PAULINE and Geraldine met at church one day. They seemed immediately to have much in common. Both had a baby and another child each under six. And their respective husbands, Brice and Doug, seemed to get along together as well. Both families spent much time together over the ensuing five years, at church, in each other’s homes, serving others for Christ together, and serving and loving each other. Both couples were active in their serving within their church, much to the extent that between the four of them they were nearly three fulltime equivalent pastoral roles (senior leaders) on the church staff. Each couple was not only an ideal complement for each other, but both couples were an ideal complement for their church. Everything worked so well. And, best of all, the church was growing in reach into the community, and in spiritual depth.
But then something happened, which happens in a lot of relationships. A misunderstanding occurred, a theme of poor communication developed, and the relationship disintegrated.
Geraldine and Doug experienced a sudden loss within their family, and they found what they deemed to be no solace from Pauline and Brice. For Geraldine and Doug, it seemed that for Pauline and Brice it was pretty much business as usual, and Geraldine and Doug found that extremely hurtful. In fact, it was as if their friendship had withered in proportion with their increased responsibilities at the church, and upon their mutual reliance to run the church. The more they worked together, the less they were friends. How could their friends — best of friends — and pastors at that — become so cold and unloving… overnight?
There’s always two sides to a two-sided story, however. Whilst Geraldine and Doug were grappling with their loss, Pauline and Brice obviously had to shoulder the bulk of the church workload, and they were already burning out. They hadn’t realised that they privately resented the fact that Geraldine and Doug already had a plethora of support, and it seemed as if Geraldine and Doug didn’t need their support. That hurt! But the fact was Geraldine and Doug were privately watching for support from Pauline and Brice; support that Pauline and Brice had erroneously thought was superfluous. It was a massive misunderstanding, because of a lack of communication, transparency and vulnerability. Both couples wanted to be needed, and neither couple felt the other cared. The fact was both couples cared a great deal.
What started out as beautiful in the realm of relationships became caustic, then toxic.
The couples came eventually to be so hurt as to despise each other, and the fractured relationship between the couples actually caused marital friction (between partners in both marriages) where there had previously been none.
There’s a reason why church is difficult, and why many people find they’ve outgrown church. Church demands an intensity of relationship that can quickly outstrip the maturity in the relationship.
Now, these sorts of fractured relationships don’t just happen in church, but they do frequently happen in the church.
Here is a vital truth we all need to face: get close to anyone — like we do in churches — and we find we’re forced to face truths we would prefer weren’t there.
God places us in community to become intimate with others, which feels good for a while, before community becomes the source of pain and the catalyst for growth.
The wisdom for couples like Geraldine and Doug and Pauline and Brice is as simple as it’s painful. To transcend the pain they would each experience for their closeness, they each needed to be mature enough to crave reconciliation. It’s too easy for couples like Geraldine and Doug and Pauline and Brice to become polarised. And yet all they each needed to do was to keep putting Christ first.
Put Christ first and growth becomes inevitable. The key irony surrounds pain. Had it not been for the pain Geraldine and Doug and Pauline and Brice experienced, there would be no impetus or vehicle for growth; no need of needing to put Christ first in a fresh and meaningful way.
The mature keep putting Christ first, because to be mature requires consummate commitment to humility.
Getting close to other people forces a response. Either we grow in accommodating people or we resent what intimacy forces us to face.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.
Postscript: the example of Geraldine and Doug and Pauline and Brice is fictitious — entirely, and deliberately, fabricated. It’s merely an illustration.