“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18 (NIV)
There is a word I haven’t dared to use when I’ve faced relationship issues or tensions in the past. I’ve avoided it. I’ve been afraid to name it. I’ve ignored it when possible.
The word is dysfunction.
Now … let me confess something: I have dysfunctions. Other people I know have dysfunctions. All humans alive have dysfunctions. It shouldn’t scare us when we acknowledge that dysfunctions exist. But we should be concerned when someone lives as if dysfunctions are normal.
Ahem. I’m pointing at myself here.
I’m reminded of a time when my sister came to visit. My family had just finished a few renovations where some of the wiring in our house had to be reworked. For some reason our water heater would no longer work unless the back floodlights of our house were turned on. So if you were enjoying your hot shower and someone turned off the floodlights — wham! — cold water was very quickly making you cringe, scream and yell downstairs for someone to turn the floodlights back on.
My sister tilted her head and said, “Lysa, you know that’s weird, right? You do know an electrician would be able to fix that, right?”
Technically, I knew an electrician could fix the problem. But that wasn’t my automatic response. Calling an electrician would cost money, and when I was growing up, that wouldn’t have been an option for my family. So this thought process got ingrained in me that it’s better to get scrappy and navigate around problems rather than pay to fix them.
But this isn’t just about floodlights and hot water. It’s about what the floodlights-and-hot-water situation represents. It’s about no longer being aware of just how dysfunctional things have become and reacting as if something is normal when it absolutely is not. Dysfunction means things aren’t working correctly.
In other words, something gets in the way of how things ought to be. For example, a mother is supposed to parent her child. But it is a dysfunction when a child has to parent their mother. Another example is when a spouse is expected to be not just a partner but a savior of the other spouse. Or when one friend’s happiness is dependent on another friend making them feel OK all the time.
And when we trip over areas of our relationships that just don’t feel right, we have a choice: We can use the conflict and tension to make us more aware of our issues or totally ignore what the other person is saying and stay wrongly convinced that this will get better on its own.
But it won’t.
Appropriately addressing the issue is healthy. Ignoring the issue increases the likelihood of dysfunction.
I love how 1 John 3:18 instructs us in the importance of loving and living in relationships in truth: “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” When this isn’t the case and we find ourselves in a relationship where truth is manipulated, denied or partially omitted for the sake of covering up behaviors that should be addressed, dysfunctions may not just be difficult … They may become destructive.
We then run the risk of a pattern of wrongs being tolerated as acceptable because over time they start to feel less alarming, more acceptable and eventually our version of “normal.” And while the issues with my hot water were more of an inconvenience, the dysfunctions hiding out in my relationships and life could be truly detrimental.
Friend, I don’t know how these words may be resonating with you personally today, but here’s what I want to say to you: Dysfunctions may be inevitable. All relationships may be difficult at times. But they should not be detrimental to our well-being.
I know how hard all of this can be, but this is where I am learning healed hearts and healthier relationships begin. They begin when we choose to stop ignoring dysfunctional, maybe even destructive, patterns and when we get honest. When we choose to bring these issues into the light and address them in equal measures of both grace and truth. When we pursue healthy boundaries and see them as the way to love others well without losing the best of who we are.
We don’t have to be afraid of naming the tensions we’re already wrestling with. Healthy honesty isn’t trying to hurt us. It’s trying to heal us.
God, help me not avoid or become numb to the dysfunction that may be present in some of my relationships. Even when naming it, addressing it or confronting it feels overwhelming or even impossible, remind me that I am not alone. You are with me. Give me the courage to have the conversations I need to have. Give me wisdom and discernment. I want to live in the health You desire for me to experience in my relationships. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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Trying to navigate ongoing issues in your relationships by yourself can be exhausting and honestly quite lonely. Lysa TerKeurst understands. That’s why she’s taking the truth inside her new book, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes, on tour November 10-20 so she can unpack with you everything she’s learning! Purchase your ticket today here.
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FOR DEEPER STUDY
Proverbs 10:9, “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely …” (NIV)
When you’re in the middle of something hard, the process feels messy and uncertain. The road ahead feels long and unpredictable. But the Bible tells us that, in the middle of what we’re facing, we get to choose to walk in integrity, which brings about the security we desperately want.
What would it look like for you to walk in integrity today? Share with us in the comments!
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