We have been studying about how much work relationships really take. In fact, we have probably all come to the same conclusion - it is just plain hard work to really get into any relationship - from our relationship with Christ to the one with our cubicle mate at work. If you haven't figured it out yet, Christianity is not something you "live out" alone - you actually do much better in your growth when it is shared in relationship with another. We "sharpen" each other by the various things we each lend to the relationship. It is the very "differences" which actually make each relationship so important - for it is in the "differences" where we learn to "walk out" our Christian faith. Immaturity demands everybody be just like who you are - maturity recognizes the differences actually allow people to grow. The sooner we learn to appreciate the differences in each other, the sooner we are open to learning FROM each other.
If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. (I John 4:20-21 MSG)
It is not just "what" another person is which makes them different, it is "where" they are in their life experiences, too. The "what" is the make-up of their personality or temperance - the "where" is the relationship characteristics they bring into the mix because of their own personal struggles and strengths. God accepts us just as we are (what) and we begin to acknowledge his work in our lives at exactly the right moment (where). We should be exhibiting just as much acceptance of the what and where of the other person - because we are examples of his love. When we get hold of this truth, we begin to interact with others on a different level - not from a self-absorbed, self-focused level, but one which is much deeper because it looks beyond the stuff people so often focus on in relationships which is nothing more than surface deep.
Most of the time, we will come to a place when the "what" of another person's make-up will kind of get on our nerves. If they are in a place where they are struggling, we might just get impatient with them. If they fail us because of where they are at in their own growth experience, we get disappointed. There is nothing which squelches relationships quicker than failing to deal with these disappointments, or holding onto them until they mount into one mighty big deal. The other person is probably not equipped to take care of our disappointment - if they were, they wouldn't have disappointed us in the first place! The only one really in a place to deal with our disappointments is God himself. He knows the bigger picture and can help us "re-frame" our own "picture" of the situation so it comes into better focus. When he does this, we often see our disappointment in a new light and this helps us let go of it, or know exactly how to help the other person.
Since this idea of relationships is so important throughout all of scripture, we might do well to take a few lessons to heart which are taught over and over from front to back of this 66-book textbook! Yep, the Bible is a textbook for living - complete with all kinds of instruction and insight into the "stuff" which makes us tick, helps us when we need help the most, and just plain gets us moving when we don't feel like we can take another step. Here are only a few of the principles taught about relationships:
- People will disappoint, so we have to learn to forgive them and do it quickly. No offense is meant to be held onto. The condition taught in scripture is the "obligation" to forgive, not the "option" to forgive. Forgive as God forgave you - you don't see any option presented there. If you remember and offense, stop what you are doing, go and forgive your brother, then bring your prayers before God - no option there. If we'd learn to forgive a little sooner, we might just save ourselves a whole lot of additional frustration and disappointment!
- We cannot expect others to do for us what only God can do in our lives. Whenever we elevate someone else to a place of significance in our lives which only belongs to God, we are in danger of having some pretty unrealistic expectations in the relationship. Your fellowman is human - don't expect them to be divine! Don't expect them to fill your emptiness - only God can truly do that.
- Feelings have to be worked through. The best one to help us with this is God himself - he is able to sort through them and bring us to the crux of the issue in a shorter period of time than we could ourselves. It is in the process of allowing him to walk us through our feelings until we reach a place of being less reliant on them that we come to a place of being able to stop relying on those feelings as a measure of whether things are "okay" or "working" in a relationship. We get focus - feelings muddle our focus - God sorts things out and brings the "innumerable pixels" of relationship issues into focus.
- Nothing is more important than knowing we can take things to God. No relationship issue is too small, or too great, for his help. He is concerned with what concerns us. He uses his word and his "children" to speak to us when we most need to sort things out. Don't just rely upon his "children" (fellow believers) to help you sort it out - be intent on learning what the Word has to say about the issues, as well. Jesus is our example of how to work through many relationship issues. He was pretty much treated with every form of contempt; loved by some, hated by others; had an inner circle of close friends, and knew many others as acquaintances; and dealt with the worst of sinners as though they were the most valuable of people in this entire world. Since he already figured this out for us, we might just save ourselves a lot of headache if we'd just learn to take things to him a little sooner! Just sayin!