There are landmines everywhere. They seem to be in most families, most marriages, most churches… things that are not supposed to be talked about, topics we don’t bring up, things that happened that aren’t to be mentioned. If they are, there’s a big explosion and everyone will get hurt.
I’ve been pondering landmines recently, I mean the real ones, and considered a few key things about them… they’re usually weapons used in a war. They’re often hidden, or covered. They explode and hurt people when they’re touched. They are often things left behind long after the initial war is over. They are often stood on later by those who are innocent, uninvolved in the war, or unaware they are there. Then I thought about the relational ones. We go to war in our relationships… “you have something I want, I want to be right, you’re stopping me from having something, you hurt me and I’m going to punish you, I deserve better.” If unresolved, these “wars” leave behind landmines in our relationships… topics that will explode again if they are brought up. They are hidden or covered in an attempt to “preserve the peace”, but are really just creating a minefield. Sometimes, new people come along and unknowingly touch the landmines, and suddenly there is hurt (confusion, cold silence, arguing…).
Then I thought of the ways to deal with mines. It seems you either need someone who is familiar with the territory and can tell you where to avoid standing, or the mines need to be removed… set off, dug up, thrown out (or something like that, I’m certainly no mine expert!). If the mines are left there, there’s still fear, there’s still tension, and the land can’t be used properly or enjoyed. It seems the best way is to remove them. How do we do this relationally? Maybe things like pride, selfishness, unforgiveness, anger, and judgment need to be removed, repented of… Maybe there has been miscommunication, or misunderstanding. Maybe we need to sometimes humble ourselves and let go of our “rights”, and allow God to be our Defender and Provider. Sometimes this can be a very painful process! And maybe sometimes it needs to be the right time, and probably needs to be covered in a lot of prayer first…
I am certainly not innocent of creating minefields! I am most prone to do it in my marriage. We have a “war”, and then I go cold and silent. If he brings it up again, I fight my point to the bone using every cunning argument I can muster! Sometimes he’s completely unaware that he’s upset me! Fortunately, I have a husband who relentlessly digs up the mines, humbly listens and is always the first to say sorry and want to change. Sometimes I want to say “But I was really enjoying that war!” My Mum used to tell me I should have been a lawyer… I always loved a good argument! Pride, selfishness, punishing others with our anger… these things somehow make us feel entitled, powerful, or in control. But my husband’s attitude leaves me defenseless… I can’t be angry anymore! No matter how much I want to prove my point and be right, his humility and love takes all the air out of my argumentative sails. He tells me that the relationship matters more to him than being right. How does it come so easily to him… I’m also learning to be more communicative about things that have upset me that I know he might be unaware of, and I’m learning how to communicate them effectively and inoffensively.
James had something really interesting to say about all of this…
James 4:1-12 “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. 11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?”
Don’t you just love James?! So practical… and he doesn’t mince his words! He seems to be saying “Recognise what you’re doing, who you’re really fighting, and by God’s grace, stop it!” Easier said than done… but I noticed three key concepts in there: Submit (to God), Resist (evil and your selfish desires), Humble Yourselves. Probably the three things I struggle with most! But as I watch my husband do this (and wonder why it seems so easy for him), and as I start practicing it myself, it seems to get a little easier and happen a little sooner every time.
Here are a few things we learned from a marriage course, and learned from our mistakes, that I hope can help others on this relational journey! Certainly not just for marriages…
- Take out the trash – all relationships, especially close ones, regularly build up “trash”… things that were said, hurts that were felt. We try to bring these up for removal regularly with each other. This is especially important with “the little things”… these can easily turn into land mines!
- We can easily offend each other with how we bring up our hurts. We learned about the “I feel ______ when you ____” statement. For example, “I feel hurt when you spend more time looking at your phone than engaging with me in the evenings”, or “I feel unimportant when you don’t remember the things I talk to you about”. This helps it to be less confrontational than “you don’t think I’m important!” or “you never listen to me!”
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