Little known fact: in middle school I played chess on the mid-Atlantic regional championship team. My spot on the team was 3rd out of five players. So my role was to “not lose.” In chess, one strategy to “not lose” is to force a stalemate. In tournament play, if players make three repetitive moves that result in the same positions, it is called a stalemate. Typically it is the player with the weaker board position that is trying to force this predictament by repeating the same moves. Therefore, you can “not lose” if you get into a vicious cycle of meaningless moves that results in no progress.
Many of us men would actually prefer to live a life where we “don’t lose” than venture into the fray that would require us to change ourselves and our circumstances. While we try to potray a sense of strength, deep down we are painfully aware of our weaknesses that cause us to play the game of life from a defensive and reactive posture. So we continue making the same repetitive moves without any significant change occurring.
Over time, our relationships reveal these repetitive, vicious cycles. Old worn ruts of arguments keep cycling themselves around. While the triggering event may be different, the same deep hurts and longings are never being truly resolved.
- The wife disrespects, the husband withholds love.
- The giver gives, the taker takes.
- The pursuer pursues, the distancer retreats.
- The spender spends, the saver saves.
- The sinner sins, the saint acts sanctimonious.
- One child rebels, the other plays peacemaker.
In chess, when the vicious cycle starts, you are hoping that the other will make a foolish move to weaken his position in order for you capitalize on his mistake. This is also what we are really wanting in our relational cycles. We want the other person to change his or her behavior so that we can capitalize and prove ourselves victorious. We want the other person to acknowledge his or her failures, so we can feel righteous. And so we let these patterns spin and spin and spin. Hoping that one day they will see the error of their ways…without ever looking at our errors that got us to this position.
So we pleadingly look across the chess board and say, “I promise if you change, then I will change.”
While denying the converse reality: “If I change first, they will have to change.” By our being willing to change ourselves, it will require the other person to change as well. If we made the first move in a new direction we could change the situation.
Repentance means a change of direction. It is a stopping of the repetitive, wasted energy that is taking us nowhere, in order to turn around in a new direction. By repenting from our mistakes, rather than waiting for the other one to do so, we begin to change the relationship.
The story of the twins Jacob and Esau is a fascinating part of Genesis. Jacob is a trickster and deceiver. Jacob is an opportunist and a mama’s boy. Jacob is a sinful mess and a despicable man, quiet frankly. YET, Jacob is the twin God loves. (Side note: Why? Because God is showing that His love for us is not based on our actions. He is not a moralistic deity. He is capable of loving us and using us for His glory in spite of our sinful mess). However, the only thing Jacob did well was he heeded God’s command.
Having stolen his brother’s inheritance, Jacob had spent a life on the run. It wan’t until the trickster got out tricked by Laban that he realized his mistake and repented. Being estranged from his father, his brother and now his father-in-law, Jacob suddenly realized that maybe he is partially to blame in the relational messes of his life.
Therefore, he heeds God’s call to repent (return): “O Lord, who said to me, “Go back to your country and your relatives and I will make you prosper” (Gen 32:9).
Now, Jacob–always the strategist–tried to out smart his brother Esau by creating an elaborate ruse to win his favor. So Jacob had not been fully cleansed of his sinfulness…but he did make the first move. He turned around and headed back towards his brother. He broke their vicious cycle.
In doing so, Jacob allowed for their relationship to be reconciled. In fact, he allowed Esau to be the hero of this story. Jacob’s repentance made his brother look better. Jacob released his need to be right; Jacob allowed for true victory to happen by surrendering.
As you read this passage, imagine the emotion these brothers would have felt. Jacob had spent his life running from his older brother, afraid that if he got caught he would be killed. Now he was heading home and going to try to earn his brother’s love. Jacob wanted to win his favor, but the favor was really won when Jacob stopped running, repented and made the first move towards reconciliation.
Jacob looked up and there was Esau coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two maidservants. He put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. He himself went and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.
BUT Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept…
Esau asked, “What do you mean by all these droves I met?”
“To find favor in your eyes, my Lord,” Jacob said.
BUT Esau said, “I already have plenty my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.”
In Christ, we discover that Jesus broke your vicious sin cycle by making the first move towards. Favor is found when we stop running, repent and receive the embrace of our crucified savior.
Ifyou believe that you will change once they change, why do you not believe that if you change they will change?
What change can you make?
Where do you need to repent in this relational stalemate?