Whether or not you realize it, even if you have felt trapped by a sense of duty or responsibility for a long time, continuing to maintain any relationship is a choice you are making every single day.
The biggest relationship struggle we usually have is with God, followed by relationships with ourselves, and then relationships with others (usually family, co-workers, friends, and acquaintances in that order). Whether we maintain these relationships is always a choice, but sometimes we have a stronger sense of duty, responsibility, or obligation because of the nature of the relationship.
For example, if you truly believe in God, and want to honestly, credibly call yourself a Christian, you must do what God has commanded; otherwise, you are merely a nominal Christian, not a true, practicing follower of Jesus Christ.
“‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’
Jesus answered him, ‘If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.’”
A true Christian’s belief compels them to act consistently with God’s commands, as written in Holy Scripture. This can make one feel like they have no choice but to do the right thing.
The reality, however, is that one can always choose to sacrifice their identity as a Christian for their will to follow their own path, rather than the narrow way; do their own thing, rather than the right thing; seek their own truth, rather than the Truth; and live for their own happiness, rather than God’s glory.
When you choose yourself — when you act out of selfish desires, rather than out of love for God and others — you choose to sacrifice your relationship with God on the altar of your own vanity, and your faith is dead.
“What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?
If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?
So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder.
Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’; and he was called the friend of God.
You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.”
You might not feel like you have a choice, but you do. You simply are not free from the consequences of your choice.
You are never truly trapped, except by your own will; your own fear to change yourself; and your own unwillingness to take responsibility for your choices and consciously, intentionally renew your sacred commitments.
In All Your Ways, Acknowledge Him
Some human relationships, by their nature, are unbreakable, sacred bonds — parents and children, husbands and wives, and other family relationships. Be in each of these relationships by choice. Choosing to renew these commitments honors the sacred bond and its Creator.
This is why God said, through the Apostle Paul:
“Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
… and …
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.’ Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Such commands regarding family life are from God, as St. Paul made expressly clear in his first letter to the Corinthians:
“To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) — and that the husband should not divorce his wife.
To the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy.
But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace. Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?”
1 Corinthians 7:10–16
It is out of Godly love for our spouses, therefore, that we are called to remain with them — for the sake of their souls, even!
Therefore, in our relationships with family, we should not cultivate feelings of obligation or foster motivations based on duty. Instead, for the glory of God and in obedience to His commands out of love for Him, we ought to daily choose to put our entire heart and will into the improvement of each such relationship.
You may not understand why God has put difficult people in your life. At times, you are certain to feel hurt, angry, and resentful. While this is natural, we are called to forgiveness, peace, and love. When you cannot find your way back to those virtues, turn to the Lord.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”
Make Choosing Love Your Life’s Moonshot
Do not buy into the lie that you are trapped by an obligation to do the right thing, and, therefore, must remain in a relationship that may be unhappy, or even unhealthy. That is your fear talking. The choices are not simply: (1) stay, honor your sacred commitments, and suffer or (2) leave and prioritize your own happiness or health. Life is not that binary.
The truth is that there is a third way. You can transform your relationships with others, by the power, grace, mercy, and love of God. Such change is difficult and often slow. Nevertheless, we are called to steadfastness, faithfulness, and perseverance.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
I urge you, therefore, to choose love. Make choosing love in your sacred commitments a moonshot effort in your life. With apologies to JFK, choose love “not because [it is] easy, but because [it is] hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
© 2021 Noel Bagwell. All Right Reserved.