It comes in many forms. Whether it’s a broken bone or a broken relationship, life in our fallen world means we all will experience some level of pain. And I think most would agree that relational pain hurts far more than any physical injury. And, perhaps, relational pain caused by professing Christians is the most painful. As a pastor in the Nashville area—a place where churches are plentiful and Christianity is profitable—I’ve come across more stories of this kind of pain than I thought were possible. This reality is especially unfortunate, since most of the people I have pastored understand far more about what to do with their physical injuries than they do with their relational ones. They know how to deal with diverse levels of physical discomfort, but they’re at a loss when it comes to “best practices” for relational discomfort.
Thankfully, we’re not the first to face these jarring, relational realities. One of the greatest men of the Christian faith, the Apostle Paul, faced painful relational situations. In his last letter, 2 Timothy, he talked about the three kinds of relational pain we all should be prepared to face.
- Expect Relational Pain From Attacks – One of the top three types of relational pain comes from personal attacks. These are people, whether in the church or outside the church, who intend to cause you great pain. Paul told Timothy, his son in the faith, that a man named “Alexander the Coppersmith” did “great harm to me” (2 Tim. 4:14). We don’t know exactly what Alexander did or if he was acting out of his normal reputation, but we know that he used whatever resources he had to cause great pain for Paul. You have to be prepared to face the relational pain from people who put energy into harming what you hold dear—whether that’s your family, ministry, reputation, or anything else.
- Expect Relational Pain From Betrayal – Then there’s the pain from betrayal. Someone says they’ll do something, you depend on them, and then they don’t—betraying your trust. A guy named Demas did that to the Apostle Paul. You can hear the unique pain betrayal causes in Paul’s words, “Demas has deserted me, because he loved this present world, and has gone to Thessalonica” (2 Tim. 4:10). The only reason that the departure of Demas was newsworthy to Timothy was because he was such a key player. Paul was counting on him. Paul trusted him. But at some point, for whatever reason, Demas betrayed that trust. We don’t know why Demas left Paul. If you know the broken tendencies of all our hearts, it’s not hard to imagine the “good” reasons Demas came up with to justify his betrayal. Be prepared to face betrayal. It happened to Paul, it happened to Jesus, there’s a good chance it will happen to you.
- Expect Relational Pain From “No-Shows” – Finally there is the odd pain that is caused by the “no shows.” These aren’t people that attacked you. They weren’t close enough to your situation to be depended on and, therefore, positioned to betray you. No, these people weren’t involved in your struggle, but they were just aware of it. And you thought that since they knew of your problem, they would reach out to help—but they didn’t show up. You thought they might send a text, let you know that they’re praying for you, find a way to stand with you, but they didn’t. The Apostle Paul faced this pain too. When he was making a significant defense of his ministry, he said, “no one stood by me” (2 Tim. 4:10). We don’t know the reasons why the “no-shows” were “no-shows.” Perhaps they thought they might lose reputation, lose their position on the ladder they’re climbing, lose money, lose opportunity, make things weird, or something else. Whatever their reasoning was, there was a cost that they weren’t willing to incur to stand with Paul. Of course, this was surprising and significant to Paul—surprising and significant enough to let Timothy know about it. Paul’s words should help prepare us to face the relational pain caused by the “no-shows.”
Many people know something of what it is like to stand there like Paul, feeling all of the pain from your “Alexanders’,” your “Demas’,” and your “no-shows.” But most people don’t know what to do with their pain. I’ll offer a few suggestions for how I’ve tried to handle it in my life, in the following post. In the meantime, let me point your attention to the Lord Jesus Christ, the man of sorrows who is acquainted with grief. He knows what it’s like to have people attack without a just cause—he was crucified after living a life of perfect love. He knows what it’s like to have a close companion betray him at a critical moment—Judas handed him over to the Romans while being a part of Jesus’ inner circle. And he certainly knows what it’s like to have “no-shows,” since most of his twelve disciples were nowhere to be found when he was being crucified on that hill. Jesus knows your pain and then some. And he can heal your wounds. Don’t mistake the presence of relational pain with the absence of a good God who has great plans for you. He is actively working for your good.
This post originally appeared on Jed’s personal blog. You can check that out here.