How Do You Cultivate a Resilient Relationship?

How Do You Cultivate a Resilient Relationship?

In every relationship there is one constant. Whether it be friends, coworkers, neighbors, parents, one’s spouse or children, at some point in time, one will fail the other. It may be intentional or unintentional. It may be big or small. But you will fail someone close to you, and someone close to you will fail you. 

Right here, in the face of an inevitable failure, is when relationships have the highest likelihood of coming to an end. Often all it takes is a single offense to undo years of intimacy. Friend groups dismantle. Marriages dissolve. Collaborative partnerships come unhinged. Failure happens in every relationship, and all too often it means the relationship is over.

Forgiveness isn’t the goal

Where does one go from that place? I used to think failed relationships could be mended if people merely learned to forgive each other, but I was wrong. Forgiveness alone can’t fix a relationship. 

To be clear, forgiveness is necessary. Jesus calls every one of His followers to model a lifestyle of forgiveness. Christians who cannot forgive others should check whether they have experienced forgiveness from God (Matthew 6:14-15). On top of that, we are called to forgive not just here and there, but with such regularity that we lose count (Matthew 18:22). We are to have open hands with offenses and let go of wrongs with diligence. And yet, as difficult as forgiveness may be, it is not enough to repair a relationship. 

The problem with making forgiveness the goal of healing strained relationships is that it makes confession the only means. Confession is certainly an essential part of mending relational fallout. Confession is a way for the one who has committed an offense (or is a member of a group or corporation that has committed an offense) to own their failure by “naming ownership of the thing” that brought fissure. Ownership is essential for the offender to name and for the offended to witness. 

But when forgiveness is the goal and confession the only means, then relational mending is a one time transaction that can make the offender feel absolution has been achieved while the offended is still emotionally (and possibly physically) wrestling through the pain of the original offense. This sort of forgiveness may very well be the grounds for a sense of freedom from the offense for the offender, but it will not necessarily restore the relationship for both parties.

In a culture of hyper-individualism, relational immaturity and an underlying expectation that everything we want should come with the click of a button, this can be hard to accept.  

While both parties may share a common perspective over what created the distance between them, it will not necessarily reestablish their former relationship. In some circumstances such efforts can actually create more relational distance when this dynamic isn’t acknowledged. 

As a pastor, I’ve seen this take place with a husband who has cheated on his wife, and having confessed to the affair and apologized, becomes enraged and wonders why she can’t “just treat him normal” from now on. “I said I was sorry, ok?! Why can’t you let it go?!” His failure to acknowledge how his previous sin continues to cause pain — even when she has extended forgiveness — actually may cultivate a sense of insecurity leading her to fear that her husband may commit the same sin again: “Was he just saying sorry so we don’t have to talk about it anymore, or is he really sorry and wants to change?”

As a pastor in our city, I’ve seen the same dynamic in conversations regarding race relations and the history of racial injustice in the United States. When historic injustices that have lingering effects are brought up, a common trope from some is “Why can’t they just move on?! That took place so many years ago!” This kind of response communicates a lack of genuineness in remorse and an unwillingness to listen. Is it any wonder that our city and nation are still so separated? 

Forgiveness is necessary, but it neither shuts off the valve of pain nor completes the work of restoration. Confession is necessary, but it is not sufficient. 

Resilience needs more

So how can we cultivate relationships that press through failure? What is the path to cultivating resilient relationships?

Every relationship that endures through failure requires an additional step: the important move through confession to repentance. While confession owns one’s guilt over a past action, repentance works toward actions of life for the other. Confession longs to receive absolution. Repentance longs to engage in the long-suffering work of repair. Confession can be perceived as a one and done transaction. Repentance accepts that a cyclical and ongoing journey is necessary.  

In some relationships, the most we can hope for in the short term is forgiveness. Much like Paul and John Mark (Acts 15:36-39), we end a relationship with an empty ledger of offenses but choose not to continue on in the relationship. For those relationships we long to see last, we need to go beyond absolution and do the enduring work of restoration. And for that, we need more than confession and forgiveness. We need repentance and repair for both parties. 

A well worn path

Examples of this are seen throughout the biblical storyline. It’s etched into the Old Testament law given to Israel to guide them into communal flourishing (e.g. Exodus 22, Isaiah 58). It was practiced by leaders like King David who had a heart like God’s in navigating national injustices (2 Samuel 21). It’s what John the Baptist proclaims to prepare the way for Jesus (Luke 3:1-6). Zacchaeus lives this out in establishing a radical financial repayment plan after which Jesus says, “Salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:1-10).

This was also carried out in the early church. In the early African church, we find the Canon of Hippolytus (4th Century A.D.), a book on church order as believers sought to live out the teaching of the Apostles. There were certain vocations that were not accepted in the early church because of how they maligned or abused neighbors. In some cases baptism was forbidden unless it could be established that they had left such vocations by the testimony of three witnesses.

If it was found that they had returned to a destructive line of work, they were barred from the church community. Injustice was simply not tolerated. It was not a place where you could just live life any which way and still remain in the fellowship. And when were they allowed to return to membership in good standing? It wasn’t after education, confession and forgiveness. Rather “they are to be excluded from the church until they repent with tears, fasting, and alms.” Repentance and repair revealed in everyday life.

In Work and Worship: Reconnecting our Labor and our Liturgy, Matthew Kaemingk and Cory Wilson comment on this early church practice. They write, “…the worker’s road to redemption runs primarily through liturgical practices—not theological education. Through the liturgical practices of tears, fasting, and alms, the worker is ultimately restored to the worshipping community.” 

Too much?

This response may seem outlandish or over the top. Frankly, most of the biblical characters and writings seem absurd to a world that downplays evil and so downplays the long suffering necessity of restoring and cultivating resilient relationships. We want what Bonhoeffer warns against as cheap grace or an easy believism that erroneously justifies doing anything we want to do with the assurance of absolution (Romans 6:1-2). 

Rather, Christians are to have a robust appreciation for the complexity of sin and the pervasiveness of evil within relationships and cultures, so we don’t approach God and others transactionally. We don’t come just wanting to get absolution, but actually seek reconciliation through the road of costly repentance. All of this has us humbly crying out for “more grace” (James 4:6).

So what about you? Me? Is it too much to ask of us?

If you want to cultivate resilient relationships, don’t just come with confession looking for absolution. Come with a posture of repentance ready to repair and go down the long road of rebuilding. It takes longer than we often want to give, but what you get are restored relationships, enduring community and genuine intimacy.

And for that we should be willing to give everything. Again. And again. 

Confession Hurts and Heals

Confession Hurts and Heals

There is a story that is attributed to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle where he anonymously sent a telegram to a handful of wealthy and influential men in London. The telegram simply read, “Flee at once! All has been discovered!” According to the story, each of the men left town and were never heard from again. The point of the story, regardless of its veracity, is that you can count on the fact that everyone has some kind of secret that they are painstakingly attempting to keep under lock and key.

We all suffer from this peculiar problem, which Dallas Willard refers to as sin management. Instead of confessing and repenting of our sin, we seek to either cover it up at best or ignore it at worst.

In a world of Photoshop and Instagram filters, the pressure to maintain an image of perfection is overwhelming. We do all that we can to convince others that our lives are great, our relationships are void of pain, and we always wake up looking like we are heading to a magazine cover photo shoot.

As a result, we find the idea of confessing sin to be antithetical to the good life that we are trying to find, because we believe that it jeopardizes our reputation and self image. When this is the way we think about vulnerability, transparency, and confession, it so easily leads to us developing a pattern of hiding and managing sin that we carry throughout our lives.

We find that the effort and energy we expend to cover up, manage, and hide our sin and shame can often be more exhausting. Not to mention it can bring about more shame. We feel trapped.

But it gets worse. The choice to remain silent about our sin creates an inner turmoil that impacts us not just on spiritual levels, but physical as well. A clear example of this is found in the words of Psalm 32:3:

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away

through my groaning all day long.

God has created us as wonderfully integrated beings; the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of our lives are impacted by one another. Thus, it is no surprise that when we keep silent about our sin and attempt to bury our shame, we find that it has physiological ramifications as well.

But even though we know that hiding our sin is not good and that it will only create more problems for us, we still choose to hide and manage our sin. Because somewhere along the line, we convinced ourselves that the cost of others knowing our sin is greater than keeping it to ourselves.

The great irony is that freedom and deliverance are found in the bittersweetness of vulnerability, transparency, and confession. Which is what the psalmist declares in Psalm 32:5:

I acknowledged my sin to you,

and I did not cover my iniquity;

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”

and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

When we talk about confession, we are referring to the practice of being open and honest about our sin with God and with others (James 5:16). It is about admitting our brokenness with sincerity to God as well as inviting others to see our brokenness so that we might find healing and hope. While we can trust that God will love us and forgive us when we confess our sins (1 John 1:9) we don’t have the same assurance when we open up to others. This is why we must be wise and discerning with whom we choose to share “the fine chinet of our life with,” as David Powlison puts it.

Now, it is not difficult to see how the practice of confession is simultaneously appalling and appealing. As Frederick Buechner once said, “What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else.”

In our desire to live whole and integrated lives, these practices of confession and repentance are not simply “things that Christians should do,” but are vital habits that bring healing and freedom to our lives that we could not experience by managing on our own.

May God grant us the humility and strength to confess our sins with one another in such a way that we find healing and wholeness. And may it also create a sense of plausibility for those we encounter in our everyday life to see that while confession hurts, it does so in order to heal.

Praying In Step With the Gospel

We all have people and people groups in our lives that we uniquely deem as “other” because of various factors. And it is precisely this categorization of the “other” that is antithetical to the truth of the gospel. Because of the gospel there can be no “others,” but only potential sisters and brothers.

Galatians 2 looks at Paul’s confrontation of Peter’s hypocrisy and the way in which he turned his Gentile sisters and brothers back into “others.” This behavior was not just unkind or even sinful. But according to Paul it was “not in step with the truth of the gospel.”

In light of this truth, you may find this prayer of confession helpful. May the gospel be rooted deep in our hearts in such a way that it compels us to walk in step with its truth everyday, everywhere, and with everyone.

Father in heaven, we come to you as the One in whom every family on earth derives its name. We come to you, the creator of this world and the author of all that is good, true, and beautiful. We acknowledge that You have made humanity in all of our glorious diversity to reflect and image Your glorious divinity.

Yet we find within all of us the ability and desire to divide and despise fellow image bearers whom we deem as being “other.”

Father, forgive us for such naive, ignorant, and ungodly mindsets that tear down what You have built. We confess that we have in various ways lived out of step with the gospel. The gospel that shows no partiality and that reconciles all peoples together as they are reconciled to You on the basis of Christ’s shed blood on our behalf.

Lord, help us to see where this gospel has not taken root in our hearts. Where we either desire to keep people divided or where we are simply indifferent to the division we see.

We confess that we are guilty of not only lacking understanding and compassion towards those who are different from us, but that we have often justified our indifference and our prejudice in ungodly ways.

We confess our pride that places us over and above other people, which perpetuates a mindset and culture that continues to be out of step with the gospel.

Oh, gracious Redeemer, we ask that the light of the gospel would shine into the darkness of our ignorance. We ask that the love of the gospel would warm our hearts towards our neighbors of all backgrounds. We ask that the peace of the gospel would captivate our imaginations and mobilize us in our vocations to work towards the shalom that you are building everything towards. We ask that the reconciling power of the gospel would crucify our hostility and resurrect in its place a godly hospitality that boldly declares, “in Christ the many are made one.”  

Do this work in us and through us that the power of the gospel might be put on display for the world to see and for the world to know.

We pray in Christ’s name and for His glory.



RE: In Regard to Lent:

In regard to Lent…

If you use email to operate the logistics of your work and life, you surely see “Re:” in your inbox daily. “Re,” of course, means “in regard to.”  “Re:” signals that someone has replied to an original message.

In The Beauty of Weakness: A Walk Toward Eastera Lenten devotional provided by Christ Community Church, I keep coming across the theme of “Re.”





I am reminded by our pastoral staff that Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter) is a season of reflection and renewal…a time to slow down and take a look at my life and my spiritual walk. A season to identify sins that hinder and recalibrate my habits in a way that leads to a deeper dependence on God.

Christians often use the days of Lent to fast from something significant in their life. This self-denial may come in the form of giving up anything from chocolate to caffeine to social media – or maybe even a more poignant sacrifice. The overall point of this personal sacrifice, according to Associate Pastor Jordan Green, is to “loosen our attachment and recalibrate our contentment.” Jordan writes that by denying our own strength or pleasure, “we might more clearly know the sustaining work of our Lord.”

As we have begun the annual observance of Lent, it is wise to take this opportunity to respond to an original message ourselves. We respond to the message of God’s unfailing and steadfast love – the very same love that Moses and the Israelites sang of thousands of years ago after their miraculous exodus through the parted Red Sea.

“…Who is like you — majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? …In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them…” Exodus 15: 11,13

We respond to the message of this same God who who kept covenant and steadfast love to a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:9) and sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to die on our behalf because he so loved the world. (John 3:16)

It’s no coincidence that so many of the themes of lent start with the prefix, “re.” Dictionary.com tell us that “re” is, “a prefix…with the meaning ‘again’ or ‘again and again’ to indicate repetition, or with the meaning ‘back’ or ‘backward’ to indicate withdrawal or backward motion.”

Each year during Lent, as we withdraw, quiet our hearts, and break our regular routine, we are invited to reflect, again. We are invited to repent, again. We are invited to recalibrate, again. We are invited to renew ourselves, again. As a matter of fact, our God of love and amazing grace invites us into renewal every day of the year, not only during Lent.

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:4-5

“In regard to” Lent, will you respond to God’s original message of love through the disciplines of reflection, repentance, and recalibration? There’s no better place to start than in Scripture and through prayer. On Easter Sunday, let us celebrate the Risen Lord our Savior with a renewed heart, mind, and spirit.

GUEST AUTHOR: Lauren McMonagle
Lauren attends Christ Community Church, and this text originally appeared in her BLOG: https://rootedlauren.com/ 
Used by permission.