People like to connect. We’re wired that way. Connecting to something or someone is extremely powerful, but it’s risky. We can hurt and get hurt. When stuff happens (and it always does), people will often reassess their relationships. Unfortunately, for the people in Malachi’s day, they were deconstructing their relationships—not to be safe—but to free themselves from their commitments (Mal 2:10-16).
If you’re going to deconstruct your relationships, it’s a good idea to discern the “camels” from the “gnats.” Jesus said that we tend to strain out gnats but have no problem swallowing “a camel” (Matt 23:24). Is Jesus just being silly? I think he’s trying to help us here. Apparently, we’re inclined to quibble over petty issues when there’s the proverbial elephant in the room. Jesus calls the elephant: “weightier matters.”
What’s on Jesus’s “weightier” list? Justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matt 23:23). If you’re going to deconstruct your relationships, work toward “doing justice,” righting the wrongs while “loving mercy” as well. It’s easy to throw the justice hammer down with no pity. And it’s even easier to shower everything with compassion and scorn responsibility. Engage with people in honest, gracious, redemptive ways that do not get jaded with the passing of time. As the Lord says through Malachi, “guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless” (2:16).
If you’re going to deconstruct your relationships, it’s a good idea to look inside the “cup.” No one likes doing dishes. Who has time to do that? We’d rather quickly rinse and move on. But again, Jesus is trying to help us out. People can clean the outside of their cups without touching the scum on the inside (Matt 23:25-28). We can’t see inside someone’s heart, but there are signs of scum.
Scummy relationships feel hollow and empty, as if something is missing, or is somehow being overlooked. Perhaps it even seems unclean. You sense manipulation or intimidation. Or maybe the scum surfaces in putdowns. Or maybe there’s just too many lies. It’s painful to look inside a cup because you realize that scum is about power and control. We can’t change someone’s behavior, but we can make changes in our own life to stay safe.
One of the ways we can protect ourselves from scum is to develop safe boundaries. “Boundaries define us,” says Henri Cloud and John Townsend. But they are not walls. They are like fences with gates—so that we can let the good in and let the bad out when it gets inside. We can also take comfort that “everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to light” (Mark 4:22). And it’s okay to walk away. The kindest gift we can give to people who repeatedly hurt us is to remove the opportunity for them to sin against us.
So how can we help each other? Let’s create space for difficult conversations knowing that God’s grace is greater than all the gnats, camels, elephants, and cups in the world. For “where sin increases, grace abounds all the more” (Romans 5:20).