This is post 6 of 7 in the series “RELATIONSHIP RESCUE - JESUS STYLE”
Relationship Rescue-Jesus Style: What Went Wrong? – Wrecking A Relationship
A friend gave me a wonderful little book by David Heller entitled Growing Up Isn’t Hard to Do If You Start Out as a Kid. That book is a real spirit lifter. At one point in the book, for example, David Heller asks a group of kids, age 6 through 10, to answer some questions about love and marriage. Here is a sampling:
How do you decide whom to marry?
“You flip a nickel and heads means you stay with him, and tails means you try the next one.” Kally—age 9
“You’ve got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming.” Allan-age 10
“No person really decides before they grow up who they are going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you’ve got to find out later who you are stuck with.” Kirsten—age 10
How can a stranger tell if two people are married?
“Married people usually look happy to talk to other people.” Eddie—age 6
“You might have to guess based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids.” Derek—age 8
How can you make a person fall in love with you?
“Don’t do things like have smelly green sneakers. You might get attention, but
attention ain’t the same thing as love.” Alonzo—age 9
“One way is to take the girl out to eat and make sure it’s something she likes to
eat. French fries usually work for me.” Bart—age 9
How do you make a marriage work?
“Tell your wife she looks pretty even if she looks like a truck!” Ricky—age 7
Now for all of the winsome humor with which we surround the marriage relationship, the facts about marriage these days are anything but humorous. Recent data from the US Census Bureau indicates that two thirds of the couples in first marriages today are likely to divorce or at least temporarily separate. Seventy-nine percent of those who divorce will remarry and nearly 50 percent of those second marriages will fail. It is against that backdrop that I wish to focus today on some of the factors which can wreck a relationship. I want to use as a test case the relationship between Isaac and Rebekah in the book of Genesis. If ever there were a marriage made in heaven, it was this one. Rebekah was a beautiful young woman with the right background. She came from a good family. She was well trained. She had every possible advantage. Isaac was the son of Abraham, a man whose faith is trumpeted throughout both the Old and the New Testaments. Isaac was the designated heir both to Abraham’s faith and his fortune. So this was a union of two people ideally suited for each other, and furthermore, their relationship was blessed by God. However, as time passed, their relationship began to fray, and a marriage, which began as a dream, wound up becoming a nightmare. What went wrong? Of course, that’s always the question whenever a relationship is wrecked—whether it’s a relationship with a friend, a business partner, a spouse, or a child. What went wrong? Well, I don’t have a be-all, end-all, cure-all message today, but I do believe that Isaac and Rebekah can help us to see some of the factors which can wreck our relationships in life. So what went wrong for Isaac and Rebekah?
First, they started blaming instead of claiming.
When trouble struck—and trouble always does—Isaac and Rebekah turned that hurt on each other. They started blaming each other. For twenty years, Rebekah was unable to have a child, and Isaac blamed her. Finally she did have a pregnancy which was terribly difficult, and she blamed Isaac. She wound up giving birth to twins, Esau and Jacob, but that went bad, and they all wound up blaming each other.
Of course, our instinctive response whenever problems arise is to blame others. We have been well-trained by our culture and by our own sin-bent nature to play what psychologists call “the blame game.” Jesus was referring to that game when He said in Matthew 7:5 that we are first to remove the plank from our own eyes so that we can see clearly to remove the speck from our brother’s eye. What a graphic illustration! Blame, says Jesus, is like a plank of wood in our eyes blinding us to the solution to our problems. You see when you start to blame, you establish a lethal pattern in your life: Blame leads to resentment, resentment gives way to anger, and nothing destroys relationships like unresolved anger. There is another way. You can stop blaming others, and start claiming your troubles. Instead of finding fault, you can start finding faith.
Do you remember Joseph in the Old Testament? He had been sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers. Years later, the tables were turned. Joseph had become the Governor of Egypt, and his brothers stood before him expecting, justifiably, to be condemned by him. Joseph certainly had good reason to blame them for the years of suffering and imprisonment he had endured. Yet, listen to what Joseph said to them, “What you meant for evil against me, God meant for good.” Dear friends, if, in some relationship in your life, some person has hurt you in the past, there is only one attitude which can bring healing and hope to your life. You have to be able to say to that person, “Whether you acted intentionally, or irresponsibly, or accidentally, you hurt me in the past, and yet God is using even that for His good.” You see the Bible emphasizes the fact that the past is done. Our sins are forgiven and forgotten. Therefore, we are to stop blaming others for what they have done to us and start claiming the promise of all that God has for us.
So like Joseph, we can stop blaming and start claiming. We can stop finding fault and start finding faith. By the way, do you know that Joseph, in the Old Testament, wound up giving his children names which had special meaning for him? He named his first born child, “Manasseh,” which means “God has taken the sting out of my memories.” Isn’t that something! You see, Isaac and Rebekah wrecked their relationship by playing “the blame game.” Such a shame. If only they had been able to learn what Joseph learned—that God can take the sting out of our memories; that God can help us find faith, not fault.
Second, Isaac and Rebekah lost their attitude of gratitude.
When you look at the early years of their marriage, it is clear that they saw each other as gifts of God, but over time they began to focus on their individual needs and desires. Isaac became consumed with building his wealth. Rebekah became consumed with helping her favorite child, Jacob. They were successful in their individual pursuits but they lost their attitude of gratitude for each other. They started counting their successes rather than their blessings, and they wound up taking each other for granted, neglecting each other’s needs and desires. As a result, their relationship fell into a boring life-sapping routine.
Why do marriage relationships breakup? My guess is that most people would probably say that adultery does it. But do you know that adultery is number 7 on the list of causes for marital breakup? What’s number 1? Believe it or not, it’s boredom, neglect, taking each other for granted. I love the story about the older couple who were having breakfast one morning, and they were reading the newspaper. Suddenly the husband looked over at his bride of so many years, a feeling just washed over him, and he said, “Sweetheart, I’m proud of you!” She, being a bit hard of hearing, and never looking up from the paper quickly replied, “I’m tired of you too!” It’s true—some people do get tired of one another. You can burn out a relationship with boredom. Neglect, boredom, taking each other for granted—those are the quickest ways to wreck any relationship be it friend, spouse, partner, or child, but especially spouse. Mark this down. A wedding is an event; a marriage is an achievement—and you move from an event to an achievement by hard work. That means you don’t neglect the things that are vital to the relationship. You work to retain your attitude of gratitude for the gifts that God has given you in each other. You work to put the joy, the fun, the excitement into your relationship.
Isaac and Rebekah wrecked their relationship by drifting apart, by neglecting each other, by falling into a dull, boring routine. Too bad they couldn’t have known the Christ who says, “I have come that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Dear friends, put the fun back in your relationships!
Finally, Isaac and Rebekah turned their trio into a triangle.
One of the keys to their earlier happiness was that they invited God to make a trio out of their duet. They were all then singing the same song. They were united around their love for God and their love for each other. But later on they turned that trio into a triangle; that is, they started trying to use God to manipulate each other. Catch the distinction please. Inspiration is where God uses me to motivate you to do what’s best for you. Manipulation is where I use God to coerce you to do what’s best for me. A relationship built upon inspiration is going to thrive. A relationship built upon manipulation is headed for disaster.
Are you aware of the fact that in the first 17 years after 1620 more than 70,000 pilgrims came to the Plymouth Bay Colony in Massachusetts? In that 17-year period, there were only 6 divorces. Now that wasn’t because the pilgrims were so wonderful to live with or because they had it so easy. Neither of these things were true. It was instead because they took their promises and their commitments seriously. It was because they asked God to make a trio out of their duet. It was because they made inspiration not manipulation the hallmark of their relationships. Put in specific terms, they said, “God has brought us together in marriage so no matter what happens, no matter what problems we have to face, no matter how tough life is, no matter how strong the temptations we encounter, no matter what it costs, we will stay together, and we will make our love work.” Inspiration—not manipulation.
To embed that truth in your heart, I want to read to you now a love letter. It was written more than 100 years ago. When it was first read publicly on Ken Bum’s epic television series The Civil War, it evoked an almost unprecedented response. The letter that caused such a stir was written by Major Sullivan Ballou to his wife, Sarah, a week before the Battle of Bull Run. Here is the letter:
July 14, 1861
Camp Clark, Washington
My very dear Sarah,
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more…
I have no misgivings about or lack of confidence in the cause in which
I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution and I am willing—perfectly willing—to pay that debt. Sarah, my love for you is deathless. It seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break. Yet, my love of country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield. The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and bum to ashes the hopes for future years when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness. But, oh Sarah, if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights—always, always. If there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath. As the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not mourn me dead. Think I am gone and wait for thee for we shall meet again.
Major Ballou was killed at Bull Run. The way he used his courage and his love to give his wife strength, value, and faith hints at the purposes God intends for all of the loving relationships He creates. So, dear friends, invite Jesus Christ to make a trio of your duet. Give yourself to a never-dying love for the Lord and for each other. If you do, then I promise you, your relationship will be marked by a joy which shall never, ever end.