It’s nobody’s fault. It’s how we are made. We make up stories. Everyday we make up stories. Why? Because we are creatures of reason. We can’t help it. Things need to make sense to us. We need to “fill in the gaps” so the picture will look right. We don’t mean to be this way, but all of us make up stories. You do it. I do it. All the time. And it can be very dangerous.
An older lady caught me in the hallway after church. She was on the verge of tears so I asked her to step into my office. Much to my surprise, she was very upset…with me. Go figure! She recounted an incident four weeks previous where I was heading down the hall at break-neck speed toward the gym and “walked right by her and didn’t even say hello.” My heart sank, because anyone who knows me knows that my favorite thing in the world is to stop and talk to people…especially at church. I apologized and explained that my intent was not to ignore her, but that an usher had rushed into the sanctuary to tell me that my son had fallen in the gym and “there was some blood.” I was focused on getting to my son…so much so, that I never saw this lady in the hallway.
Something amazing happened right before my eyes. This wonderful ladies’ countenance completely changed. As I gave her proper context and perspective to that particular incident, she realized that her “made-up story” in her mind was completely off base. The sad part was that she had held a wound in her heart based on a made-up story in her mind for an entire month. She was actually considering leaving the church, even though I had taken time to greet her and chat several times since this incident.
What happened? She made up a story. She filled in some blanks as to my motivation and actions. She had believed something that simply was not true. Not intentionally…but her assumptions were leading her to a train wreck.
I can recount more than a few such stories where truth is supplanted by the need for us to fill in blanks and draw conclusions. Counseling departments are packed because of this very issue. It’s our nature. We want the picture to make sense. We need the picture to make sense.
Gervase R. Bushe in his book, “Clear Leadership” calls this natural phenomenon “interpersonal mush.” He points out the harsh reality of human nature when he writes, “It is an unfortunate truth that the stories we make up, and the stories that get made up about us, tend to be more unfavorable than the reality. In a vacuum of information, people tend to assume the worse….Interpersonal mush drives out our ability to see the basic humanity in each other – the loving, caring people who are just trying to do their best to do what they feel is rightfully expected of them by others.”
The good news is that Jesus directly addressed this most urgent of interpersonal needs. In Matthew 18:15 Jesus says, “If your brother or sister[b] sins (against God or against you),[c] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”
Therein lies the simple answer! Clear communication. It’s vitally important to not allow unanswered questions, unclear perspective or non-communicated context to rob you of your peace and drive a wedge between your relationships. If you care about the relationship, it’s not just Jesus’ suggestion, it is His command that you “go” to your brother to clear the air.
How many friendships and yes, family relationships, have been put on hold for years, even decades? Sisters and brothers finally communicating, clearing up the interpersonal mush finally get relief with comments like, “I didn’t know you felt that way…” and “I didn’t know that part of the story…”
“I didn’t know.” Three words that are relationship assassins.
Why is this so important? Matthew 18 is one of the most ignored directives of Christ in the entire bible. Yet, when we overcome our own fears and misgivings, great healing can be achieved by following His command.
Last fall, a friend who once worked for me contacted me. The lifelong friendship had fallen on hard times due to feelings of betrayal, rejection and made-up stories. His intention was to reconcile. We met. I shared my heart. He shared his. He “owned his stuff” as I already had done years previous. Honestly, it was very difficult and painful to rehash the past. However, the following months after our meeting proved to be like healing oil flowing down Aaron’s beard. (Ps 133:2)
What happened? Proper context. False stories were replaced with truth…raw, honest, brutal truth. Understand this: true friends can handle the brutal truth…they actually crave it. My brother says, “People are smart. They usually sniff out the truth in the end.” Exactly. It’s our deepest human instinct to want to believe the best in somebody else. It’s impossible to “get there” on our own.
How do we keep the enemy from destroying relationships? By not allowing our made-up stories to masquerade as truth.
1. Knowing the truth will set you
It’s your own heart that ultimately is at risk. Your heart will grow harder if a made-up story is reigning as truth. You deserve to be at peace in all your relationships. Tell the truth. Ask for the truth.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Prov 4:23) Jesus promised in John 8:32, “Then you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Place that promise in the context of friendships gone bad, relationships lost. When you’re brave enough to ask the right questions, seek the proper perspective, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, truth will flood in like a mighty river, cleansing you of hurt feelings and recovering your broken soul for a greater Kingdom purpose.
2. Knowing the truth will set others free.
When you open the doors to the prison of “made-up stories,” the liberty obtained in your own heart is only surpassed by the power of freedom you offer to the other party. They deserve peace as much as you do. If you have received grace and forgiveness from your own Heavenly Father, how much more should we offer it to others? However, such grace is difficult to come by if you’re living with made-up stories.
3. Knowing the truth will save your relationships.
You deserve to know the truth…or to share the truth…because you deserve your friends back. You need them in your life. They are part of who you are. You need your sister back, your brother back, your mom or dad with whom you haven’t spoken in years. You are important to them. They are important to you. Be reconciled!
4. Clear communication will become a lifestyle.
As Bushe stated, we tend to make up more negative stories than positive. However, when you become a mature follower of Christ, who seeks the truth in your relationships, this lifestyle will become habit-forming. Why? Your basic belief in the goodness of God’s kids will become predominant in your thinking. You won’t so quickly assume the worst when you hear the rumor. You will understand that there is ALWAYS a back-story that will offer more clarity and context. You will seek that truth rather than settle for the one-sided perspective you first received. You will start to transform your mind (Romans 12:2) to that of Christ’s…seeing the best in people, desiring to be a true peacemaker and vessel of healing.
If you’re disappointed with someone…ask yourself this question: Do I know the whole story? If not, then go get it…from the “horse’s mouth” not the rumor-monger next door.
If you remember that someone is disappointed with you: don’t ponder the question much longer.
Jesus urgently stated in Matthew 5:23, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
If you have questions for me…ASK ME. (I’m such an open book it will blow your mind!) If you have questions for a former friend, disappointed co-worker, disgruntled spouse…ASK THEM. Stop living a life of “made-up” stories when the truth is so much more liberating.
Do it quickly. Your worship depends on it. Your heart depends on it.