The more we know, the more we realize how much we don’t know. And the more we live, the more we realize how much we have to relearn many things we already know. A stubborn heart plus a true desire for more of God and personal change equals, well, let’s just say it may not always be pretty. Having a stronghold in a given area of life, otherwise known as an idol (to be a little brutal in honesty), causes us to force everyone and everything else in our lives to surround, bow to, or otherwise accommodate it. It can lead to irresponsibility and immaturity, whether risking important stewardships (like jobs, marriages, childrearing) or defending it in the face of wisdom and truth. The emotional bond to a stronghold, or idol, is like a vice grip that is often beyond our own will power to loosen or break on its own.
These principles can apply to any number of issues, whether illicit sexual behaviors, legal or illegal substances, varieties of fetishes, lying, stealing, pride, control, bitterness, unforgiveness. My primary application today will be in the area of relationships.
I have been a late bloomer in seemingly almost everything in my life. From having quick wit in response to verbal jabs to athletic development to knowing what to say in sensitive interactions to areas of maturation that seem to come easier or more natural to others, it has always felt like I have been behind the rest, so to speak. I understand that I am wired in such a way that I need to process things, but I am not sure how much this has to do with the process it has been to accomplish or move forward in life.
I have been a dreamer from a child, and the most important dream I held for years was that of a special relationship with another. I even had a vision of serving somewhat like a missionary with someone. I remember the hut, the dust, the sun. What I did not realize is that the very things God may give us can be as much of an idol as something that is intrinsically neutral as well as anything not good for us. I held onto this until it had a hold on me, and it was only in my adult years and after heartache that I realized I had an issue: I felt too much the need to have a relationship.
It is one thing to want that fellowship, that companionship, and to occasionally wish for it or miss it. But it is another thing to not walk in a healthy, freeing singlehood where you know you are complete within. If our completion depends upon a significant other, there will always be issues and weightiness, suffocation of self and the mate, and no true freedom. So even having the relationship does not solve the problem of excessive loneliness that stems from this stronghold—another hard-learned lesson.
When wrestling with this issue after having finally come face to face with it, I realized how easy it was to accept bad circumstances in relationships for the sake of keeping one, or making excuses for a situation that should not even exist, for the sake of companionship. It is important to do our best at building friendship, even though emotions often stir and grow quickly. It is vital to discover the other person’s core compatibility needs, and share yours with them. These are areas of life that must work well between the two without compromise. There are usually just a small handful of things in this category. Other things, such as preferences and nuances, are more surface and can be negotiated or changed if need be without much or any issue.
Everyone has at least a few things that are core or vital to them, though, and to be true to these things is to be true to oneself. It is very important to note that holding to these core values is not a form of judgmentalism. Being judgmental is when we put ourselves up or others down for differences we have with them. This may manifest in what or how we communicate to them. But in the context of an intimate relationship, we have the right and even responsibility to ensure equal yoking with others. It is critical to discern core differences and address them with the other person, and in a manner that is respectful and non-judgmental, because it can very easily be communicated in an insensitive way. You will likely face a response that has interpreted even the most gentle of communication as being judgmental, so you must be judicious as to what you say and when and how you say it. If you don’t address core compatibilities though, you will most certainly have great troubles sooner or later in the relationship, the kind that separate people and often shred the two in the process.
Our struggle with idolizing relationships often leads us to the superhero complex when confronting core differences—we become a missionary to our partner. We have so much of a codependent bond to the person, and we cycle through a series of behaviors. We ignore or dismiss these differences, and we do everything to avoid situations where they may surface. But we finally get to a point where we are cornered by them, and we may slip into rescue mode. We can change them. We can influence them. We go from making excuses for things to going on a mission to correct or omit them, even if we have to do it singlehandedly. We pray witchcraft-like genie prayers, we react out of anxiety and fear when the situation or behavior comes up, we overly-express our feelings and dissatisfaction, and we slip into a mode of depression and anxiety ourselves. All of these things become a hovering presence of suffocation over our mate.
To further complicate things, if there are areas of our mate’s life that he or she is actually interested in working on or changing, our behavior is not helping matters. It is actually making it worse because people kick against that type of thing. It is human nature, a God-given reaction built in us to protect ourselves from imprisonment and control. God used birds and lilies as examples of His provision over their lives, and then expressed that we are more valuable than them. Birds and flowers thrive on freedom to feed off God’s provision naturally. That is how they grow and become everything they are from within.
The same goes with people. If you try to change someone in the context of an intimate relationship, you are caging a bird or yanking on flowers trying to make them grow before their time. They may try to alter or even change behavior for a time, but most of the time it will be for you and not for themselves or God because they will not have likely had the freedom to get alone with themselves and God, separate from your hovering presence, and work that out on their own. Your behavior has been too mentally and emotionally distracting for them to do that. And your presence with them will remind them of what they need to do in order to be with you, which will provide increased pressure on them to perform, to make something happen unnaturally. They will eventually kick against that too, and rightfully so.
We must empower our partners to be able to choose freely their walk with God and their dealings with areas of their lives, especially in the area of core compatibilities. In the meantime, we have to be patient and determine if we have the ability to wait and quietly love them in the meantime. We have to find healthy circumstances to place the relationship in, whether that means backing off from time together or from certain settings, especially if we are still triggered to anxiety or anger at the behaviors when they surface. We must refrain from addressing them once we have stated clearly how we feel or where we stand about those things. We have to trust they are capable of remembering what we have said without repeating ourselves a thousand times to them.
We don’t have to make it work. It should work naturally. We should prepare ourselves emotionally for the possibility that nothing will change. Anyone can change and even radically, and some may, but it is not up to us. It is up to them. Let them have their freedom. Let them grow and become everything they can possibly be.