Pastor Andy Stanley of Atlanta's North Point Community Church reflected on his past struggles with a “broken” relationship with his father, famed evangelist Charles Stanley, and offered biblical advice for restoring fractured relationships.
In an Oct. 24 sermon series titled “Reassembly Required; A Beginners Guide to Repairing Broken Relationships,” Stanley revealed that nearly three decades ago, he felt “angry and hurt” every week, sitting with his father in an office at church receiving counseling sessions.
At that time, Stanley said he found it “strange” that he and his father were feeling “stuck,” trying to fix difficulties in their relationship. Both men, he said, had spent their entire careers as experts telling other people how to fix “broken” and “damaged” relationships.
“[My father] saw things his way … I could not understand for the life of me why we weren’t making any progress,” Stanley said. “The odd thing about this is, it doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult to fix a relationship. It just seems like we should be able to do this, but it is difficult and that’s why I decided we really do need to talk about it.”
Stanley identified how to handle “fractured” or “distant” relationships between friends, siblings, family, relatives, coworkers, spouses, parents with children and any other relationships.
There are four components that people tend to revert to in situations when arguments arise in broken relationships, according to Stanely. These are, convince, convict, coerce and control.
These components, he said, are not effective solutions to solving relationship issues.
“The strange thing is, you look at [these four components] and you say ‘yeah, that’s not the way forward,' but, in spite of all that, these are the things we almost always reach for first either intentionally or even unintentionally,” Stanley said.
“Then, you tell yourself, ‘there’s nothing I can do about it. I tried. And besides that, I just don’t even care.’ Or, we just keep pressing and pressing, trying to fix the relationship the wrong way, which means things continue to go wrong and we end up pushing people even further [away],” he explained.
Oftentimes, he said, people aren’t even aware that they are using the four components on others.
For example, Stanley said that people often say, “I’m sorry if I offended you." But, that is often translated to mean, “You’re too easily offended. What I said wouldn’t have offended most people," he contended.
“You just offended them without even meaning to, because fixing and repairing or reassembling a relationship — whether it’s been broken long term or short term or a minor infraction — is not intuitive, and we just intuitively reach for all the wrong tools and we say all the wrong things,” he said.
“We are better at starting our cars than repairing our cars. You can start it, you can drive it, but when something goes wrong you really don’t know what to do. The same thing is true when it comes to relationships. Starting a relationship is somewhat intuitive, managing or navigating a relationship, but fixing a relationship isn’t only not intuitive, it is the opposite of intuitive,” Stanley continued.
In his career as a pastor, Stanley said he has heard about many occasions when people in various forms of relationships let distance, brokenness or problems go unresolved.
In some of these cases, he said, the issues tend to fester for many years, and then occasionally somebody becomes injured, or there’s an accident or somebody dies. At the funeral, people suddenly find themselves in a very emotional environment, Stanley recounted.
“And that [unresolved issue] that was so big, so consequential, that mountain will never get over … that offense that I’ll never be able to fully forgive, suddenly in the midst of tragedy, it gets smaller and smaller,” Stanley explained.
“And in those situations, people do and say what they should’ve said a long time ago. And because they didn’t do what they should’ve done or say what they should’ve said a long time ago, in some cases, they missed out on years of relationship.”
When people reconcile, the pastor said they often wonder why it took very long for their relationship to be repaired and reassembled. People spend many months and even years, he said, waiting, rehearsing and avoiding.
“Reassembling a broken relationship is a learned skill, and many of us have never even seen it modeled well. Everything we reach for generally is initially the wrong thing,” Stanley said.
“Waiting for the other person ends up becoming waiting for what you should do. And the reason you should do it is that you’re the better person. The better person should initiate the apology.”
Stanley revealed that his relationship with his father was fractured for a long time, until one day, they were sitting at a restaurant, not speaking to one another.
“It was just so awkward. … We are grown men, we are pastors, we’re professional Christians," he recalled.
"We couldn’t have a conversation. We were both so angry and so locked down and we both knew how ridiculous it was because of how much time we spent with other people and couples with difficult family relationships. I’ll never forget this moment, when finally my dad looked at me and he said, ‘Andy, we both know what happens to fathers and sons who go through something like this. I don’t want that to happen to us.’ And I said, ‘Me neither.’”
“Both of us were willing to work at it, but it was so hard,” Stanley emphasized. “This is such an emotional topic. For men, there are certain emotions that are so terrifying to us that we will do anything to keep them from surfacing. Because there’s something in you that if it comes up, you’re not sure how you’re going to respond or how it’s going to feel.”
“This is why for some of you, your fathers are so shut down. It’s like they are so afraid to go there, even though they don’t know where there is, they're afraid. And it’s why we just make excuses,” he said.
Though people should work and pray for reconciliation, when it comes to restoring adult relationships, the goal should not be reconciliation, shared Stanley. He said that adults shouldn’t set goals for other adults because doing so is operating in a relationship based on an “agenda.”
“Unlike a broken toy or dish or a broken iPhone screen, when you think about a broken object, you have control over all the pieces ... but, when it comes to repairing relationships with other people, we don’t have access to all the pieces,” Stanley said. “Agendas always undermine or put a box around relationships. Agendas ensure that broken relationships stay broken.”
The goal in reassembling broken relationships is having “no regrets,” according to Stanley, which will ultimately lead to a repaired relationship or the satisfaction that someone did everything they could possibly do to try to repair the relationship, even if it doesn’t end in reconciliation.
Christians, he said, don’t have a choice in the matter, because attempting to reconcile or restore a relationship is the “operative noun” in the Christian faith.
“It’s knowing that you did everything you could do; that we opened the door, that we put out the welcome mat, that we put down the drawbridge, that we put down the weapons, that we removed any unnecessary obstacles to reconnecting with that person and we’re going to learn how to take the pressure off to create space for them to move toward,” Stanley concluded.
“This means, no matter whose fault it was and no matter how much blame sits with them, versus sits with you, you and I always have a part in the process of reconciliation. As Jesus followers, this isn’t optional for us."