Relationships can weather the most difficult of times, and then can also crumble and disappear in a fleeting moment. Why is that? Why do they have to be so challenging? Recently I had a “run in” with someone I have known for some time. I wanted to avoid them and the conflict– wishing it away. The relationship seemed to be damaged, possibly beyond repair. I was afraid I would have to tolerate and endure it, since I would see them regularly.
What is your typical response?
When is last time you had tension with your roommate, a cold-shoulder from a fellow employee or maybe a defensive response from a family member? We have all been there… your roommate piles her dishes in the sink again and leaves for the day. Or your relationships with your dad is not what you would hope. He doesn’t ever ask how you are doing. Maybe your friends left you out again, and they don’t seem to realize it. Someone close to you accuses you of something that isn’t true. Or your fellow employee always exaggerates, talks about themselves and is very annoying, yet they seem to get all the breaks.
All of those things, over time, can make us want to give up and say, “Forget it.” Honestly, my natural response is escape and avoidance, or saying something I may regret later (So that they may know how wrong they are!). Also, if we take our cues from the world around us, we may justify our right to protect ourselves, to set up barriers, or cut ties completely. Relationships appear “disposable” in the world we live in.
Why should I even preserve the relationship?
At the most fundamental level, people are made in the image of God and should be viewed as God’s image bearers. Since they are valuable to God, I should treat them as such.
Relationships are also a tool for our own growth and transformation. God uses people in our lives, (and vice-versa) to transform, mature and teach us. Running away from the relationship or conflict does not help in the long run.
The way we treat others has the opportunity to give others a glimpse of God and point them to Christ. The only way to show true love, patience and grace is to have experienced it ourself and to be in a situation in which it would be easier not to show it.
Making Relationships Count
I had a friendship with a person I will call “Kristy.” We had spent many hours together with lots of shared experiences; and we even went on a few trips together. She was a very good friend. At some point, we stopped communicating as often, and when we did see each other it seemed off. Her answers were short, and she seemed to make sure I knew things were not okay. I was at a loss. It was incredibly hurtful and difficult after all the hours we had logged together. We moved to different cities and the friendship vanished. From my perspective it seemed as if she could just dispose of our friendships like it did not happen. I never knew exactly what I had done to create distance between the two of us. At that point in my life I didn’t know what to do and I figured it must have been my fault since she treated me in such a way. Now looking back, I see the distance between us was created, not just by what I had “done,” but also from her lack of communication with me.
Often the challenges of relationships can make us feel like something is the matter with us, that we are poor at building relationships or we should not keep caring. As I reflect, a few things come to mind that apply to most of the “run ins” we have with our relationships. Consider a relationship that is difficult or you are tempted to walk away from and ask these questions of yourself:
1. Am I slow to speak?
We can assume that relationships grow through the many words we speak, yet less words or choice words can often be better. A “pause” can go further than a word said impatiently. In the moment, telling the person what they need to hear may feel right; yet, hasty words usually don’t bring about the change we are striving for. Slow to speak is challenging. It is challenging to choose to wait to speak when wronged, choosing our words carefully when we feel attacked or giving a longer pause when we find we want to defend ourself. If we don’t “fight for our right” to be heard, then we might be misunderstood!
A sign we value another person is our ability to listen, ask questions, and to allow pauses. We all want to be heard. I like to tell a humorous story about Brian and my second date. We went out to eat, and I asked questions to get to know him better. He answered my questions and elaborated, yet he didn’t ask me questions in return. I would then ask him another question and he would talk some more. Through the course of the dinner, I started to I feel somewhat discouraged. Fortunately for us, we had had a great first date. But, if our second date had been our first date, there may have not been a second date.
Relationships deepen as we are slow to speak and quick to listen.
2. Can I forgive quickly?
Any relationship involving another human being is going to include conflict at some point in time! How do I usually handle conflict? It does seem easier to passively give the silent treatment and hope the other person figures it out. Yet, from my experience with the “silent treatment,” it doesn’t really work. I learned early on in my marriage that my husband can’t read my mind and would rather me tell him what is wrong, instead of giving short one-word answers and slamming the door! It is not easy to forgive when we have been wronged or falsely accused. To maintain healthy relationships we need to choose to forgive, even when our forgiveness is not asked for, and choose to forgive quickly.
In our family lore there is the story of a precarious predicament that caused another family member much disappointment and anger– to the point they avoided the ones who hurt them. The seed of bitterness was planted and they refused to speak to very close family members for years. The problem with a seed of bitterness is it doesn’t remain a little seed, but it grows larger when watered with more unforgiveness. The lingering fruit remained many years later!
Forgiveness and confession are essential elements for sustaining relationships (see, “The One thing that is Saving my Marriage“).
3. Do I look for ways to show appreciation?
Everyone wants to be appreciated and valued. In our world we place such a premium on being valued that we can assume it is our right to be appreciated. The assumption is if we feel unappreciated then something must be wrong with the other person. Instead of focusing on our need to be appreciated, invest in the relationship by showing your appreciation– noticing and making observations and verbally sharing appreciation for the other person. Also, we can learn ways to bless and serve the other person, when it isn’t expected. It is funny how our need to be “appreciated” can disappear as we take our eyes off ourself. I used to have an intern on my team that would always clean up my kitchen when we had socials and student dinners at our house. I would turn around and notice the dishwasher was filled and the trash was taken out. It encouraged me and blessed me. I didn’t know him that well at that point, but it made me want to get to know him better.
A healthy relationship seeks to tangibly encourage and appreciate the other person, but does not demand to be appreciated or valued.
4. Do I seek to spend time together?
One of my old bosses had a high value of spending time together outside of our actual “work.” (Of course, my setting was in a campus ministry) I often didn’t value this like he did and just wanted time to myself in the evening or weekend. I think he intuitively knew something that I have found to be true over the years: if we can spend time with others, we often grow to like them and and value them. There are people I have worked with that I didn’t enjoy at first, but once I spent more time with them and even learned more about their story, I had a new love and care for them. I didn’t just tolerate them, but I began to love them.
Vulnerability and trust in relationships comes from spending time together.
5. Do I know how to have gracious honesty?
There was a time I knew some people who felt like “honesty was the best policy,” and that it was important to “speak the truth in love.” In their eagerness to be honest, it tended to make some feel hurt and corrected for their differences. Honesty must include grace and humility, or it will fall on deaf ears.
Early in our marriage, Brian and I borrowed a friend’s truck to pick up some furniture. Our friend, noticing the empty gas tank when we were finished, gently told us that he would like us to put some gas in the tank next time. As we thought about it, we knew he was right, even though we didn’t like being corrected. Putting gas in the tank would have been the responsible thing to do and a good way to say, “Thank you.” This was not the first or last time our friend’s words of correction would help us to grow as young adults. Because he was older than us, he would see things we were sometimes blind to. We always felt like his feedback was gracious, honest, and helpful because we knew he had our best interest in mind. Even though the miles separate us, we still consider him a good friend after many years. If we had rejected or complained about his rebuke or if he had chosen to avoid us, we would have missed some opportunities for growth.
A good relationship includes honesty, but it is gracious and humble.
Are you making your relationships “count?“
Through the trying times I have had lately, I am reminded it is better to pray first and be slow with my words (not jumping to conclusions), to forgive and not avoid. I sat there praying one morning about the relationship I was having trouble with. Everything in me, wanted to avoid them and be angry. Instead, I finally decided I needed to go talk with them. I had a few questions I wanted to ask them and I wanted to “hear” them. I also wanted to be honest, yet not dumping everything I could think of at their feet. After the conversation I felt like a weight was lifted and I did the right thing in trying every effort to preserve it. We have made amends and I am thankful things are much better. Whether I am having conflict with a friend, my husband, neighbor, or in-law it is better to seek to preserve it than to treat it as disposable.
Relationships can be the biggest blessing but they can also create the most hurt. I was going to call this post, “… Making Relationships Last,” but instead I used the word “Count.” To make something count is to make it important. I can’t guarantee a relationship will last or weather all the storms of life, but I can invest in it in way that gives the person value, and points them to Christ. Relationships are the way the people will see Christ’s love. And that really counts!