Here’s how it works: The relationship begins with hope, blossoms with shared experiences and good times, and appears to be heading towards “forever.” But then something happens. An impasse is reached. A disagreement exposes a significant difference. Or two parties just decided to travel two separate paths. Whatever the cause, the breakup hurts, and we don’t like to hurt. So what do we do? We find a way to vilify the other party. The flaws that we once overlooked are now what we highlight. And on a superficial level, that vilification makes us feel a little bit better about ourselves. After all, the breakup happened because the other party had his/her/its issues. Right?
In Acts 15:36-41, we read of two close friends who had a significant difference of opinion. Their names were Paul and Barnabas, and they disagreed over whether to take Barnabas’ cousin Mark on their next missionary journey. Barnabas’s conviction was for Mark to join them. Paul adamantly opposed. An impasse was reached. The two missionaries decided to travel separate paths. They each continued to proclaim Christ to the world, but they did not view one another as rivals or enemies. In fact, one missionary team became two, allowing for more cities to be reached, more souls to be saved, and more future missionaries to be trained. I’m sure the breakup was painful, but it was a very good thing for God’s kingdom.
While Paul and Barnabas had a difference of opinion, I am convinced that neither felt the need to vilify the other. At the end of Paul’s life in 2 Timothy 4:11, he asks Timothy to bring Mark – the source of his “break-up” with Barnabas – to him for one last time together. If Paul and Mark’s relationship meant that much to Paul, I am confident that his relationship with Barnabas was strong too.
We don’t marry every person we date, and very few of us stay with the same employer throughout our working lives. There are occasions when two parties need to travel two separate ways. But we never need to vilify our “ex.” Yes, our exes had their flaws. But guess what? So did we. Rather than focusing on what went wrong, everyone would be better served if we remembered what went well.
While we’re on the subject, let me add one more thing: We need to be careful how quickly and how often we break-up with others. In our throwaway culture, we are too quick to end relationships when imperfections appear. We look for the perfect spouse, friend, job, or church. We temporarily think we found it. Then we see the flaws and are disappointed. We break-up, quit, leave, and move on to the next “perfect” thing. This cycle will continue without end until we realize that perfect never comes in this life. We need love and patience in our relationships BECAUSE we are imperfect. We never realize the potential of these qualities when we quit every time something or someone is imperfect.
Have you been guilty of vilifying relationships from your past? If so, you are not hurting them. You’re hurting you. Bless yourself and bless others today by showing grace and mercy to all, even your exes.