After my first year of college, three friends and I took a weeklong canoe trip in the boundary waters of northern Minnesota, bordering Canada’s Ontario province. I can still picture the scene as we drove into the parking lot of the outfitter where we arranged to rent the canoes at the start of our adventure, loaded our canoes and paddled out into the first stretch of water.
Over the next seven days we saw many types of water—narrow streams, wide calm lakes, rapids full of turbulent water and occasionally lakes with waves stirred up by the wind.
One of the hardest parts of the trip was the time we seemed to be fighting against the wind all day. The water was rough, and we had to be careful not to tip over or allow the waves to splash over the sides of the canoes while struggling against the wind. How wonderful it would have been to have had the power Jesus Christ did when He calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35-41 Mark 4:35-41 35 And the same day, when the even was come, he said to them, Let us pass over to the other side.
36 And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.
37 And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.
38 And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say to him, Master, care you not that we perish?
39 And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
40 And he said to them, Why are you so fearful? how is it that you have no faith?
41 And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
American King James Version×)!
Sadly, human relationships can be similar to a lake—calm and smooth as glass one day, then turbulent the next. Something happens to upset things, whether it’s a slip of the tongue, a wrong action or some other mistake that stirs up hard feelings. The waters churn and it’s “tough going” in the relationship. Often one person gets hurt or angry and the other person feels the brunt of the first one’s wrath—justified or not. Proverbs 18:19 Proverbs 18:19A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.
American King James Version×says that a friend who is offended is harder to be won than a strong city.
It’s not an impossible task—but it can be a daunting one.
What can be done to calm those rough waters in a troubled relationship with a friend? How can we find our way back into smooth sailing when it comes to relationships? Much has been written about this common human problem, and the Bible has many tips to help us navigate this tumultuous territory. But it will take determined effort—the kind of effort my friends and I had to expend to make progress canoeing against a steady headwind.
These steps may be tough, but if the friendship is a good one, it’s worth the effort. As psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw says about changing a relationship, “If you want different, you have to do different” (Relationship Rescue , 2001, p. 249). Here are some basic keys to calming the waters:
This is one of the toughest, yet the most important of all keys to restoring a relationship. Hard as it is to admit, the truth is that often we have a part to play in whatever went wrong in a relationship. Usually both sides believe the other person was in the wrong. Yet the truth is that seldom is the fault totally one-sided.
As long as both people maintain their pride and convince themselves that the other person bears all the blame for the problem, it’s not very likely that the waters will be calmed. People are amazingly ingenious when it comes to self-deception. We want to view ourselves in the best possible light—yet God tells us that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9 Jeremiah 17:9The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
American King James Version×), which means we don’t usually see things with absolute clarity. This is especially true in relationship issues.
You may have heard that the three most powerful words a person can speak are “I love you,” but the two most important words in restoring a troubled relationship are “I’m sorry,” spoken sincerely and in humility. The willingness to accept part of the blame—even if it seems to us to be the smaller amount—will go a long way toward soothing the hurt the other person feels.
As we think about whatever events led up to a rift in a relationship and try to honestly evaluate where we might have contributed to the hurt, it is also good to try to put ourselves in the other person’s place. “How would I feel if that were done to me?” is a good question to ask. Don’t let your pride override that question by following it up with, “Yeah, but look at the worse thing that was done to me.”
Focus on what the other person experienced. In this way we’re following the advice God gives through Paul in Philippians 2:4 Philippians 2:4Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
American King James Version×: “Look for what is important to others, not just what is important to you” (Simple English Version).
There is tremendous power in forgiveness. It’s unfortunate that so many people don’t use that power. To forgive means we relinquish our perceived right to be angry, to retaliate, to get even with someone for the wrong done to us. Colossians 3:12-13 Colossians 3:12-13 12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering;
13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do you.
American King James Version×tells us to clothe ourselves with tender feelings for others, kindness and humility and to forgive each other “as Christ forgave you.”
When we think about it, any wrong done to us is tiny compared to the wrongs done to Jesus Christ—and He took all of those wrongs patiently, even asking the Father to forgive those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34 Luke 23:34Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.
American King James Version×). We’re supposed to be imitating Him. No wonder Jesus said if we don’t forgive others for the wrongs we suffer, God won’t forgive us either (Matthew 6:14-15 Matthew 6:14-15 14 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
American King James Version×). Those words should sober us whenever we find ourselves getting upset with someone.
Believe it or not, prayer is also a powerful tool in restoring relationships. Jesus said we’re even to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44-45 Matthew 5:44-45 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you;
45 That you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
American King James Version×). How much more should we pray for our friends—even if we are upset with them, or they with us at the moment?
It’s an amazing thing, but once we get outside ourselves, and start to pray “for” someone with whom we’re upset, we can often feel the tumult within us begin to calm and smooth out. This also makes the next key easier to fulfill.
Our immediate impulse when we’re hurt or upset is to get even, to retaliate—to hurt the person who has hurt us. But God tells us not to repay evil for evil and to do everything we can to live peaceably with everyone (Romans 12:17-18 Romans 12:17-18 17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
18 If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men.
American King James Version×). In fact, He tells us that when we feel someone is our enemy, we should do something good for him or her. In that way we will overcome evil with good (verses 19-21).
Following these basic keys may seem like paddling against the wind because they go against our nature. But if we follow them, we will be doing our part to calm the troubled waters of relationships. In addition, we’ll have the blessing that comes from living the beatitude of being peacemakers, people whom Jesus calls children of God (Matthew 5:9 Matthew 5:9Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
American King James Version×). VT