Has a relationship in your life become messy? Has something that started as encouraging eroded into an obsessive, painful web of emotions? Your new BFF insists on knowing everything about your daily activities. It felt so amazing initially, but now you feel trapped. Your mentor or someone you’ve been discipling has stepped back from needing you 24/7 or wanting to meet your needs. You’re threatened and scared. Maybe your husband is a great guy, yet deep in your heart, you don’t really trust him. You feel jealous, insecure, and fearful more than your friends would ever believe.
I’ve been there. I know the heartbreak, confusion, and shame when changes come to relationships on which I staked my emotional well-being, value, and sense of okay-ness. And I’ve felt the inner turmoil of a once euphoric, buzz-giving emotional connection now producing heartache as the tangled mess of fused lives slowly unravels. Let these three precious truths about Jesus encourage you in the midst of the pain.
Jesus Is Present
Jesus is with you in whatever heartbreaking relational terrain you’re stuck in. Your first step is to talk to him rather than search out the latest relationship self-help book or demand a conversation with the person at hand to dissect your relationship (again!). He knows the history of your marriage, friendship, counseling, or mentoring relationship and how the dynamics became unhealthy and unholy. Best of all, he’s your counselor, rescuer, and heart-healer and can get you out of this mess!
If you’re not sure what to say to him, David’s desperate, honest words in the Psalms can help. When he was scared and alone, he cried out to God: “Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul” (Ps. 142:4). David directed his heart towards his refuge and Savior. Passages like Psalm 57 give us an honest vocabulary for our hurting hearts.
Lord, I love my husband, but I can’t shake how disappointed and jealous I am. All. The. Time. I know he’s committed to me, but it’s not enough . . . I can’t stop craving—demanding, actually—that he makes me his god. Help! I don’t know how I got here or what to do.
Jesus, I mean, how dare she?! I thought she was my BFF and now she’s too busy with new friends? She doesn’t text me everyday anymore or pay attention to my Insta posts. I’m mad and heartbroken . . . This feels like the worst breakup ever; I’m so sad and feel ashamed. Show me how to make things right.
Jesus compassionately understands that a common temptation is to replace him with his gifts, including our dearest relationships. When relationships become messy with idolatry, he loves us too much to leave us there!
Jesus Provides Power
God gives husbands, friends, leaders, parents, and children for our delight and growth, that we might love and be loved, know and be known. We’re created for connection as God’s beloved image-bearers. However, when we displace love for God with love for or dependence upon a person, the gift has become a god, a mini-messiah in our lives. We effectively turn away from Jesus and demand that someone give us what only he can ultimately provide or be.
What does Jesus do when we’ve displaced him? He comes after us (Ps. 23:6)! Relational idolatry doesn’t intimidate our Savior. He never says, “Well, you got yourself in this mess, so find a way out.” Our struggles with sin, including our bent towards replacing our Creator with anything or anyone in creation, prompt him to rush towards us. Dane Ortlund writes in Gentle and Lowly that, for the believer, our sins stir Christ’s “compassion and pity . . . He sides with you against your sin, not against you because of your sin. He hates sin, but he loves you.” Jesus is patient as we learn that freedom and wholeness in our relationships come only when he is in his rightful place in our hearts.
When we trust and honor Jesus alone as our Lord, the very One we are created for, our relationships gradually become rightly ordered under his loving leadership. People can love us in beautiful, Christ-honoring ways, yet God never commands us to find our identity and worth through our relationships with them. Throughout Scripture, we discover that God longs for and commands that we hold fast to him through an intimate, dependent relationship. We’re created to cultivate our unique eternal union with him and guard against distractions and other gods which hijack our dependence and worship that he alone deserves.
Jesus Gives Guidance
Now what? Jesus will guide you to take the next steps. Talking to him leads you to talk to trustworthy people who love him and live by his Word. Our sinful relational patterns like codependency have roots in unbelief, suffering, disordered desires, and misplaced hopes, which I explore in my book Toxic Relationships: Taking Refuge in Christ. You need the help of other Christians to fight these idols. Is there someone you can reach out to for prayer, encouragement, and counsel?
If your messy relationship is a friendship or mentoring connection, perhaps you need to allow some space between you and this person, as scary as that may be. Sometimes taking a break or relational “fast” can help our hearts recalibrate so we see things for what they really are. What may seem so unloving is actually true love when done in obedience to God (1 John 5:2–3). Your marriage or parent-child relationship may need some readjusted expectations.
Learning to love people rather than using them to make us feel good about ourselves is a lifelong process. Jesus can untangle what is messy as you turn to him each day, and he can bring you into a new, spacious place (Ps. 18:16–19). Cling to the promise that he will be present with you, give you his power, and guide you. Cry out to him and receive his rescue—one day at a time!
Meet the Author
Ellen serves as the Women’s Ministry Coordinator at Harvest USA, a national ministry focused on gospel-centered discipleship and teaching regarding sexuality and gender. She has authored Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual & Relational Brokenness, Sexual Faithfulness: Gospel-Infused, Practical Discipleship for Women, Your Dating Relationship and Your Sexual Past: How Much to Share, and most recently, a 31-day devotional, Toxic Relationships: Taking Refuge in Christ. Ellen enjoys teaching God’s Word and spurring others on to know, love, and serve Jesus.
Article edited by Cassie Watson