Other than our redemption that grants us righteous positioning in Christ and bold access to the throne of God, there's not a stronger commonality Christians share than a battle with sin. There isn't one of us who isn't in desperate need of grace that is greater than the lust and pride that war against our redeemed soul.
Not only do we battle against sin residing within us, we live in a fallen world that leaves us wrestling with sin exacted upon us. The result is that we come to every relationship carrying baggage filled with the struggles, hurts, and insecurities wrought from sin within and from sin without. No matter how light we travel, we each come to the table with a set of designer luggage protected by a locking system of varying sensitivity.
For two people to cross the threshold of superficiality into meaningful relationship, there must first be the acknowledgement that each carries luggage packed with history that shapes perspective. To cross that threshold with success, they have to embrace a modicum of vulnerability and take at least an informal inventory of what's being carried. And if there's any hope of the relationship lasting, they will also have to embrace the reality that there will be more luggage to be retrieved. (i.e. bags forgotten, bags misplaced, and sometimes bags abandoned out of fear it would take more arms and heart to carry than is available.)
Regardless of where the luggage resides, it all needs to be collected if a meaningful relationship is to be sustained. It doesn't all need to be unlocked, it just means it can't be dismissed because of fear there won't be enough muscle to carry it or enough heart to endure its presence. Meaningful relationship becomes impossible to sustain when the struggles, hurts and insecurities two people bring to the table are no longer able to be carried or no longer willing to be carried.
There are a multitude of reasons why relationships that were once enjoyed are terminated, and not all of those reasons are motivated by a selfish and prideful refusal to forbear the sin challenges brought to the table. Sometimes there's an inability for that forbearing because the weight of sin's fallout has burdened two arms too heavily and the weight has crushed one heart too severely. However, the mortal wounds of a failed relationship are never inflicted by a person's expressed inability to tend to relational luggage (help can often be found), rather they're inflicted by a person's unwillingness to tend to it-- an unwillingness (perceived or otherwise) that slowly erodes the soil of trust with the poison of disinterest and/or disengagement.
I spend much of my time walking through pain with those who, for whatever reason, have had their arms burdened too heavily and their heart crushed too severely by the weight of sin to breathe let alone mend a broken relationship. I have learned the importance of leaning in, listening, and looking to Christ with a humility that acknowledges He alone has the ability to know how much luggage a human bellhop with only two arms and one heart is able to bear. A human bellhop who also has luggage of their own to bear.
I am the continual recipient of a strength beyond my own that comes with my acknowledgement of weakness in carrying the burdens of others. It drives me to awaken each morning with pleas to God to empower my feeble arms and strengthen my frail heart. And it has me begging Him for grace to lay hold of that strength without any rebellion against my limitations. Limitations that come with being a human bellhop with only two arms and one heart. A human with a loving Father who "knows how I am formed, and remembers that I am dust." (Psalm 103:14) A human with a loving Father who knows I come to every relationship bearing my own sovereignly monogrammed bags of sin and struggle.
Few of us advance through life without suffering the heartache of a failed relationship in either a marriage or a friendship, heartache that can often leave us asking the same dark questions of futility over and over: How could they have done this to me? Why didn't they place more value on me? Why did they promise to offer response only to offer silence? Why couldn't they love me? How could they have mistreated me like this?
Not only do these obsessive questions rarely come with answers, they are questions that draw the focus away from the need of our own heart and fixate it on the shortcomings of another. A fixation that can so easily find us losing beautiful sight of the Cross and the Suffering Savior who has so mercifully and graciously plummeted the depths of our own sin to deliver us.
I've thought much about these words from Paul Tripp, absorbing more of their truth with every chew. Not truth just for ministry, but truth for life. Especially life within the Church. Truth that informs me that I'm more like those who wound me with their selfishness or hurt me with their pride than I'm prone to admit.
The more God changes me and allows me to increasingly behold the glory of the finished work of the Cross, the more clearly I see that the burdening of my two arms and the crushing of my one heart in struggling relationships comes from scale-tipping weight that includes contribution from my luggage. Maybe my luggage is lighter, maybe I carry it more gently, maybe it unlocks more easily, and maybe what's packed inside isn't as roughly textured. But even if every bit of this is true, it still has me carrying into each relationship the same struggle with lust and pride that wars against every redeemed soul.
The last thing I want to do is to go through life fixating my eyes on the sin of others instead of fixating them on the grace and glory of my Redeemer. A Savior who is more than able to empower my two arms and strengthen my one heart with just the right amount of endurance to tend to my own luggage even as I tend to the luggage of those He chooses for me to serve in meaningful relationship.
It isn't glorifying to a God of sovereign power to rebel against human limitation. We end up hurting the Church, not serving it, when we assume a surrendered Christian should always have the strength to bear under the weight of another's sin. And it isn't glorifying to a God of grace to rebel against sin's power. We end up hurting the Church, not loving it, when we fail to acknowledge we carry into every relationship personal bags of sin struggle and insecurity. Bags that often keep us from loving others as well as we are self-righteously convinced we do.
God has called us to be human bellhops, an invitation that is meant to drive us to our knees in dependence on the only one who can strengthen us in our weakness. It's a calling that should never find us pridefully defending even our strongest efforts to love another, but a calling that should have us humbly confessing we have much to learn about leaning in and listening with an ear to hear a voice other than our own.