“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Paul gave that advice in Romans 12:18. But what does it mean to live peaceably with a prodigal? As families, we have gotten really good at being in the 5 Rs. The process goes like this:
- Something happens or is said, done or not done, that results in me feeling rejected.
- Rejection is a lousy feeling, so I become resentful about feeling rejected.
- In my resentment, I resist relationship with the person I feel resentful toward.
- Resistance becomes action when it leads to revenge. Revenge is the desire that you feel the same pain I felt so you know what it feels like.
- Repeat. Unresolved, this cycle is easy—even automatic—to repeat over and over until a relationship is damaged beyond repair.
These 5 Rs spell destruction to our relationships: rejection, resentment, resistance, revenge, repeat.
Family members are particularly good at repeating this scenario simply because we have a longer history together that has allowed us to practice, or repeat, this cycle ad nauseam. The cycle becomes completely automatic. Even expected. And family members unthinkingly play out their parts.
Practice Makes Permanent
Now that I’m aware of the active presence of the 5 Rs in my life, what can I do to interrupt this destructive pattern?
As I find myself in one of the 5 Rs, here are actions that immediately place the relationship back on positive footing.
- Resentment is any negative emotional reaction to what I think was said or done.
A signal that I am in resentment is the presence of drama words in my vocabulary: should, need, or perfect. (“She should …” “He needs …” “I’m not perfect but …”) I know I am stuck in resentment when I am stuck in drama.
Solution: Shift to gratitude. “I’m thankful she …” “I’m grateful he …” “What fun to …”
- Resistance is putting up walls and cutting off communication and relationship.
A signal that I am in resistance is not making eye contact and giving the silent treatment. Resistance is shutting down emotionally and relationally around someone.
Solution: Engage, make eye contact, have conversations. Consider getting clear by saying, “The story I’m making up in my head about … is …”
- Revenge is the attempt to get even. Revenge is taking advantage of, or setting up an opportunity so another can feel the rejection I felt.
A signal that I am in revenge is wanting another to feel hurt. If I am saying something like, “Now he will know how it feels,” or “Serves her right,” or “Karma is a bitch,” I’m in revenge.
Solution: Practice generosity. If I can extend generosity to the person I am feeling revenge toward, that action breaks the destructive cycle. Does the person deserve generosity? Probably not. That’s why it’s called grace. And it’s worth practicing grace generously to have healthy relationships. The alternative is to become bitter. Trust me on this.
- Repeat. A toxic pattern is to believe that because I’m hurt, I have the right to be unkind and hurtful. Then I hurt you, and you hurt me, and I am offended, and you are offended, and in our offense, we dive deeply into the 5 Rs.
“Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.” – King Solomon
The whole crazy parade begins when something happens or is said, done, or not done, that results in me feeling rejected.
When I feel rejected is my most powerful opportunity to choose. I choose to step off into the familiar yet painful cycle of the 5 Rs, or I choose grace and joy and health.
Fact versus Fiction
Rejection is based on understanding what is fact and what is fiction. Most of us are awesome storytellers. We take the facts and instantly make up a fantastic story in our mind about what those facts mean. Add some time, and the story can grow way beyond any semblance of truth.
Since we are looking at my stunning ability to create fiction from fact, it is probably pretty obvious how making stuff up in my head about facts can be the catalyst for a lot of family and relationship drama. And I thought I was living so peaceably with everyone.
The humongous problem with making up stories is that the story in my head becomes my reality. And I act and react based on the made-up story as if it were truth. In such scenarios, no one wins but plenty of negative drama is launched and, short of a miracle of maturity and grace, will spin out of control for years, decades, and even generations.
The life-changing, life-giving solution comes by sticking to the facts and letting the facts stand for themselves. Steve Binkley says, “People do what they do for their own reasons, and it rarely has anything to do with you.” The truth is that what most things people say or do, don’t say, don’t do, and accidentally do or don’t do hardly ever has anything to do with me. Or you. We’re all just doing our best to live our lives as well as we can.
And the best we can do has everything to do with sticking to the facts, being graciously generous, practicing gratitude, and not taking ourselves or others too seriously.
And yes, occasionally those closest do reject me. Rejection, like pain, is not a favorite. But if I’m breathing, rejection is part of life. There is something to be learned from both pain and rejection. The vital aspect is how I respond, and the 5 Rs is the antithesis of maturity, healthy relationships, or even good adulting.
The next time I feel rejected by my prodigal and am tempted to move into the familiar 5 Rs, I can make a different and better choice. I can choose instead to stick to the facts. My prodigal exercised freedom of choice. I can only guess at the motivation, but instead, I choose to love, show grace, and practice gratitude and generosity. I choose to keep a relationship bridge that one day my prodigal may choose to use.
Without the 5 Rs, I can leave my guard down, freely cheer on others, celebrate my beloveds, enjoy relationships and laugh until milk comes out my nose.
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