One of life’s questions that plagued me for a long time is, “How can God be honored after a failed relationship?” I’m not referring to the relationships that are blatantly bad or unhealthy.What I find myself agonizing over are the relationships I’ve lost a few painful times in my life that I believe made one or both of us better. Things were normal and wonderful one day, and out of nowhere, rubble was all that remained after lies, misunderstandings, or betrayal blasted shrapnel. No matter how much I tried or believed that everything would work out once the truth was clearly presented, they didn’t. And what was once good was gone.
I read an article recently that told a story which moved me greatly. The headline itself gripped me:
Missionary died thinking he was a failure; 84 years later thriving churches found hidden in the jungle
(You can read the entire article here, and if you are currently struggling with feeling defeated, I encourage you to do so.) A quick synopsis is that a medical missionary named Dr. William Lewis spent 17 years educating and serving several villages in the modern-day Congo. There was a relational falling out with some of the tribal leaders, and they asked him to not come back. So he didn’t. He returned home discouraged and believing that he failed to make a big difference. He died decades before a missionary team went to the same area and discovered a network of thriving churches in the very same community. The team who discovered them were in awe of how well these churches were flourishing in spite of not having a Bible in their native language there (they only had a French Bible). Though the original people exposed to Dr. Lewis’ ministry were no longer living, the current generations knew when the church originated, and that was under Dr. Lewis’ ministry.
As a people pleaser, I can empathize with this man who undoubtedly beat himself up over letting something like a conflict that couldn’t be resolved bring the good He was doing to an end. No matter how he felt about the falling out, God continued to work for generations to come.
I’ve also been encouraged when I studied the falling out between Paul and Barnabas. The Bible study I’m currently doing brought to light what a doozy that one was. (See Acts 15:36-41) These two were doing incredible things for God together. They traveled the known world sharing the gospel in between standing up for grace and truth when the church, steeped in tradition and legalism, brought opposition.
And then the falling out happened. The Bible never gives us an indication that they spoke to each other again. However, they each went and did separate yet effective ministries. They didn’t stop following God even after they couldn’t work out their personal issues.
God has used both of these accounts to help me come to peace about the fact that just because relationships fail, life afterward is far from worthless. In fact, I can testify from personal experience that it can, indeed, get richer because of the insights gained from what happened.
A relationship doesn’t have to continue forever in order for it to make a difference. Maybe sometimes we just aren’t supposed to know, this side of heaven, some of the ways we made a difference by living out our faith in the aftermath of a mistake we made or wrong we were handed by someone we loved.
This isn’t to say there shouldn’t be a time of grief and feeling the depth of the tragic loss. The real tragedy, however, would be if we stopped striving to make a difference simply because we didn’t see the shiny results we wanted. No, we may never again have an active influence with the person or people we wanted to, but if we’ve planted good seeds in the past, rest assured that they will continue to grow years after we’ve moved on. (I am compelled to acknowledge here the importance and effectiveness of prayer. Change CAN happen as a result even if contact with the other party is impossible.)
Wherever you find yourself in the journey of a broken relationship that you wanted to be whole forever, find hope in the fact that God is never done using any of us who follow Him. He can bring restoration that seems impossible, or He can work to teach us obedience to trust Him even if we don’t understand. There’s not one person who isn’t flawed, but God is always, without ceasing, completely good, and a genuine relationship with Him cannot end no matter what.
(As a funny post script, I was looking at old posts on the blog and found this one I wrote exactly two years ago. Apparently July 17th is a day where I share my thoughts on working through relationship issues. 🙂 )