The other night I was up far too late untangling a tangled mess of necklaces. It was ridiculous, and foolish, and irresponsible. My sister knew of my terrible problem with tangled jewelry and thus gifted me a necklace hangar a couple of years ago. It's great. It would be greater if I used it. I have no excuses.
But I was on a rare kick the other night of re-organizing all my kitchen cupboards, and for whatever reason thought at 11pm I should begin the task of organizing my jewelry drawer too.
So, here I was sitting criss-crossed on the floor, bent over tangled necklaces as the clock nears midnight, with cramps creeping up my spine and into my neck and shoulders. The tangles are maddening and embarrassing. Eventually I gave up on my untangling, and a cheap bracelet I bought at a consignment store ended up having to be cut apart so I could save a much more important necklace that had been my mom's. (Seriously, though I appreciate jewelry, I really don't deserve to get it as a gift anymore.) It was a tangled, pathetic mess.
And as I was sitting there on my bathroom floor at midnight with my tangled mess before me, thoughts flooded my mind of tangled relationships, and how we so easily get ourselves into messes with people we care about.
I've had a knack of getting myself into tangled relationships. Believe it or not, I'm a girl who speaks her mind. While this isn't a bad thing, it is a thing that requires wisdom and self-control and gentleness, and rarely have I managed to succeed at all three at the same time. I think I'm growing, but I have so far to go. And henceforth, mostly due to speaking my mind at inappropriate times or with wrong words or hurtful tones, I have gotten myself into many a tangled mess. (I happen to be married to a man who speaks his mind also, so you can imagine the messes we got ourselves into with one another in the first several years of marriage!)
But for some of you, you don't speak your mind as much as you wish you did...as much as you actually should. And although at times it serves very well that you don't speak your mind, at other times the not speaking your mind is what gets you in a mess.
No matter which communication style is most natural to us, we are of the sinful nature at our core. We are, deep down within, tangled messes. It's been happening since Adam and Eve, so we can rest assured that we aren't alone. God told Adam not to eat the fruit of one specific tree, Adam told Eve, and (IMAGINE!) within this very first marriage there was already a communication breakdown...God had simply told Adam to not eat the fruit, but what Eve apparently heard or misunderstood was that she shouldn't even touch that tree. So Satan tempted Eve, Eve caved and then tempted Adam to eat it with her. Adam caved and then blamed Eve, who in turn blamed Satan. What a mess! The first tangled relationship, and we've been a tangled mess ever since.
I see it in my kids everyday. I mean, I see it in myself everyday too, but isn't everything just so much more clear when we are looking at it third party?
One child comes upstairs, "Moooooommmmm, so and so did this and this." And of course the first question has to always be, "Okay, and did you do anything to your sibling first that would have enticed that action?"
And then there's the pause and the..."Ummm, well I just sat on his head; or ummmm, well I took her Barbie; or, well, ummm, Mom we need his tonka truck as our Barbie car; or ummmm, well Mom I really needed to wear her dress today!"....or, or, or....
And then the blaming goes on and on, and I throw my hands up in the air because the sibling "problems" (which really, thank the good Lord, are not actual problems at all) are a tangled mess and I don't know whom to discipline for what, so I tell them to solve their own problems and walk away. And thankfully, since their problems revolve around tonka trucks and sundresses and Barbies, a simple "Sorry" and "I forgive you" solves everything and they are quickly best buds again.
It's not that easy for us, is it? But should it be?
Sadly, this tangledness starts young. In only the first week of school, both our our daughters have already come home to tell us that so and so wouldn't be their friend on the playground for whatever reason. Our second grader came home the other day and told me that one of her friends just came up to her and said, "I don't want to be your friend anymore." Out of the blue, apparently for no reason. (Now, thankfully, this friendship wasn't deep, and the other girl isn't a girl we've ever met, so it didn't cut as deeply as it could have). But nonetheless, relationship tangles cut our hearts deep.
I'm not a counselor and I won't for a second claim to have authoritative knowledge on issues that absolutely require counseling - marital breakdown, divorce, abusive relationships, etc.
But I know this. I know that you and I were created for relationships. I wrote a blog on lifelong friendship recently that touched many people, because deep down we all know this to be true...we need each other.
But we can get so tangled up with each other too, and it wreaks havoc in our lives. We speak our minds too much with the wrong words and wrong tones, or we speak our minds too little and hurt ourselves or others with our silence. We blame each other and don't have the courage or the humility to utter the life-changing words, "I forgive you; Please forgive me."
We tell ourselves that what so and so has done to us is so hurtful that those words can't possibly be fitting or healing enough for the situation. Yet, let us remember, that while our Lord Jesus hung on the cross, he prayed for the forgiveness of the very people who hung him there.
We are such a mess. And yet Jesus models for us the only way to get out of our tangles: I forgive you. That's it.
When I was untangling necklaces the other night, as you well know, untangling one delicate strand of chain just caused the strand on the other side to tangle in a different direction. Up, down, around, through this way, through that way, twist, turn, loop here, pull here...and eventually I just had to cut the cheap bracelet apart to save that which mattered immensely more.
That's what happens when we try to use too many various ways and remedies to untangle relationships. We keep getting tangled up in other ways with other people. Yet we really just need to cut the crap out...the talking too much or the gossip or the pride or the blaming...so we can save that which matters immensely more.
We all see this everyday in relationships with our children, our families, our spouses, our co-workers, our friends, our churches, our neighbors. And now with the advance of technology we can even offend people across the country or even across the world with a tweet or a status update that we typed without thinking through. Back in the day you at least had to be near a person to get tangled. Now we can be all tangled up even though distance separates us. What a mess.
Yet there are three words, when said in humility and courage and from a soft heart, that can untangle deep messes of the heart. "I forgive you." "Please forgive me."
This is how I want to live. I want to live from the place of a heart that is readily open to both giving and receiving forgiveness. I want to have the humility to always offer forgiveness because Jesus was the most humble ever when he offered forgiveness to the very men who were nailing him to a cross. And I want to have the courage to always ask for forgiveness because Jesus was the most courageous ever to die so that I might be forgiven. In doing so I am placing myself at the foot of the cross, from whence flows all forgiveness.
And I want to model to my children the untangled life. The life that follows in the ways of Jesus in speaking one's mind all the time in truth yet in love, full of grace. The life that readily asks for forgiveness and the life that readily offers forgiveness because we know Jesus has infinite forgiveness to offer. And as scary as it is to ask another person for forgiveness, really, in doing so, you inviting that person to become more like Jesus too. What an invitation. So let's be brave.
I want to be like Jesus. Untangle me, Lord.