Dear James

by Stan Mitchell
Most of us have read the “Dear Abby” and “Ann Landers” columns at one time or another. Reading about other people’s problems is entertaining, and these two women gave answers that were snappy, funny, and often very wise. So there is irony in the fact that the writers were sisters, and that for most of their lives they were at odds with each other.
Think about it; these two women were the gurus of reconciling relationships, yet they hadn’t spoken to each other in years!
Sometimes when we survey the wreckage of a marriage or a church that has broken down, we wonder just how such a thing could happen. There was a time when friends enjoyed each other’s company. What changed that fact? There was a time when newlyweds hung on each other’s every word. Why now the bitter response to every statement? And a church should be populated with warm and loving children of God; why the tension and bickering? Why do these relationships, ideally loving and nurturing, turn sour? James suggests an answer:
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1).
Notice the words James uses for the motives that lie behind conflict.
i) Fights and quarrels begin because of our “desires.” The word James uses is hedonon, from which we get the word “hedonistic,” as in hedonistic pleasures. This describes a person who has forgotten all about the good of the relationship in an emotional “sugar rush” for personal gratification.
ii) Quarrels are the result of our wanting something but not getting it. We didn’t get our way! And it bugs us that our desires were thwarted, so we begin to attack those around us.
It’s not a pretty picture. You could argue, for instance, that there are extreme circumstances under which a church should break apart. Persistent false doctrine, for instance, or unrepentant immorality might make such drastic measures necessary. But James seems to put a lot of our battles down to something so base and common as selfishness. I didn’t get my way, so I will act destructively in order to ensure that if I can’t get my way, neither will anyone else. This sort of Kamikaze approach to relationships might provide momentary gratification, but it is self-destructive.
Who wins when friendships are broken? Who is better off when a marriage breaks down? What is gained by a church breaking apart? And all for the sake of my self-serving attitude? Surely not! But few people, when angry, see it that way. They are simply “doing the right thing,” or so they have convinced themselves.
I don’t know why Abigail and Ann were at odds with each other. I suspect that even they couldn’t remember how it all started. But I wonder, does it really matter who was in the right? Perhaps each could have submitted a letter to “Dear James” and gotten some sound advice!

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