As I have been studying for my Masters of Counseling it seems as if there is an immediate application in my own life but also in those that I work with. It’s as if I receive something in my left hand, hold that learning in both of my hands, and then hand off that learning to someone else with my right hand. Here is one of those learnings that I want to pass along to you:
Recently one evening, I was logged in to a Townsend Virtual Class. Believe me, this is basically three hours of drinking from the firehose. The last hour was filled with people getting to personally ask Dr. John Townsend questions. Think about this opportunity for a second—Dr. Townsend is who started my Masters course, who it’s named after, and has written or co-written 30 books, selling over 10 million copies! Anyway, during that third hour, a woman shared a personal story of her dad who had been recently diagnosed with cancer. Her relationship with her dad had been strained and she hoped to make the most of the time that he had left. Dr. Townsend gave the following four steps and they just blew me away because they are so applicable to so many different relationships.
Step 1: Give up the need for the other person to be a better person.
In my own words, I would say, “stop trying to control the other person”–as if we could control another person anyway! We spend so much time and effort trying, and yet frustrate them and us in the process. In this step, we stop yelling and screaming at them or we stop trying to change them through our passive-aggressive behavior. I’m not saying this is easy work, it may be the hardest step in this whole journey. As an example, Jesus never forced anyone to follow him. Matter of fact, there were times where he willingly watched some walk away (e.g. Judas, the rich young ruler).
Step 2: Grieve the relationship not being what you wanted it to be.
We all have needs that we need to be fulfilled by other people in our lives. But if the person that we’re talking about here is not able to fulfill those needs, we need to grieve. Grieving isn’t just for when someone dies, it is for anytime something doesn’t match up with our expectations and/or needs. Grief also seems to be a cure for almost everything. The Bible says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 ESV)
Step 3: Replace whatever functions they had with good people.
We are created for community. Remember in step 2 that we had needs. We don’t pretend that we don’t have those needs and remember that we’ve stopped trying to get the needs fulfilled by this person, so we turn to safe people to get those needs fulfilled. This may include people such as a good friend, support group, trusted individual in your church, a professional counselor, somebody who works at your church, or a safe family member. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
Step 4: Love them with whatever time is left.
If we truly work through steps one through three, this becomes the reward. Now we get to enjoy the relationship from a new perspective. We can accept the other person from what they can and are willing to give us. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18)
In summary: Renounce, grieve, replace, love. Dr. Townsend said that sometimes this can happen quickly, sometimes it takes a lot of time.
As I pass this on to you (out of my right hand) I pray that it impacts you and helps you in your relationships like I have found it to be helping mine!