Harmful Relationships

The Biblical Response to Bullies

By Edie Edmondson

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Relationships are hard. I'm talking real relationships — family (parents, siblings, etc.), close friends (not casual acquaintances), marriage, etc. — any relationship that takes work and is supposed to stand the test of time. And they can be difficult for a lot of reasons. But to simplify a really complex issue, the foundation for most difficulties is baggage. Baggage is anything from our past that negatively colors how we perceive our world and relationships, and negatively affects our behavior in our world and relationships — a very simplified view of the complexity of fallen people in a fallen world.

Some people have more baggage than others, but everyone has some. And now you have two or more people trying to navigate a relationship without tripping over their own and each other's baggage. And what makes it worse, a lot of the time we've been carrying or burying our baggage for so long we don't even realize we're lugging it around. We've just learned to cope the best we can, and sometimes that means assuming roles we think we're supposed to, or even worse, have to play.

We all know or know of that person who would be much better off if a specific relationship were to end. And sometimes it does, only for that person to be sucked into another relationship where the dynamic is the same. Other times, the relationship is with a family member and there seems to be no way out of it or any way to change it. And then we resign ourselves to the status quo. We accept (and for some, embrace) the role we perceive is ours to play. It doesn't matter the role — the doormat, the victim, the wimp, whatever — it's "who we are."

But it is acceptance of these roles that concerns me. We either don't expect to or even seem to want to change. We just find a way to cope with this perceived role. We get comfortable in our discomfort, afraid to change for fear of failing or the unknown. Let me encourage us all that as believers in Christ, we are not called these roles.

Second Corinthians 5:17 (NIV) says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" But the psychological aspects of our human nature (as well as our sin nature and Satan) often work against who we are in Christ. We are creatures of habit and experience, and usually something happened in our pasts that created in our minds these specific roles. When it happened repeatedly, it reinforced the picture...both in our minds and in those who treat us that way.

But a lot of the time, negative feelings such as anger, bitterness, and resentment build. And surprisingly, this is a positive thing! Not that these are good in the long run, but in that our spirits are not happy in the roles we've come to accept! When people treat us according to our roles, righteous anger is not a bad thing. It is not how God wants us to be treated, and I suggest these feelings are the simmering of 2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV): "For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline."

Satan wants us to remain in our roles. If we are too timid or beat down to speak up for ourselves, we will not be able to speak out for Christ. Satan is the master manipulator, taking what happened in our pasts and his knowledge of how our human minds and emotions work to keep us convinced that we are our roles and there's no hope of change. But we have the Holy Spirit in us. He is always with us, ready to help us and guide us. The key is learning to listen to Him instead of Satan or our own sinful thoughts.

Jesus says in John 10:10, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Learning how to cope is a defense mechanism — a survival tool. Coping in essence steals the joy we should have as followers of Christ. God does not want us to just survive this world, He wants us to thrive! Christ came so we could live life to the full! Life will never be perfect or easy, but when we live for Him, our lives can be full of joy despite the hard times and trials. A good verse during those hard times is Romans 8:28 (NIV): "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Even our pasts and these periods in our lives when we've accepted our specific roles...God will work them for good. Breaking free from the negative mindset and overcoming the patterns that have been built in our lives isn't easy. But we are not alone! We have Christ and the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.

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Published on 2-24-15