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I first met my wife when she was sixteen, and I was nineteen. We took an instant dislike to each other. She found me boorish, and I found her disrespectful. Things did not augur well for any kind of relationship to develop between us.
Three years later we met again, and God seemed to have changed us both. We found that we had so much in common! After a while, our mutual affection and appreciation had grown to the point where marriage seemed the only possible solution. Now, after thirty years, each of us finds it impossible to imagine life without the other.
It was with some astonishment that I came across a very similar experience in the opening pages of John and Therese Boucher’s new book, Mending Broken Relationships, Building Strong Ones. The couple could hardly stand to be in the same room together when they first met. Their mutual aggravation went on and on, they say, “until God finally stepped in and showed us the way.” They continue:
As you can see, we are not experts on love—and we’re still learning! But we know from experience that without God’s intervention, it’s impossible to mend relationships and build strong ones.
Where Healing Begins. This admission of inadequacy is typical of the disarming candor with which the Bouchers present what they have learned about relating to others. Their honesty encourages us to examine our own relationships, especially those in which we feel paralyzed and powerless. “Let Jesus in!” the Bouchers insist. Allow him to work! Know that God can bring good out of disaster and light to situations that seem dark and hopeless.
Each of the eight chapters of Mending Broken Relationships explores a gift or virtue, such as intercessory prayer, respect, forgiveness, and gratitude. Through these, the Holy Spirit empowers us to relate to people in a life-giving way. But reaching out to people also means learning to recognize and respect God’s image in ourselves. The book quotes Anglican priest Morton Kelsey, who says,
Deep in the heart of every man [or woman] is the fear that no one can abide him. This is the result of our separation from God, and only as the human soul is watered with concern and love can this disfigurement within be cleansed away and replaced by a new growth of security and self-respect.
“Call out to Jesus, your Shepherd,” the Bouchers urge us. “Let him look at you with love and appreciation for who you are.” Then, with self-respect as a firm foundation, we can see God’s image in other people; we can reach out to them based on our shared identity as children of God.
Power to Change. On just about every page, Mending Broken Relationships bears witness to God’s healing power with stories and examples. Drawn from the authors’ lives and from the experiences of people they know, as well as the lives of the saints, these personal testimonies are striking—sometimes poignant, sometimes startling.
A chapter on forgiveness tells how John’s father called the family together as he was dying. He had a parting word for each of his children. The jaw-dropping message for John: “Why didn’t you ever make anything of yourself? I am so disappointed in you.” John, who had chosen a career in Catholic lay ministry, was crushed. Following the funeral, a few days later, he was left to mull over the condemning words.
The story could have ended there. But through the power of forgiveness, God had the last word. In his pain, John turned to the Bible, especially to Jesus’ affirmation of God as his Father and ours. John came to a new awareness of the love of his heavenly Father, and he was able to forgive his earthly father and find peace. And when his career took an unexpected upturn, John took it as a blessing from beyond the grave—a sign that his father had changed his mind and was reconciled to his son’s career.
A Challenging Read. While this book has a refreshing and reassuring tone, it sometimes makes for uncomfortable reading because it exposes ways in which we fail to act or speak in Christian charity. A short example in the chapter on truth and honesty hit home for me:
Mark and Barbara were in the habit of criticizing the Sunday sermon after Mass on the way to the coffee shop. Mark realized how inappropriate and unkind this was. So he asked Barbara, “Next time I start complaining, would you please say, ‘Mark, you told me you didn’t want to do this anymore.’”
How many times I have fallen into the same kind of criticizing! After reading this, I felt moved to ask the Lord to help me change and grow into his way of relating.
Since this is a very practical book, readers will find many helps for moving forward with their own resolutions and for breaking relationship deadlocks and resolving conflicts. There are prayers, resources, and imaginative approaches and suggestions; each chapter ends with reflection questions and an exercise for further growth.
This book challenged me to reach out to other people, to see them through God’s eyes, and to let him work in all my relationships. It delivers a message of irrepressible hope: relationships can be healed and mended as we joyfully commit them—and ourselves—to the way of the Lord.
Sean O’Neill is a writer and translator in Lansing, Michigan.
Mending Broken Relationships, Building Strong Ones: Eight Ways to Love as Jesus Loves Us, by John and Therese Boucher (softcover, 160 pp.), is available at www.wau.org and from amazon.com. To read an excerpt, visit our online bookstore.