Relational Messes: How to Clean Them Up
Relationships. They are beautiful. They are powerful. We can all recall a family member, friend, teacher or mentor who made a positive impact on our lives. Many of us can also recall people in our lives who are destructive to our journey and growth. Even as I'm typing, I see the faces of people in my life that have harmed me. I also see the faces of people that have contributed life and helped me become the man I am today.
I was having a particularly difficult day, not too long ago. I was spending lots of energy to be intentional in my relationships and it was hard work. It was mentally exhausting to listen, ask clarifying questions, fight for connection and understanding, and encourage others. I mentioned to my wife that I was done with the effort. In her succinct wisdom, she says, "You can have healthy relationships or you can have easy ones." I told her I chose easy for the rest of the day (It was about 8pm) and that I would think about the healthy ones tomorrow. But it's true, isn't it? Healthy relationships are not always easy. They require heart, head and hand investment. They demand follow through, respect, care and love. Healthy relationships are worth it, and as we invest and grow together, we often make relational messes. For example, sometimes I don't listen well and it devalues my family or friends. Sometimes I jump to conclusions about others. Sometimes I hold onto resentment and self-protect. Sometimes I take my "inner self critic" and project my problems onto others. We don't want to make messes, but we do. Hopefully we don't do it intentionally.
So what do we do when we create messes? How do we clean them up? Here a few questions that might help you.
1. What is the problem?
2. Who has been affected by this problem?
3. What are you going to do about it? To help answer this one, I have a subset of questions to help you sketch a plan on what you can do.
a. Describe what you were feeling, believing or perceiving when you made the mess.
b. Explain how what you were feeling, believing or perceiving affected you and your behavior.
c. Tell others how you felt about the negative, painful impact you made.
d. Apologize and ask for forgiveness.
e. Share what God is teaching you and how others can help you.
4. Do you need someone's help to clean up the mess?
5. When will you have this mess cleaned up?
In reality, it's as simple as 1-2 sentences for each bullet point. Honest leadership matters. Honest leadership that takes responsibility matters more. Honest leadership that takes responsibility and invites others into the vision of what God is doing matters the most.
Sometimes the most painful lessons are the ones we learn when we hurt people. We don't want to intentionally hurt others. That's abuse. But, we often do so out of the fear, lies or pain that is affecting our life. We clean up relational messes because we love, care and want to maintain connection and trust.