“Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” Proverbs 17:9 (NIV)
A handful of sand has about 400,000 grains of sand in it. If you live 85 years and meet about a dozen people a day, you’ll encounter this number of people during your life.
When you think about it, it’s just a handful of the 7.8 billion people who are all here on earth. With all of these people on the planet as we spin through the universe, there are bound to be a few friends who will let us down at some point. What should we do when that happens?
Relationships can be tricky. One thing we all have in common is that we are all balancing many relationships. So what do you do when things go sideways with someone you consider a friend?
A hope without a plan is just a wish. Don’t wish for better relationships; have a plan for what to do when they become difficult. Having an action plan for relational difficulties is one way we can foster love, as Proverbs 17:9 says: “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.”
Here is an exercise I do when someone’s words or actions rub me the wrong way. I ask myself these three questions:
- What is the most generous explanation for what they are doing?
- What is the most realistic explanation for what they are doing?
- What is the most optimistic explanation for what they are doing?
Answer these three questions for yourself with a boatload of humility and honesty, and you’ll have a terrific go-to plan to right the ship rather than scuttle the valued relationships you are in.
- What is the most generous explanation?
It’s hard to be generous with your thoughts when your feelings have been deeply hurt. I get it. It happens to all of us. Ask God to help you find a more generous, honorable explanation for the odd and off-putting behavior, mean words, rumors or other offenses that come your way.
Keep this in mind — evil seeks to distract you as a means toward the end of destruction. (John 10:10) Evil feeds on distraction, and distraction is like unhealthy carbs for relationships. Put distraction on a diet of the most generous thoughts and assumptions you can muster about the motives behind your friend’s mess-up by finding the most generous explanation you can think of. Maybe they thought they were being helpful. Perhaps the wound they inflicted was actually a failed attempt at expressing concern.
- What is the most realistic explanation?
Most people do things for a reason. It could be a silly reason, an unidentified bias or a simple misunderstanding. Put the hurts aside for a moment and ask yourself: What was really going on? What was the most likely reason this misunderstanding happened, and why was the unkind word said or repeated? Was there an underlying insecurity or sense of marketplace or relational competition?
Once we come up with a few realistic, honest and dispassionate explanations, we can do the heavy lifting required to find a way forward. Grace never seems fair until you need some.
- What is the most optimistic explanation?
The most optimistic explanation is the forward-thinking, next-time approach the Scriptures hover over quite a bit. Think of Peter, while the rooster crowed, denying he had even heard of Jesus. (Luke 22:60) It wasn’t long before Jesus called Peter a rock. (Matthew 16:18) The reason is simple: Jesus saw who Peter was becoming, not who he had been.
Perhaps we can do the same. Think about what your relationship might look like at some point in the future. Pick a direction for the future of the relationship; hang a target on it, and keep pointing in that direction.
Paul told his friends in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that there will only be a few things that will outlast everything else: faith, hope and love. Don’t let unresolved conflicts distract you from your faith, rob you of your hope, or interfere with your ability to give and receive love. Instead, have a plan in place to understand the conflict from a few new and different angles, and lead with the kind of love and grace you would like to receive.
Lord, we ask for Your help to foster love in our lives so that we may live undistracted by disagreements or hurt feelings. Give us the strength and humility to be generous, realistic and optimistic about others’ intentions, and help us to heap grace on others as You have so lavishly heaped it on us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
OUR FAVORITE THINGS
For a practical guide to living a more purposeful and less distracted life, grab a copy of Bob Goff’s book Undistracted: Capture Your Purpose. Rediscover Your Joy.
Or join Bob at one of his workshops at his California retreat center, The Oaks.
Bob Goff is a lawyer, New York Times bestselling author and founder of the nonprofit Love Does. If you want to find out more about Bob, you can find him online @BobGoff, email him at [email protected] or check out BobGoff.com.
FOR DEEPER STUDY
Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (NIV)
What’s one thing you can do today to give grace generously to someone you’ve struggled in relationship with? Share in the comments!
© 2022 by Bob Goff. All rights reserved.
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