Broken relationships come in all sizes and descriptions. For example, a woman told me about a broken relationship with her brother. Because she doesn’t speak to him any longer, she wasn’t going to take part in her family’s Christmas celebration, as usual, because her brother would be there. That not only affected her enjoyment of an important family get together, but her young sons would also miss out on that family occasion.

A friend of mine is in the midst of a broken marriage relationship, a marriage of over thirty years. It’s not her fault that the relationship is broken, and she is doing all she can to repair it. But her pain has been palpable as she deals with the brokenness of this long-term most intimate of all relationships, her marriage.

Another friend was “downsized” from an organization and she felt the decision was extremely unfair. It came from people she had trusted as friends. But now that work relationship is severed and it has caused on-going hard feelings between her and the management she once respected. Though some time has passed since this relationship was severed, the memories are still painful.

I think of two friends, who are still friends, but something happened a few years ago, where one felt she had been betrayed by the other. Though it was basically one of those terrible misunderstandings of life, the friendship has never really been the same since then.

Think of the broken relationships in your own world, whether they are yours personally or those you are aware of. Consider the ripple effect that broken and hurting relationships have, not only on the people directly involved, but inevitably on many others as well.

Are we doomed to have to live with these broken relationships? What is our duty and responsibility in trying to mend a broken relationship?

Jesus’ “Fix” for Broken Relationships

Consider what Jesus taught us to do when a relationship has been broken or wounded.

Matthew 5:23 – 24:

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Notice that Jesus is talking to religious people and that would seem to indicate that even committed people who are trying to do the right thing will have relationship struggles. I think Jesus is also telling us that mending broken relationships takes priority over religious activities and duties. He is teaching us that mending broken relationships has a very high priority.

Since Jesus says that if you “remember that your brother has something against you,” it must mean that it is possible to forget that you have a broken relationship. You may ask, how could you forget a broken relationship? Well, since they are so painful, we can find ways to put them out of our minds instead of dealing with them. Here are some of the methods people may use to “forget” about those unpleasant, hurting relationships:

  • You stay very busy, even if you have to create unnecessary activity. I’ve noticed that when I want to put off an unpleasant task, I use busyness as an excuse, and can I ever generate busyness when I want to. My guess is you’ve done the same thing.
  • You convince yourself that there’s nothing that can be done about it. You try to rationalize away the need to be reconciled by convincing yourself it would be an exercise in futility.
  • You decide that since you didn’t cause the problem, you shouldn’t be the one to initiate the reconciliation. This is one of our favorite cop-outs when it comes to reconciliation. Shouldn’t the person who caused the problem initiate any reconciliation? Seems right to us, so we forget about that broken relationship.
  • You find other relationships to fill the gap in your life. Often people look for substitute activities or people to take up the slack of a broken relationship. When it is a romantic relationship, many often find a rebound relationship to take its place. And that need to find a replacement relationship often leads to very poor choices.

Jesus said we are to go to anyone who has something against us. Now, exactly who would that include? Well, it includes those whose feelings are hurt because of you, those with whom you’ve had a misunderstanding that has not been clarified, those people to whom you spoke hastily chosen words that were not appropriate and caused anger or pain, those who feel you’ve treated them unfairly or neglected them, just to mention a few.

Any people in your life that fit that description? Have you been “forgetting” that they have something against you, sticking your head in the sand, so to speak, so as not to have to face that unpleasant reality?

Notice that Jesus didn’t limit it to those who have something legitimate against us or those who have a right to have something against us. No, he says if you know that someone has something against you, whether it’s your fault or not, then you should take action.

This seems unrealistic, unfair and unreasonable, doesn’t it? That’s because the principles of scripture are not based on pop psychology or current opinion polls. And very frequently, God’s ways are not our ways; indeed, they are frequently the opposite of what we would consider reasonable. So, if you’re committed to being an obedient disciple of Jesus Christ, be prepared for the fact that you’ll frequently be going against what your friends and counselors might tell you.

Earthly counselors would be more likely to say, “If someone has something against you and it’s not your fault, it’s not your problem. Let him or her make the first move.” But that’s not the way Jesus would deal with a broken or wounded relationship.

Keep in mind that the Lord knows what works. Not only are his ways right, they work, as unreasonable as they may seem to our finite minds. So, by faith you need to be prepared to go to someone who has something against you even if what they have against you is unfair or off-base.

Jesus also made it clear that being reconciled was very important when he said, “leave your gift there in front of the altar” and go. Basically, he was teaching us to drop what we’re doing and go be reconciled. Make it a very high priority on your to-do list. Don’t put it off.

When you procrastinate in being reconciled, all kinds of problems are created. The break in the relationship grows deeper and wider. The reason for the break is exaggerated and amplified way beyond reality. Innocent people are hurt because the relationship is not reconciled. Gossip and backbiting increase. It causes church and family splits and most tragically, it adversely affects your testimony for Jesus Christ.

Jesus said “First go. . .” That’s a directive, right? Not a suggestion, but a direct command. And who is to go? We are. We should make the first move even if we’re not the one at fault. The Master said you make that first effort to be reconciled and do so quickly.

That is obviously a very humbling thing to do. Why is it important for us to be willing to humble ourselves? Well, the Bible teaches us that if we humble ourselves, we won’t have to be humbled. Have you learned that lesson a time or two? I certainly have. Whenever I refuse to humble myself, I discover that sooner or later that humbling comes in a much more painful way. So, humbling yourself is easier than being humbled.

Secondly, humbling ourselves is learning to bring our old prideful self into submission and to become more like Jesus. Jesus is our ultimate role model in humility, as you think about how he humbled himself in order to take on flesh and come to earth. Nothing we ever do to humble ourselves could come close to what he had to do in order to become our Savior. And most of the time, when we humble ourselves, it’s because we deserve it. Jesus didn’t deserve the humility that he assumed.

As painful as it may seem, humbling yourself is a wonderful spiritual discipline that leads to a closer relationship with the Lord, as you share with him in similar suffering.

Now, I want to make clear that there is a difference between humbling yourself and allowing others to humiliate you. God has not called us to suffer intentional abuse in our relationships. There is no justification for allowing yourself to become a doormat. In fact, that is dishonoring to God because it dishonors his creation.

Where is the line between humbling ourselves and allowing someone to humiliate us? That’s a question that would have to be considered in each situation, but if you will pray and sincerely ask God to give you guidance, and then perhaps seek some biblical advice from trusted friends or counselors, God will give you directions in your relationship concerning whether you are humbling yourself or allowing yourself to be humiliated.

I hope you’ll plan to read the conclusion of this message on Dealing with Broken Relationships (Part 2) where we’ll talk about how we go to the person to whom we need to be reconciled. And what we can expect.

Meanwhile, pray about any broken or wounded relationships in your life right now and ask God to reveal what steps you should take, if any, in trying to be reconciled.