Are You Unknowingly Sabotaging Relationships?
by Tim Brown
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Today I picked up a brick.
It was hard and had sharp edges. Tossing it in my hand, I felt its weight and rough texture. In a fit of frustration and resentment, I started to hurl it at my friend…
Was I going to throw a literal brick at a friend? No. I was about to do something worse. You see, I had spent many hours working on a project to help a group of people and received an email from one of them. I expected it to be a “thanks for your hard work,” but it wasn’t. The email questioned my character and that of a close friend and all but accused us of deliberate sabotage.
Surprised and angered, I was getting ready to fire an email back, setting my friend straight. My initial anger caused me to read more into the email than was intended. As I sat in front of the computer with my fingers on the keyboard, I realized that if I wrote the email now, I would say things I’d later regret and could not take back. So I got up and walked away.
Later, after cooling down and praying about the situation, I responded by directly answering the questions in the email without criticism or complaint. I reread it several times to make sure it wouldn’t cause additional problems or say anything I would regret. Why? Maintaining a good relationship with my friend was more important than getting even.
Sticks and stones...
Growing up I remember learning the following poem: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” I believed that statement…until someone called me a name, and it hurt. At that moment I realized names and words can hurt far more than being struck with a stone. Physical wounds heal fairly quickly, but wounds caused by words can take days, months, even years to heal. Negative, hurtful words that spill out so easily are like dirty bricks that cause emotional pain.
Think through the past week or month. How often has someone said something to you that hurt? How do you feel about the person who hurt you? How often have you lashed back? Do you wish you could take back your words?
Have you ever stopped to consider the negative effects these dirty bricks have on your relationships? In considering this, let’s start by looking at three typical human behavior patterns.
First, when someone says or does something bad to you, the response is generally to do something bad in return, only a little worse. Often, just perceiving a wrong brings on a negative response. If you doubt that, pay close attention to your reactions over the next few days. Make a mental note of how often you respond to things in a negative manner.
Second, when someone does something good to us, the typical response is often to accept the good and move on, often without acknowledgment.
The reason for this is connected to the third typical behavior pattern.
Human beings by nature tend to be self centered and our society encourages that trait. Every year Americans spend billions of dollars on self-improvement products to look better, feel better, and increase our self esteem. At the same time we see the divorce rate around sixty percent, a deluge of law suits, teens rebelling against their parent’s authority, etc.
It’s easy to develop the attitude that we are entitled to the good things people do for us. Much of today’s advertising centers on the idea that you deserve to have this product and if you can’t afford it, we’ll show you how to get it anyway. These advertisements have a subtle effect and with consistent exposure, gradually affect our mindset. As a result, when someone does something nice, even though it’s appreciated, our thoughts are on ourselves and not on the one who did the good thing.
These three behavior patterns make it difficult to maintain meaningful relationships. Little misunderstandings can explode into huge blow-outs. A sarcastic comment deeply wounds the one receiving it. Resentment develops in the heart of someone who consistently does good to a spouse, child or parent without recognition. Marriages break apart because each spouse is so focused on their own needs that they forget about meeting their spouse’s needs. By following these behavior patterns many are unknowingly sabotaging their relationships.
Dirty Bricks Sabotage Relationships...
For a better understanding of how this works, picture a brick in your mind. Think about how heavy it is, the rough texture, sharp edges, and pointed corners. What would happen if you threw that brick at someone and hit them? They most likely would pick it up and throw it back—only harder, because they’re angry.
Now, think about the impact an insult, sarcastic comment, complaint, accusation, or other negative comment can have on someone. It may not bring physical pain, but it can create emotional and mental pain causing them to lash back.
Put the two together. Picture in your mind that each time you make a negative comment to someone, you are throwing a dirty brick that can wound worse than a physical brick. Once that brick is in the air, you can’t take it back.
People often refrain from physical action against someone because they know they’ll get hurt in turn and may wind up in jail on assault charges. What would happen if we used the same restraint when it comes to the criticisms, complaints, and insults that we so easily throw?
Stop Sabotaging and Start Building...
The Bible gives insight on how to counteract these basic human behavior patterns. Three times the New Testament tells us not to trade evil for evil. In other words, if someone does something bad to you, do not do something bad back. Jesus talked about the importance of “turning the other cheek” when someone does wrong to you. The biblical response then is forgiveness.
Peter once asked Jesus how often someone could sin against him and he had to forgive them. He then suggested seven times. Jesus’ answer was seventy times seven. He wasn’t saying that when you get to 490 times you can stop forgiving. He was saying, don’t keep track; keep on forgiving.
When someone throws a dirty brick at you, pick it up and hand it to the Lord Jesus. Tell Him what the person did to you, why it hurt so much, and admit it if you want to throw it back. Tell Him that instead you are handing it to Him and asking Him to help you. If you still have trouble forgiving the person, ask God to remind you of how much and how often He has forgiven you for the wrong things you’ve done.
The Bible also says that every good thing we receive comes ultimately from God. As such we should develop hearts of gratitude and thanksgiving. God blesses us, not because we deserve it, but because it is His nature to bless. We are also challenged to build each other up and not tear down, so the biblical response when someone does something good to you is to thank God and look to build up the individual. A simple way is to acknowledge what that person did by expressing your gratitude with a simple thank you.
The scriptures also teach the proper priorities in our relationships. God is to be first, then He says to put others second and finally ourselves third. An old Sunday School song talks about Jesus and others and you, which spells joy. The biblical response to self-centeredness is to put God first and others second. An unexpected byproduct for many, as a result, is joy.
To prevent sabotaging your relationships, stop throwing dirty bricks. If someone throws one at you, hand it to Jesus. Then hand the offending person a golden brick. A golden brick is anything you say or do to someone that seeks to build them up or benefit them in some way.
There are three conditions you must meet for a brick to be golden. First, it has to be genuine. Insincere flattery is a dirty brick. Second, it must come from the heart. Third, you must give it with no expectation of anything in return. Try going a week cutting out all the dirty bricks and adding as many golden bricks as you can and see what happens.
Today, I picked up a brick—a dirty brick—and was ready to throw it. Instead, I handed it to Jesus. With His help, I gave back a golden brick. My relationship with a friend was more important than my getting even. Once done, my heart was full of joy with no regrets.
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Well written and informative. We should always be slow to speak especially when we are aggravated. Well said.
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