develop, and remain unresolved, privately, socially, spiritually and financially. Each person becomes more self-centered. Emotional problems continually increase.

A total lack of concern for the other person’s needs emerges. Eventually the relationship will end totally, unless the restoration process begins.

In the case of Paul and Barnabas, a mixture of the various relationship styles is manifested. What began in a spirit of co-operation (Acts 15:36), turned ugly, when Paul decided to retaliate against John Mark (Acts 15:38). Barnabas was determined that John Mark should go, Paul was equally determined he should not travel with them. One party had to dominate, and so the shouting began.

The attempt to dominate, led to Barnabas and Paul being isolated from one another as they went their separate ways.

Does any of this have to happen?

The answer is, “No.”

Is there hope for recovery in a hurting relationship?

The answer as, “Yes”.

But it involves genuine repentance, and the putting away of selfish goals, which remains at the root of all broken hearts. The will of God must also be followed.

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