Making a mess of it?

Relationships – A Mess Worth Making

by Timothy S. Lane & Paul David Tripp
Available from 10 of Those

I’m generally not a fan of co-authored books.  Extra effort is needed trying to second guess which author is speaking at any given point and it’s hard to listen to two people at once! This book by Lane and Tripp however gets my ‘yes’ vote because with books by Paul Tripp, a bit of respite from his relentless heart surgery is more than welcome.

Despite being only 177 pages, the book is a relatively weighty read and one that demands courage from its readers.  The constant challenges to one’s attitudes and behaviour fix the book for me in the category of ‘strong meat’.  But isn’t there a place for this type of meat in our Christian reading as well as our Bible reading? So, although I felt exhausted after reading this book, it is nevertheless one that I highly recommend.

Lane and Tripp begin by asserting our brokenness and our need for the reconciling grace of God both in relation to ourselves and in relation to others.  They tell us why it’s worth bothering with our relationships in the first place when it can be tempting at times to walk away.  After all, who hasn’t felt after a tricky exchange, ‘Right, that’s it.  I’m backing off!’  Or perhaps it’s just me.  But since God has bothered with me, I have no option but to relate with the people around me.   Vertical relationship with God demands horizontal relationship with others.   It is only in community that we truly reflect the image of God who is Himself in community: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

A whole gamut of possible relationships is incorporated in the book.  Marriage receives a fair bit of attention but relationships between parents and children, colleagues, friends, acquaintances, peers and strangers are all covered.

The authors refuse to allow us to hold onto any illusion that our relationships will deliver what we long for.  Instead they teach us that ‘every painful thing we experience in relationships is meant to remind us of our need for God’.

The book is helpfully laid out and interspersed with enlarged quotes to help us to digest its hard hitting message.  The writing is also hugely practical.  Great big grey text boxes with ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions for you to answer help to break up the intensity of the content.

Consider, for example, some of the following questions Lane and Tripp ask:

  • Have you ever felt misunderstood?
  • Have you ever experienced loneliness even when things were going well?
  • How do you deal with relational disappointments?
  • Do you blame, deny, run away, avoid, threaten and manipulate?  Or do you speak the truth, exhibit patience, approach people gently, as for and grant forgiveness, overlook minor offences, encourage and honour others?

Ahem…!  This book made me squirm.  This book made me uncomfortable.  This book held a mirror up to my manner of relating that made me stop looking so much at what I perceive to be wrong with the other person and start asking what any given conflict shows me about my sinfulness.  My self-centredness and disinclination to get involved in other people’s mess are rebuked by the reminder that ‘he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but of him who died for them and was raised again.’ 2 Cor 5:15.

What made the book so memorable for me was that I found my critical spirit backed into a corner until I had no choice but to confess, which then led to a wonderful fresh celebration of the gospel.  God hasn’t given up on me and so I am re-motivated to persevere with you.

Lest we become unduly discouraged, Tripp and Lane frequently remind us that God has given us his Word to help us to navigate our relationships, his Spirit to strengthen us to relate in godly ways and each other for mutual encouragement and correction.

So although I’m still struggling with slight spiritual indigestion, I’m glad I read this book – I just won’t be taking another trip down relationships lane for a while.