What to Do When You Can’t Work It Out

You liked him. He liked you, but you couldn’t quite figure out how to be “us.” You’ve broken up for good. Now what? She was your best friend for years, but lately, you’ve been growing apart. She’s made some choices that make you wonder if you can still be friends at all. What next? You wouldn’t have chosen this. A family member you love walked out the door with no plans to return. You don’t have a magic wand to wave and make it all okay, so what can you do? Sometimes relationships don’t work out. When you find yourself at a relational fork in the road, what should you do? Here are three steps to take when your relationships crash and burn.

1. Forgive freely.

No matter what offense has been committed against us, God’s Word asks us to forgive. If you’re like me, a long list of “buts” is already starting to bubble up in your heart in response to that sentence: But they’re the one who hurt me . . . But they haven’t asked for forgiveness . . . But they started it . . . But they are the one in the wrong . . . But they keep doing the same things over, and over, and over . . . I’m not saying those feelings aren’t valid. We’ve all been blindsided by other people’s sin, but pay attention to why we extend forgiveness anyway.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph. 4:32).

We don’t forgive because the person on the other side of the relationship deserves it or because they’ve apologized or because they’ve changed. We forgive much because we’ve been forgiven of much. Matthew 6:15 says it this way: “But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

We forgive much because we’ve been forgiven of much.

Gulp! Clearly, forgiveness is a big deal to God. We should take Him at His Word and freely offer forgiveness to others, but there’s a catch. None of us can do this on our own. Without Jesus we default to bitterness, anger, and resentment. It’s only by considering the gospel and remembering that Christ went to the cross to extend forgiveness to us that we can ever offer an olive branch of grace to others. Is there someone you need to forgive? When you think about your broken relationships, do you get stuck on who hurt you? Ask the Lord to help you. It may never change a single thing about your broken relationship. The person on the receiving end of that forgiveness may never, ever know about your decision to let their offenses go, but your heart will be set free from the chains that unforgiveness always drags along with it. No matter how the chips fall in the relationship, your job is to forgive.

2. Pray when you don’t wanna.

Jesus is radical in His relationships, often doing the opposite of what we think we should do. Take this snapshot as an example:

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments (Luke 23:34).

Jesus is hanging on the cross. He has been mocked, beaten, brutalized, lied about, spit on, and betrayed. How does He respond? He prays for those who have hurt them, even as those who hurt Him are playing a game to take His clothes. If we take our worst relationship wounds and stack them up against what Jesus faced, it’s no contest. He was hurt more deeply than we ever will be, and yet we often find Him praying for God to bless those who have done Him wrong. Has someone hurt you? Pray for them. Has someone abandoned you? Pray for them. Has someone made choices that fractured your relationship? Pray for them. Has someone talked behind your back? Pray for them. Has someone smeared your reputation? Pray for them. Ask God to dump blessings on those who hurt you as numerous as snowflakes in a blizzard. Then watch and wait to see how He transforms your own heart, too.

Ask God to dump blessings on those who hurt you as numerous as snowflakes in a blizzard.

I once heard it said this way: “Prayer for someone may or may not change them. But it always changes you.” In other words, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28). (For more on specific ways to pray, check out this post from our archives: “How to Pray When Someone You Love is Stuck In Sin.”)

3. Seek reconciliation.

Because of Jesus, there is no such thing as a lost cause. Don’t slam the door on any relationship but leave it open for God to move in His timing.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17–19).

Reconciliation is a word repeated over and over in this passage, but what does it mean, exactly? In terms of our relationships, it means to come to a place of peace. Because of Jesus, we are able to come to a place of peace with God, despite our sin. This is the most profound reconciliation miracle there is! It’s also Ground Zero, where we receive our marching orders for relationships with others. Circle back. Look again. We’ve been assigned the “ministry of reconciliation” and the “message of reconciliation.” We are to share the gospel truth that it is possible to be accepted and at peace with God and by extension, we are to be reconciled with others. If reconciliation seems impossible, I’d like to pass along a little homework assignment. Would you take the time to read through the book of Hosea? It’s a dramatic book about reconciliation. It shows us the lengths to which God is willing to go to be in a relationship with us and that no relationship is beyond God’s ability to restore. You can read the whole thing online here.

The One Left Standing

The harsh reality of life on this spinning globe is that all human relationships eventually end. Some end badly, leaving a wake of hurt behind. Jesus never asks us to gloss over our hurt or pretend everything is perfect, but He does call us to walk like He walked, talk like He talked, love like He loved. If your relationships are broken, your heart may be, too. When I find myself in the depths of that kind of pain, it helps to remember what will last. God’s love for us remains unchanging throughout all of time. He will never change His mind about us, never break up with us, never walk out the front door. He is ours forever!

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

About the Author

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is married to her high school sweetheart, Jason, and together they parent four energetic boys on their small farm in the midwest. She is the author of more than a dozen books and Bible studies, the content manager for Revive Our Hearts, and a host of the Grounded videocast. You can hear her teach on The Deep Well with Erin Davis podcast.