“His name is MacGyver, and he can fix anything.”
Growing up in the Midwest, we watched a lot of television in the winter, even though we only got three channels (four, if you count PBS, which we never did). My favorite show growing up was “MacGyver”, remember him? (And no, the new “reboot” doesn’t count.) MacGyver was the guy who could be locked in a basement and somehow improvise a rocket-launcher with an empty toilet-paper roll, duct-tape, baking-soda, and a couple of ball-bearings. Not only that, but he was one of those people who could fix just about anything with whatever he found laying around. In college, I knew a real-life MacGyver named James, this long-haired pot-smoking cammo-jacket-n-army-boots-wearing hipster who could fix and build just about anything. But from his resume and appearance, you’d never know that he’s probably one of the smartest people you’ll ever encounter — and without a college-degree.
I’m good at fixing things — well, some things. I can fix most code problems I encounter relatively well, even if those fixes are marked with “// ugly, dirty HACK!” Most code is pretty logical and once one understands what it’s supposed to do (as opposed to what it does), it’s usually not that difficult to figure out what’s wrong and start making fixes. When it comes to working on my car or stuff around the house, I do alright but can get a little sloppy (sorry, kids!). Admittedly, after awhile I tend to get impatient and start to justify that all the time and effort I’m putting in could be much better spent elsewhere. Then I just patch things up to a tolerable state and say “Good enough!” or (as in the case with cars) bring in an “expert” and pull out the checkbook.
Over the last several months, I’ve been fixing up my house — not to sell or rent out (thank goodness!), but for myself and my kids. Literally every room has been combed through and everything fixed/replaced, patched, updated, and repainted. I guess I’m becoming more like one of the guys from Fixer-Upper than MacGyver these days. We’ve been in the house for nearly sixteen years and never really made more than minor repairs, not even repainting. The house was brand-new when we bought it, and we didn’t really notice the wear-n-tear until about five years ago. My excuse in delaying many of the repairs and updates was, “As long as the kids are young, everything’s a cluttered mess, and we have all these pets running around, it’s a losing battle that can wait for another day.” But now that day is finally here, and it’s been a long row to hoe. My poor house must feel like I’m giving it a root canal or something!
While I’m decent at fixing code and odds-n-ends, when it comes to relationships, I’m afraid it’s a different story. Fixing broken relationships isn’t nearly as easy as fixing code, my house, or even my car. My pride often deceives me into thinking I know how someone else feels, thinks, and might react, but in the end all I’m really doing is making guesses because I can’t see the entire picture, much less actually understand it. Heck, I don’t even know how I feel, think, and might react half the time, so how can I possibly understand how someone completely different from myself might feel, think, and react? But my pride — that stubborn old pride blinds me and fools me into thinking otherwise just about every time.
Sometimes despite how much I try to fix things, they only seem to make it worse. With my house, I can always spackle, patch, or even cut out the broken piece and replace it. If I do it well enough, no one can tell that anything was even broken in the first place (especially after a fresh coat or two of paint!). With code, it’s even easier; when I royally foul things up at the office, I can always revert my changes and all the mistakes I’ve made are instantly wiped away, as if they’ve never occurred at all; the only thing I’ve lost is time and effort (and coffee). But with people and relationships, it’s never nearly that simple — ever. There is no “Undo” button when it comes to people because we have hearts and memories and feelings, code doesn’t. Sadly, no matter how much we would like to see some friendships restored, sometimes there just isn’t any good way to fix them.
As a Mr. Fix-it Guy, it’s very difficult for me to NOT try to fix things, particularly something important. Whenever I see something that’s broken or not right, I want to drop whatever I’m doing and go fix it. How is it I can fix my house, car, or a complex piece of code yet be completely unable to fix a relationship that’s important to me? Again, perhaps it’s a pride-thing, as if my head and heart think, “I can fix most other things, so I should be able to fix this too!” But the thing is, before you can fix something, you first need to know how that thing is supposed to work, and not just that part individually, but how it works within the rest of the system. Then you need to discern how it was broken in the first place so you can make the correct repairs and so the breakage doesn’t reoccur (or make the damage even worse!). You need to be able to understand all the different pieces and know how they all should be working together, how and when this part should be moving and interacting in accordance with the rest of the system.
When I step back and attempt to do a “root-cause analysis” on a relationship that’s been damaged, I almost always find that some sort of faithlessness (unbelief, lack of trust, etc.) is involved, which hampers friendship, communication, empathy, and even love. Sometimes this occurs between my relationship with God, but more often (and much more tangibly) with other people. As I chew on my failures in this area, I find that in my pride, I make assumptions about what the other person is likely feeling or thinking and then I do or say something foolish or even hurtful based upon that misinformation, and a downward spiral of action-reaction begins. Assumptions are never reality; at best they’re guesses, and at worst they’re falsehoods, yet both are rooted in misguided pride. And sooner or later, that pride-trip ends, reality hits hard and results in me being humbled and often filled with deep regret.
If I apply the same principles to fixing a broken relationship as I do with a broken piece of code or a wall in my house, I realize that I’ll always fall short of being able to fix things on my own. Perhaps it’s not even my place to fix some relationships, at least not completely and fully because I simply don’t have enough knowledge, insight, and understanding into what’s really needed. Perhaps it’s also a matter of perspective because with things I’m fixing, I’m operating from the outside, while with relationships I’m operating from within. With code, I can fire up a debugger and step through everything line-by-line to completely understand what’s happening, but I can’t do that with a head or heart. When it comes to another person, most of my words or actions will be based upon my best-guesses unless I’m able to fully communicate with the other person and fully, totally empathize with them from the inside. At this point, all I can really do is step back, analyze where I messed up, and try not to make the same mistake again — or again and again and again.
The good news in all this is that God knows — and He cares. God knows our relationships. He knows our hearts, our attitudes, and everything involved in them (Psalm 44:21, Romans 8:27). And not only does He know them, He specializes in fixing what’s broken. With His “Divine Debugger”, in His own time and His own way, He steps through our lives and hearts and examines us line-by-line to fix and rewrite anything that’s broken, fragile, or improper. Our Father delights in reconciliation — in broken marriages, damaged friendships, and any other relationship we royally foul up in our pride and foolishness.
Our Father smiles when someone finally comes to their senses and repents of their hurtful words and deeds. He rejoices over the prodigal, the rebel, and the backslider who repents and turns from their wicked ways. God is the Master Fixer-Upper and is the only one who can fully repair broken relationships because He’s the only one who can see all the different pieces of us and how we’re supposed to “work”. He’s the only one who knows all the different dynamics of how we came to be the way we are, who we really are inside, and how all those uptillion words, deeds, and experiences have shaped us and cause us to feel, speak, act, and react the way we do. He knows our tears and heartache and empathizes with our hurts; He counts our tears and stores them up for us (Psalm 56:8). God knows and He cares.
So with that in mind, I’m learning (slowly, clumsily, and painfully), that there are just some things I cannot fix, and I need to accept that despite how much I would like to. I could have all the hopes and dreams in the world to fix whatever I’ve broken, but it’ll never happen without His working. I suppose it’s another piece of that whole “Leave it up to the Lord” thing that I frequently seem to struggle with. It’s not my place to fix everything — that’s God’s — mine is to be faithful, humble, patient, and trusting. It’s my responsibility to believe the best in another person, particularly someone I care about. It’s my responsibility to be quick to seek forgiveness and reconciliation despite my pride and arrogance. It’s my responsibility to trust and hope and love those who God has placed in my life and leave the rest up to Him. It’s my responsibility to love regardless. It’s absurdly simple yet incredibly challenging.
Being faithful, believing the best in others, holding fast to what I know to be true, and refusing to fear when things seem to be spiraling downward — those are the things I should be doing rather than making bad assumptions and then acting on them as if I know more than I actually do. I should be patient, kind, gentle, or even long-suffering regardless of how I may be feeling.
Say, that’s starting to sound a little like 1 Corinthians 13, isn’t it? Wrap a big ole piece of duct-tape around that one, MacGyver! (But hold the bubble-gum.)
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…” — I Corinthians 13: 4-8a