Sunday, February 05, 2006

at a loss for words

i've been diagnosed with a case of laryngitis, a major symptom of which is the loss of my voice. not that i'm a naturally talkative person, but for the last nearly 1 year i've had to talk all day for a living, and it's a bit of a change to go from that to not saying anything at all. a common response that i've been getting when people find out is "ahhh... no wonder you've been so quiet". aren't i normally quiet? hmm...

anyways, the fact that i might have something valid to say or contribute, but was physically restricted from doing so, has brought back to mind another issue about having something to say yet not actually saying it.

let me backtrack a little: over the course of a few months last year, i found out that a number of my female friends were progressing in their relationships with their respective partners - i use partner in a loose and generic sense, for the various "progresses" cover the spectrum from starting to date, through getting engaged, to getting married. in all the cases the girls (afaik) were professing christians, and their partners were, at the time and imho, unsuitable husband material (me being of the opinion/belief that starting/continuing a relationship with someone who you w/shouldn't marry is a waste of time for all parties involved). the reasons for unsuitability ranged from being clearly non-christian through to nominal christianity - whichever way you look at it, not exactly your ideal candidates to fulfil the mandate of "[h]usbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Eph 5:25; see also the shtes' summary/thoughts from a wedding sermon on this and surrounding verses). i was closer to some of these girls than others, and the guys involved i mostly didn't know from a bar of soap. and so, the question with which i wrestled was this: should i say anything?

in an article titled evasive manuevers, author matt kaufman writes on the issue of "our reluctance to see and confront sin in our loved one's lives." he notes that:
We're often loath to confront any number of sins in their lives.

The chief reason is that we're afraid to damage our relationships. Imagine your sister is living with her boyfriend ... You're not happy about it; you may even be heartbroken about it. But you don't want tension with her, and you really don't want to take such a strong stand that you strain the relationship to the breaking point.

In a situation like this, you know the stand you should take. But, again, it's hard -- and you're scared of what could happen if you push it too far. So you don't say much. Or you say something, but you water it down. (You don't tell her she's doing something wrong; you ask questions that won't threaten her autonomy, like "Are you sure you want this?") Or you say nothing at all.

We're also reluctant to take a strong stand for another reason: We want to think the best of the people we love.
he goes on to agree with the common sentiment that for most people, the costs of taking a stand are too high. yet he reminds us that "no cost is higher than a soul", and progresses to relate an example from his life where he eventually confronts his friend "Becky", a single mum who had moved in with another man and subsequently married him. in response to a letter from Becky asking why a distance had grown between them, matt responds by explaining... and as a result
Becky never spoke to me again. I've always regretted that. But I've never regretted what I did. I can't be responsible for whether she took the message to heart. I can only be responsible for trying.

I only regret the times I should have tried with other people, but didn't. Sometimes I've had reason to hesitate: In deciding how to proceed, I had to think about things like how well I knew someone, what's the right time and way to talk to them, and whether they profess to be a Christian (which makes a big difference in the kind of conversation we'd have). But in stopping to think about these things, I've sometimes awakened months or years later to realize that, instead of finding the right way to say something, I've said nothing at all. Other times, if truth be told, I've just let my own fears lead me to procrastinate.

But this I know: If you love someone, you must seek the welfare of their soul above any risks to your relationship with them.

And you can't reach that goal by evasive maneuvers. You can only get there by going straight to the heart.
in reading and reflecting on this article, i realised how evasive i usually am. i dread confronting others about their sins/wrongdoings, even when i may feel some sense of righteous indignation. just like matt, i find all sorts of excuses about me not being the right person, the timing not being right, my knowledge of the situation not being sufficiently informed... the list goes on. and for the most part i end up saying nothing. i advocate the matthew 18:15ff style/method of conflict resolution, yet fail miserably most of the time in actually carrying out the first step. and when i do manage to open my mouth, what comes out is often a truncated, watered down, stammering, roundabout and usually lacking in love version of the truth.

not to deflect blame/attention, but it seems that many others suffer from this problem. in speaking to some other people with association with the couples i mentioned earlier, i find the reluctance to risk relationships exists in family members and friends alike - no one appers to be willing to call anyone to repentence, lest the confronting nature of the challenge push the other away and sever/damage the relationship. (granted, there may well have been other people doing things in the background / of which i am not aware - i am only commenting on what i myself have seen/heard. i also fully realise that i do not have any grounds for accusing any of these people for being "soft", for i wear not their shoes... again i am basing my comments on what i have seen/heard for myself.)

it's a situation that i heard a local christian worker once label as the 'cult of relationships'. in a recent sermon from philippians, he also made the following points about our inability/failure to "speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly" (phi 1:14b) - the transcription is mine and probably not be 100% word-for-word accurate:
many are the ways we consider to be an appropriate speaking of the word of God ... everything but speaking fearlessly ...

I'm not an advocate of running rough-shod over other human beings, I'm just saying that it is a joke the idea that the weakness of our modern churches is that we are too bold and fearless in our speaking -- that is exactly the problem we don't have. Our problem is the opposite.

[For example, let's look at the popular idea of] building bridges [one problem with which is the building of bridges] that are never burnt - ie I'm not prepared to lose the relationship in order to honour or exalt the lord Jesus Christ. A classic example is of the Christian girl going out with non-Christian guy... [who reasons that] I don't want to drop him, I don't want to end the relationship because if I speak to him too harshly about Jesus then I'll lose the relationship, he'll be lost and he won't be won into the kingdom. The paradox here is that the way to win him into the kingdom is to risk burning the bridge.

It's the ones who say: look, I am bound for heaven, I live for the lord Jesus Christ, I cannot share my bed with someone with whom I cannot share my eternal destiny. It's when the girl says that, and she cuts off emotional supply, it's then that that bloke hears the loudest evangelistic sermon he is ever likely to hear. It's then that it dawns on him: that the silly Christian sisters who continue pirouetting around, saying: I'm serious about the lord Jesus, but my personal demeanour screams out that I'm not... they're just giving double messages. If you believe that you are bound for two different eternities, show it!
how's that for a counter-argument to the practice of missionary dating (if that excuse even features in such a Christian sister's thinking/rationale)?

anyways, we (Christians) all have responsibilities to live out the gospel in ways that doesn't turn a blind eye to matters of unrighteousness, whether in our own lives or in the lives of those we claim to love and care about. i myself have lots to learn and apply... of the friends i mentioned above, i have made only one serious attempt to go "straight to the heart" with one of them (and that, i think, didn't go down too well) - all the others have been at best very weak attempts to indirectly broach the subject, or too much deliberating resulting in nothing actually being done (though if the couple is already married, it changes what you c/should say).

i say this last bit not as a cop-out excuse for inaction, but i am glad and relieved that God is ultimately in control and doesn't need for me to do anything (though he may very well have desired for me to do something) - for two of the girls, their non-Christian partners are now professing Christians. and anytime anyone crosses from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, that's cause for rejoicing :)



  1. indeed this is a tough call. wisdom is required to know wat to say to the person(s). most important, i think is to put on love.

    in the case of those seeing non-believers and struggling, it is important to not just say the words of 'wrongdoing' but also to put love in action - praying with them, being there for them, understanding that they are still human to like a human, working through issues with them.

    i had various experiences with frens in such positions. in the most recent case, she didn't talk to me for a while but thank god she understands that i did what i did in love. if they cannot swallow, only can pray for them... altho i dun support this fren dating a non-believer, i was glad tat this fren was later ok with me and i trust god will help restore things....

  2. hi quop. 3 things: 1) God is ultimately in control, as u say. Most important thing is to keep praying for them n their partners. If it ain't meant to work out, it won't, and vice versa. 2) In most cases the gals in question already know it's "wrong" and whether they choose to listen to you n other Christian friends depends on where they are vis a vis faith and the world. So u gotta trust their ability to make their own judgements. 3) Ever wonder why this so-called "missionary dating" thing happens more to gals than guys? I would hazard that one reason is tt there are fewer committed Christian guys than there are gals, and hence very real temptations n struggles for church girls when approached by eligible though non-Christian or ambivalently Christian guys. It doesn't make it right, but neither does it make the struggle any less real.

  3. thanks for ur thots & comments ladies... i'm not sure i have anything further to add of any value so i think i'll fall back to the title of this post and leave my words at that and the rest to the Word himself :)