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When Friendly Fire Makes You Bitter...

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"Left to itself, the victim narrative becomes the seed for bitterness. It can be a great burden to be sinned against. It's easier to sin and repent than be sinned against." Paul Miller

It’s far more gentle on our souls to damage others, feel conviction, repent, and move forward - than it is to absorb the damage of others. This gets more true the closer the relationship. I can easily absorb the jabs of others from a distance. If I haven’t met my adversary or have only heard their criticism under a social media post, but not so much when they are in my community group, or family, or even marriage. At that point, damage can feel debilitating. I’ve said many times, that the closer the proximity and the deeper the vulnerability, the more we risk the type of damage that will drive us towards bitterness. Consider David’s deep cry...

“For it is not an enemy who taunts me— then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me— then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.” Psalm 55:12–13


There is no way you get through this broken landscape of a world without feeling what David feels in this Psalm. No way. And there is no way you can prepare for it. No way you’ll be able to make sense of it. You’ll even be tempted to shield yourself from ever letting it “ever happen again.” This is what bitterness can do. It can destroy and “defile many” (Lamentations 3:19-24) and refuses to be contained to your original adversary. You’ll find it easier to not be vulnerable and “known” than to be laid so bare to only have the same result and hurt again. 


So what do we do? Fix our gaze on who was ultimately laid bare and damaged by those he came to save. The greatest temptation to be bitter ever felt in human history was felt on the cross by Christ. God was laid bare. Naked and mocked. Shamed and rejected. Jesus had cause for resentment, and yet pursued those who would damage him. Our gaze will either be on our open wound, or on God who laid himself vulnerable before creation.  


Why does this matter? We can share our pain with Jesus (to a degree) as friends and lovers share intimate moments. We can experience the damage of a close friend and know that Jesus understands and has cried similar tears. We can walk “in the same shape” of Jesus as those who should have loved him instead killed him. 


As you process how much hurt you’ve been carrying, imagine the freedom offered you for doing worse. Imagine the freedom from the need to be a victim. Imagine the freedom to absorb the hits and yet bless in return. There is a better root than the one of bitterness. Let the gospel root grow in your soul, share the pain with Jesus, feel his embrace as one from an understanding lover, and move forward with confidence; confidence that you’ll be damaged again in the future, and yet Jesus will still faithfully be our portion and delight. We can trust him. 

Questions to Find Family Direction

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So, you’re serious about charting a course, but aren’t sure how to navigate those conversations. Truthfully, we already have bits and pieces of these critical conversations littered throughout ordinary days. Talking about the future while cleaning the kitchen. Strategizing about ministry while on vacation. Dreaming about how God has built our families while mowing the lawn. 

The challenge isn’t in starting these thoughts, but collecting and finishing them. Well, that and finding alignment with our spouse and kiddos. So, let me try to help by giving some big-picture and follow up questions that can help you. 


  • What is our mission or purpose? 


      1. What are we here to accomplish - specifically - and how might that be different from our best friends?
      2. What events or themes have defined us to this point as a family that makes us unique? 
      3. What has God made us good at? Effective at? Gifted at? Where are we most resolved?
      4. How would we finish this statement: “God has placed us here to ____________ and when we do _________ we feel his pleasure? 


  • What is valuable to us? 


      1. If we could only choose three values (ex: creativity, hospitality, generosity, teaching, etc…) what would others say we find most valuable?
      2. When we make decisions, what values help us say “no” or “yes” when we need to?


  • What does a win look like? 


      1. What is our vision of what we could do as a family if we had every opportunity and no limitations?
      2. What would need to happen so that in 30 years we can say we achieved our mission? 15 years? One?
      3. What will be some “road markers” along the way that help us measure forward movement? 


  • What will we put down to get to our goals? 


      1. As we count the costs, what do we foresee losing?
      2. What will be easiest - and hardest - so sacrifice to accomplish our goals as a family?


  • What will we pick up? 


      1. What new skills or knowledge will we need to pick up to reach our goals?
      2. What will need to be put down in order to pick these things up?
      3. What cross-shaped burdens will we be picking up to get our family down the road?


  • How hard will we strain? 


      1. What major moves do we foresee in making our family goals happen? Immediate smaller moves?
      2. What do we already see as an issue in the first year, the next ten years?
      3. When we fatigue, where will it be? When we’ll most want to quit, why would that be happening?


  • What if we fail?


    1. Can we be at peace that God is in control when we don’t hit our marks? 
    2. How is the gospel good news to us when we feel our dreams are slipping away? 
    3. Can we celebrate what we’ve learned and re-draft a new direction with what we know? 
    4. Can we exhaust ourselves in a specific direction while resting that God is God and will do as he sees fit?
Posted by Luke Thomas with

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