by Susan Graham Mathis
In the movie version of Anne of Avonlea, Anne Shirley confronts her principal’s pathetic relational skills and unfriendliness: "It’s your own fault no one likes you. Katherine Brooke, you’re all prickles and stings!" I’ve certainly known my share of "Katherines" — those friends, relatives and colleagues who struggle to have healthy relationships. Haven’t you?
Jesus wasn’t kidding when He said, "’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’" (Matthew 22:37-39). Jesus created us for relationship, and He knew that if we’d get in step with the way He wired us, we’d meet a God-given need inside us.
In Genesis 1:26, "God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.’ "As the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — God is One, and He exists in complete unity. He is also a completely social being who enjoys an eternally perfect, loving and holy relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because He made us like himself, we also hunger to know such a perfect relationship.
Though human relationships will never be perfect this side of heaven, they are essential to our well-being because He created us to relate to others. As we grow in our relationship with God and with others, we will see how God’s nature, unity and unselfish love create successful relationships.
What Went Wrong?
Today, many people are so busy, competitive or distrusting that they often avoid relationships, at least on the deeper level God intended. To further the dilemma, our communication technology distances us from personal interaction.
Usually we have to schedule time to strengthen our relationships amid the busyness of our daily grind, and our transient culture means we may be thousands of miles from family and friends. It’s often easier to fill our lives with music, movies, television and other entertainment rather than take the time to develop and deepen relationships. Of course, these are just symptoms of the real problem.
When Adam and Eve fell, relationships — those between man and God as well as those between human beings — were broken by sin. Sin hinders relationships because sin is selfishness, thus driving us to fulfill our own desires instead of loving and serving others. "An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends" (Proverbs 18:1).
Unfortunately, the world has created a relationship model that is "all about me." We often think of relationships in self-centered ways. What’s in it for me? Why should I care?
This view of relationships comes across in everyday interactions. People think divorce is OK because they "deserve to be happy." They invite guests for dinner and expect an invitation in return. They get angry when phone calls or e-mails do not get a response. People keep score and expect every action or kindness to be reciprocated. "The ball’s in his court" is the world’s mind-set.
How To Make It Right
God wants us to love, serve and care for others – unconditionally and completely – just as He did. When we do love, serve and care for others – spouse, children, parents, friends, family and strangers – we’re fulfilling God’s plan for relationship.
As the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together in perfect harmony to show us that loving, serving and caring for each other is how a relationship works best. The Son is submitted to the Father, coming to earth and serving humankind by modeling a godly life and dying for our sins – the ultimate, unselfish act of love. “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:1-2). The Holy Spirit is likewise submitted to the Father and the Son, making intercession for us, teaching us and guiding us.
However, while our ability to unselfishly love others runs dry all too quickly, His love endures forever (Psalm 136). So the quality of our earthly relationships is, in part, dependent on the depth of the relationship we have with Christ. The more we understand His love for us, the more His love can flow from us to others. This means we have to choose to die to ourselves and think of others first, every day, in our marriages, our families, our friendships and with our fellow man.
What does that look like? It’s sharing the fruits of the Holy Spirit that He has instilled in us: showing love to the unlovely; passing on God’s joy to the brokenhearted; imparting peace to those in turmoil; modeling patience in frustrating situations; demonstrating kindness to everyone you meet; revealing God’s goodness in thought and deed; walking in faithfulness every day; and living with gentleness and self-control in every situation, even when we have to confront wrongdoing or hurt.
First John 3:18 says, "Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." Actions do speak louder than words when it comes to relationships. From an earthly perspective, you may not receive back as much as you give – but loving, serving and caring for others in Christ’s name and for His sake is God’s plan for relationships.
This article appeared in Focus on the Family magazine.
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