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Biff and Mable came to our home. Upon entering, and while I wasn’t looking, Biff turned one of my lampshades cockeyed. Biff knew I would eventually notice and readjust the crooked shade. A few moments later, I was talking to Biff and noticed the lampshade over his right shoulder. I excused myself and went to straighten it. I resumed our conversation. Biff laughed. I asked him why he was laughing, and he said he tilted the shade on purpose. We both laughed because I do notice things. I have always observed certain things. It’s who I am. God made me observant, literal, and detailed, a blessing and a curse.
The curse part is that sometimes I can get on my friend’s nerves, though my closest friends are humble, making my little quirk a non-issue. Biff and others have enjoyed making fun of me through the years. We all have our quirks. Our son is like me. He has quirks. I recall asking him to go upstairs and retrieve something from my bedroom. He bounded up the stairs, and by the time he got to the upper landing, he had forgotten why he was there. That is our son. He is absolutely adorable, honest, and sincere and seems to find no greater joy than serving people. But he can be absent-minded. His focus needs sharpening. I love him dearly and believe he will make a special lady happy someday. But he tends to lose his sense of awareness from time to time. It is not intentional. It is part of his personality.
Then there is my adorable wife. It is well-known within our small circle of friends that she “cannot tell time.” I say she lives on “island time.” There is a reason we call her “Saint Lucia.” We also labeled her “The Rocket.” It is our way of poking fun at her. If she goes into a store to buy one item, it could take 30 minutes. Though she is near “omnicompetent” and could run a small country, she also loses focus regarding time management. In all three of these illustrations, there are no sin issues involved. Our son does not willfully forget things so that he can irritate me. My wife is not premeditating about how she can tempt me by losing track of time. I do not measure and straighten every item in our home to see who I can annoy.
We all have at least one thread hanging out of our garments that reminds us of our imperfections. Can we adjust a few of our personality peculiarities? Of course, we can. Anyone can change some things, and we can always pray about our quirks. We can ask God to help us change where and when appropriate. We can encourage and assist each other too, but at some point, we must understand how our personalities will be what they are. There is always a unique way about our fallenness, but we must distinguish between different personalities and sin.
We must not condone wrong thinking and behaviors but we should embrace and leverage our uniqueness. We get into trouble regarding personality differences when we try to change people to be like us. For example, I could arrogantly believe what comes naturally to me should be easy for everyone. Why can’t my family walk into any living room and notice which lampshades are 16mm off? You’d have to be pretty ignorant not to see what I see. Of course, you respond by saying you have better things to do than keep track of lampshade tilts. I would say you are right.
One of the most natural sins to commit is when we impose our view of how secondary issues ought to be for everyone. Our differences should bring glory to God while benefiting each other. When I first married Lucia, I thought we could do more if she were like me. Later, I saw the foolishness of that thinking. I praise God that my wife is not like me. God made her a particular way, and it has been His kindness to help me see and appreciate those differences. I now understand how difficult our life would have been if she were a “Ricky clone.”
I trust these helpful pointers will serve you as you grow in your relationships with imperfect people. These thoughts are a collaborative work that Lucia and I came up with and, by the grace of God, try to model in our home.
#1 Release Imperfect Friends: God made your friends a certain way. Part of every Christian’s job is to help each other mature into the unique vessels God is shaping them to be. To pick on, degrade, criticize, condemn, or discourage your friend, will impede the grace of God in them and your relationship. If you are harsh or unkind, your friend will never be able to realize all that God has prepared for them to be. There is a unique relationship between a couple or parents and children or Christian friends. Christians are part of the body of Christ. The Lord forms Christ in our spouses, children, and friends. Our job is to cooperate with God by serving our friends in their ongoing progressive sanctification. John Donne said in Meditation 17, “No man is an island of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
#2 Don’t Be Surprised: Having a full view of the doctrine of sin is essential when building relationally with others. If you don’t, you will be surprised when they sin. You should never be surprised when a person sins. Sinning is one of the things we are good at doing. The most apparent implication of the gospel is that people sin, which is why Christ died. Remember? If we did not sin, all the planning and orchestrating by God to bring His Son to earth to die on a Roman cross for sinners would be lunacy. He died for sinners. Sinners will sin. If our first instinct is to get mad, upset, frustrated, disappointed, and critical when a person sins, we have not made it to first base in our understanding of the gospel or our relationships. My point here is dealing with sin, though the point of the chapter is about non-sin-related issues. I’m primarily writing about how different personalities can tempt us to sin, not how actual sins affect us. It is essential to understand how wrong responses to sin and quirks aren’t helpful in relationship building.
#3 Be an Encourager: If you are more apt to get bent out of shape when a person does not do something the way you think they ought to, you will likely create a culture of fear in your relationships. Once that culture develops, it will be tough to make it right. It will make folks guarded, insecure, and second-guess themselves. They will decrease, and you will increase (John 3:30). If you have a critical spirit, you will exasperate your friends. It is not a good relationship whenever a person breathes a sigh of relief when you are gone. I had a relationship like this. Whenever I was around him, it was like being “Muhammed Ali’s verbal punching bag.” It was a good day if my day did not include him. I had to psyche myself up just being around him. In time, I became a completely different person. While I’m not putting all of the dysfunction of the relationship solely in this person’s lap, I have felt released from prison since the relationship dissolved. My heart aches for many people, especially spouses, who cannot biblically walk away as I did from what must feel like a life sentence.
#4 Discern the Situation: Few things in our marriage have been worth arguing about. Though neither of us has kept a record of wrongs, we agree that most of our disagreements have been over preferences. Rarely do we argue over things God would deem important enough to discuss at that level of intensity. When my wife is late or makes me late, I am more concerned with my reputation than whatever she may be doing. If our kids were not making a suitable grade or performing according to my preferences, the temptation is to think more about how it reflects on me. If I am not careful and regularly repenting, it becomes how others perceive me than what is vital to God. I can quickly lose track of God’s perspective as my discernment meter shuts down because I have made a mountain out of a molehill.
#5 Be Humble and Confess: We all have sinned when responding to others. The only way we can fix our improper responses to our imperfect friends is by humbly confessing those sins and seeking forgiveness from the ones we have hurt. If we do not own our sins, there is no possible way to rectify the situation. The hard part is how our unwillingness to own our sins speaks to our most potent and core sin issues: self-righteousness and self-sufficiency. The self-righteous person has a greater-than-attitude that exalts oneself over others. They are relying on themselves rather than trusting God. Whenever I sin to justify my actions, my argument has holes. If I continue to press my case, I will dig a deeper hole, and the people I am trying to convince will relationally distance themselves from me.
#6 Live within the Community: I had a friend who tried to get rid of a particular sin issue, and after he experienced a season of success, he would confess it to his wife. He lived a cyclic life, and his marriage rode the roller coaster with him. I appealed to him for nearly a year to share his struggle with his wife. He did. They are on the road to mending the brokenness in their marriage. He is doing this in a community. I’m well aware most of the people who interact with our ministry do not have the kind of community that can serve them in their struggles. One of the reasons our ministry exists is because of a breakdown in some local churches. Also, it is not unusual for a person to come to me asking that their church not know anything about their situation. I will honor their request most of the time, though it saddens me how the relationship between them and their local body is divisive and secretive. A healthy body has a healthy immune system, analogous to the body of Christ. Paul wrote mostly for local churches. He urged church people to do effective “one another-ing.”
#7 Remember the Gospel: Some people say, “Rick, you are Johnny One-Note.” I guess I unashamedly am. The gospel not only defines my starting point, but it sets my trajectory, as well as my ending point. For me, all of life is about the gospel. If our life is not about the gospel, it is a waste, and we will tragically miss its point. While there are many implications of the gospel, there is one significant implication we need to gain from this chapter: I am a bigger sinner than any person I know. If this truth rivets your soul, it will radically alter your relationships.
If you are married, will you walk through all the questions in this chapter with a close friend, preferably your spouse? Adding your children and friends to this discussion would benefit you immensely.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).