One of the most painful experiences in life is finding oneself in a relationship that isn't coming with the benefit of transparent communication that is humble and honest. Whether a work relationship, parent-child relationship, or a marriage or friendship, nothing has power to cause harm more than prideful barriers of protection that don't afford open exchange. Barriers of pride always come with a thread of contention that slowly strangles the life out of a relationship. Sometimes that thread of contention involves a violent struggle, but many times it involves a silent kill. Most people aren't walking into divorce court with bruises from beating each other, most are walking in with bruises from ignoring each other.
Only by pride comes contention: but wisdom is found in those who take advice. (Prov 13:10)
Any meaningful relationship that carries enough selfless love to reach beneath the surface is going to have its challenges. The absence of conflict is not a sign of relational health. When we consider someone as being more important than ourselves and choose to enter into real relationship (marriage or friendship) with them at their request or consent, we are choosing to invest energy into discovering their heart. Hearts are a bloody mess. Regardless of what we find, loyalty keeps us focused on discovery, trustworthiness keeps us guarding discovery, and faithfulness keeps us digging for discovery.
When our mission to uncover the heart finds us running into a brick wall, a destructive thread of contention immediately begins to weave its way into the relationship. Maybe softly. Maybe silently. However it weaves its death, the evil nature of its destructive fiber is found in the fact that it doesn't allow the heart to be revealed. Hidden behind prideful protection, the heart's most significant offering becomes distance and isolation. And where there's no revealing, there's no repentance. And where there's no repentance, there's no resolution. It turns into a relational death spiral that becomes almost impossible to fix. Even when distancing in the relationship proves to be a wise decision, a heart hidden behind protective walls doesn't allow maneuvering with any measure of honesty or thoughtful closure.
I could spend all day writing about the reasons why we pridefully guard our hearts. Libraries are lined with books to inform us, classrooms are filled with psychologists to instruct us, and offices are saturated with therapists to guide us. But regardless of the invaluable insights we may learn, there is never an excuse for the sin of pride. But there are consequences of pride. And in this case, relational consequences.
Our vision is too poor and our perspectives are too distorted not to need help from others in seeing ourselves. The great irony behind building walls of protection is that they are so terribly dangerous. And that's because they are walls that blind us to our own sin. They savor secrecy and spurn accountability. They tether us to our sinful fantasies and tie us to our sinful justifications. They are notorious for desiring what is wrong, dismissing what is right, and devaluing what is good.
We build protective walls because our heart fears being seen. Whether it fears rejection or fears abandonment, it's driven by a motivation to save itself, not give itself. The longer this desire to remain unseen is satisfied, the more comfortable our heart becomes with its cold pattern of engagement. And what's abnormal begins to feel normal. There's a reason the gnarled claw of abuse that presents itself in childhood often holds the heart captive in adulthood. Remaining unseen becomes a survival technique.
Because of the blindness that accompanies our refusal to be seen, I often share this verse when I'm counseling someone with walls of strong protection:
You say, "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing." But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Rev 3:17)
When we hide ourselves behind a protective barrier, we are revealing our prideful spirit of independence. We are saying we don't need the help and counsel of another. We are saying we don't need the input of others to shine light on our hearts. We are saying our wealth of resources is grand enough not to need anything. And because of that spirit, we don't come to the table as a learner. We come to the table as one who needs to teach, not be taught; as one who needs to defend self, not die to self. It can be especially difficult for those who have been abused to acknowledge this independence as being problematic. Even in the most ideal situations, everything within us screams that salvation is found within us. It's understandable why this voice would be deafening if we've found ourselves fighting for our lives.
When we're protective, we're good at pridefully having answers, but we're lame at humbly seeking answers. And that's because humbly seeking answers requires a level of vulnerability that is incapable of scaling protective walls. It involves asking questions that demonstrate need. It involves asking questions that demonstrate poverty instead of wealth.
Would you help me to understand how to make you feel loved? (I'm limited.)
Would you help me to learn how not to hurt you with my responses? (I'm insensitive.)
Would you help me to learn how to speak more gently? (I'm unkind.)
Would you help me to learn to be a better friend? (I'm disloyal.)
Would you help me to learn to be a better wife? (I'm untrustworthy.) A better husband? (I'm unfaithful.)
Though God can free the most stubborn heart of protective pride, I want to highlight the grace that's available to those who are on the outside of the wall, and who are feeling the cold pain of being shut out. I want to give hope to the parent who is desperately trying to reach the heart of their child. I want to give hope to the spouse who is desperately trying to reach the heart of her husband or his wife, and I want to give hope to the man or woman who is desperately trying to reach the heart of his or her friend. It's hurtful and confusing not being given access to the objects of our affection. It can leave us struggling with a cache of turbulent emotions, from painful rejection to agonizing guilt.
There are many reasons for being denied access to someone, reasons that we can't assume we understand without the facts. Even with the facts, it can be terribly difficult. It's incredibly naive and judgmental to make assumptions about the reasons for a closed heart. And it's incredibly arrogant to make the assumption that we would have been able to avoid the closure. I am grieved by the comments I hear people making about others, whether it involves parenting, marriage or friendship. The swirling circumstances are simply too convoluted and people are entirely too complex to make sweeping judgments about relational breaches.
But I can say this with all confidence, when we're met with the blinding pride of another, it's a perfect time for us to learn about the deep need of our own heart. Because our response to running into their wall of defense will reveal things about ourselves that we would never have seen otherwise. It will be a collision that can spark levels of impatience, unkindness, anger, despair, distrust and doubt that we had no idea exist within our heart. But if we can remain tender in the process and not build our own walls of protection in response, it's a collision that can be used by God to shatter us into a million broken pieces that will have us humbly begging our Savior for grace. And that is always a beautiful thing.
I've run into the walls of people I love that have sent sparks of wickedness flying higher than Mount Kangchenjunga. I can't tell you how it has broken me. But I can tell you that God's grace has proven over and over again to be greater than my sin. And I can tell you that I'm eternally grateful for the unfailing mercy of a Savior who loves me enough to secure my rabid heart. Relationships are important to me. I'm emotionally intense, and I go after a heart like a dog on a bone. I'm proud, and I don't want to give up. I plant my feet, clench my teeth and give myself whiplash shaking my head while fiercely growling. And if my bone is taken, I viciously pounce and rip the stinkin' robber to shreds. But God. Even for me. His grace has proven sufficient even for me.
He's teaching me. I'm a slow learner, but he's teaching me. He's teaching me I don't need to shake everybody into submission. He's teaching me I don't need to secure everyone in their behavior and straighten them in their line. He's teaching me I don't need to rescue all the poor and needy of the world, because I'm learning I need rescued. I'm learning I'm poor. And I'm learning I'm needy. Most of all, He's teaching me I don't need to scale every wall.
A dear friend posted this on her timeline the other day, and it brought tears to my eyes. Obviously, J.S. Park ran into a brick wall. Maybe you have, too. And just maybe God is changing you.