2009-08-11 – “Understand what you are dealing with.”
When I asked folk for suggestions for eDevs, one of the themes that came up a lot was “How do I best love my wife/husband?”
Now, not everyone on the eDev list is married and so I thought I would tackle this from the perspective of relationships and while some of the thoughts are particular to marriage, there will be much that is transferable to our relationships with siblings, parents and friends.
I also want to make this disclaimer: I am no relationship expert or counsellor, I will simply try to pick up some of the very basics…
32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
There is a basic truth about us as human beings. The truth, in itself, is not very technical or profound, but it has profound effects and can make our lives very technical. It’s not an easy truth to deal with and we don’t like to have to face it, but it is there as surely as my nose itches while I’m washing the dishes. Are you ready for it? Here it is….:
As human beings we _all_ fail.
As human beings we make mistakes and slip up.
We say stupid things, forget important courtesies, behave selfishly, come across insensitive and indifferent, lose our cools, blow our tops, throw our names away and show a shocking lack of good judgement!
You are not perfect and those who you are in relationship with are not perfect! We fail! We misunderstand, misinterpret, misspeak and miss the boat. We fail!
Paul has a powerful grasp of this and lays down some key facets to relationships:
1. Be kind: It’s amazing how we expect those close to us to be perfect. It’s disconcerting how irritable we become at the small little imperfections in a spouse, child or parent when we will swallow huge imperfections in others just because “they are not so close to me…”
Being kind means that we do not expect 100% (or even 90% or 70%) from those around us. Kindness means that we see those around us “warts and all” and choose to love, not based on performance, but kindness.
2. Be compassionate: Very often the brokenness in those around us comes from real places of hurt and injury. Compassion means that we look beyond the broken behaviour and try to heal the pain that caused the behaviour. If my car goes “tuk tuk tuk” around the corners, I don’t get angry or irritated with the car, I get someone to fix the broken CV joints…
3. Forgive: I will talk about forgiveness again… For now, it is sufficient to say that forgiveness means that I cancel and short-circuit the power your failure has to cause me on-going pain.
We aren’t in relationship with perfect people. We live our lives shoulder to shoulder with people who eat too much garlic, break wind, hum tunelessly while they drive, squeeze the tube in the middle, leave the seat up or down, say things thoughtlessly and forget important things.
Paul is a realist. Being in relationship means that we must be kind. How guilty are you of expecting too much from another human being who is, after all, just as broken as you are?
Be kind, be compassionate and forgive.
2009-08-12 – “Shift the centre… part 1″
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians2:3-4)
Erosion can be subtle thing. As each successive rainy season washes away soil, a house’s foundations can sink just a few millimetres each year, but there will come a point where fine hairline cracks become major faults requiring extensive repair.
Two of the major erosive forces in relationships are pride and being self-serving. These forces are seldom present in the beginning. Couples usually bend over backwards for each other in the starting phases and new friends get on well because the individuals don’t take themselves too seriously.
As these relationships traverse the course of time, we tend to become complacent and less vigilant. Pretty soon we evaluate our marriages and friendships on the basis of “what’s in it for me?” My experience has been that when couples are having marriage trouble and come for counselling, there is a lot of “I” language: “I’m not getting what I want… I’m not fulfilled… I’m not happy… I’m not satisfied…” When I turn the tables and ask the question whether the one complaining feels that their spouse is contented and whether their needs are being fulfilled, I get “ummms”, hand-waving and vague generalities.
Pride just augments this tendency. It shifts the responsibility and blame to the other person. Pretty soon any admission of failure or insensitivity becomes too costly for the ego and relationships get locked into a win-lose mindset. A lot of marriage counselling revolves around teaching couples that any argument where one loses is an argument that both lose. This is the destructive power of pride.
In really bad cases, pride becomes selfish ambition where the only way to feel good about myself is to make sure I can defend my “superior” position at all costs. I won’t apologise, compromise or even listen as this might be interpreted as weakness. I defend my position by regularly attacking and keeping the other person “in their place.”
So, to sum up so far: Relationships are eroded by a “What’s in it for me?” attitude that is reinforced by a prideful attitude that says “I deserve better” and becomes a position that I have to defend at all costs…
Tomorrow we’ll look at the antidote….
2009-08-13 – “Shift the centre… part 2″
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus… (Philippians2:3-5)
Yesterday we saw how this passage warns us against the dark side of our natures. We saw the erosive-destructive power of being self-absorbed, prideful and selfishly ambitious.
Paul does not only provide a warning, but he also suggests a new attitude.
This word “attitude” is important, it’s not my word, but Paul’s (vs 5) An attitude is something we choose. It is a trajectory that we decide on. We must choose how we _interpret_ life (half-full or half-empty?) and we must choose how we will _respond_ to life (positively or negatively?) Our interpretation and response to life determines our attitude.
In our relationships this means that we choose to _interpret_ the presence of others in our lives as a precious gift and a great privilege. We chose to value them highly and as worthy of our very best.
We choose to _respond_ to them by being thoughtfully considerate. We choose to help them be their best and to “be there” for them wherever possible. We choose to serve rather than be served.
All of this sounds very theoretical, but combine yesterday’s dev and today’s thoughts and ask the following practical questions:
1. Do I have a “what’s in it for me?” attitude in relationships?
2. Do I tend to be proud? (Here’s an acid test… Do I struggle to apologise gracefully?)
3. How do I value the people in my life? As gifts or burdens?
4. Do my actions reveal thoughtful consideration of others or are they simply self-serving?
Our attitudes are our mind-set practically lived out.
Loving a spouse, a child, a parent or a friend well requires a good interpretation and a good response: We value them highly and we serve them humbly.
2009-08-14 – “Two ears, one mouth…”
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James1:19)
The fastest way to cause any relationship to grow is to cultivate the art of listening. Learn to listen to the important people in your life – especially to your children.
Cultivate the art of listening:
* Learn to listen to _what_ is being said and _how_ it is said.
* Learn to listen and reflect it back to the person speaking so that they are assured of your attentiveness and care in listening to them.
* Learn to listen to the emotions and needs behind the words.
* Learn to listen to what is being said in body language and gestures.
* Learn to listen to what is _not_ being said.
* Learn to listen prayerfully so that the still small voice of the Holy Spirit can nudge you when something important is being communicated.
Generally speaking, we are bad listeners: We jump to conclusions too quickly, we speak too soon, and we’re too eager to make our own points and show how clever/witty/insightful we are. We’re guilty of interrupting, finishing people’s sentences for them and being impatient when a story takes time to be told. We tend to be quick to provide our suggested solutions when what our loved ones really want is someone to listen.
One of the most considerate and loving things we can do is to learn to listen to our spouses, friends, children and parents.
Proverbs says: “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent” (17:28)
Steven Covey says “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Theo Groeneveld says: “God gave us two ears and one mouth – go figure.”
2009-08-18 – “Take Good Care”
Jesus replied: ” `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: `Love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Matthew22:37-39)
“I take good care of myself: I wash, eat, rest, clothe and protect my body. When I’m tired, I rest. When I’m sick, I go to the doctor. When I’m out of shape, I get exercise. When I’m stressed, I do things to unwind. When I get a scrape I put on a plaster. I’m hungry or thirsty I get something to eat or drink.”
Jesus calls us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Paul applies this specifically to marriage: In Ephesians 5:28 (having written about how Christ laid His life down for His body, the church) Paul writes “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.”
Here’s the bottom-line: In any relationship, but especially in marriage, love means attention-to-detail. It means that the little practical things matter. It matters that I take out the garbage, help with the housework and meet big and little basic needs.
There are two things that flow out of this:
1. I can only love and care for others to the extent that I look after myself. Many people are so burnt out, exhausted and tank-empty that they have nothing left to give away. I have a responsibility to my family and loved ones to stay healthy and get enough sleep so that I can take good care of them.
2. Looking after myself should never be an egotistical exercise. I am service orientated. I’m geared toward seeing the lives of my loved ones as extensions of my life.
I once read this in a Reader’s Digest: “My husband doesn’t buy me flowers all that often, but I don’t mind, because I have another picture: One of him walking up and down the corridor at 2am with a dirty towel over his shoulder and our colicky baby so that I can get some precious sleep. It’s more real-life-romantic than any candle-lit dinner.”
2009-08-19 – “Safe lips”
a gossip separates close friends… (Proverbs16:28)
Real trust develops in a relationship when the person knows that their name is safe on your lips…
Unfortunately it often happens that I find myself flabbergasted to hear a husband or wife speak critically and negatively about their spouse in a public setting. I’m not talking about wrestling with issues in the privacy of counselling, but in a public setting.
Trust is the pathway to deep and meaningful relationships. Friendships, marriages and parent-children relationships need high levels of trust to move forward. Speaking negatively or critically of someone in a public setting is very damaging indeed.
It is not only negative words that can betray trust. The moment I bring private matters into the public arena, I have sabotaged trust.
I was once shocked to hear a husband tell a very personal story of a mistake that his wife had made to a whole group of people including his wife. It was a funny story and she bravely and good-naturedly laughed with everyone, but her eyes told a different story. There are times that funny stories _can_ be told, but the trust level needs to be there and there needs to be reassurance and the certainty that there is no humiliation intended.
And how often do we unnecessarily discuss our children’s learning or behavioural issues with others, often in their earshot?
I haven’t even touched on the issues of gossip, hearsay, rumours. These are serious relationship and friendship breakers.
Can the people I am in relationship with know that their names are safe on my lips?
2009-08-20 – “Are you a linguist?”
He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend. (Proverbs22:11)
Our words matter. As kids we sang a little rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me…” The truth is that we had to sing the song often because names _did_ hurt. Words can build or break…
Proverbs and the rest of Scripture commends gracious words and there is a lot to be said for ensuring that the brain is engaged before putting the mouth into gear.
But I want to take another tack on language today… If I speak French to someone who is most at home in German, will the communication be good? Obviously not.
Gary Chapman has identified that every human being has one of five basic “love languages.” Each human being has their emotional and self-worth tank filled in one of five ways. His research, done internationally and in consultation with anthropologists and psychologists postulates the idea that every human being thrives when people “speak” to them using one of the following dialects:
1. Words of Affirmation
2. Acts of Service
3. Physical gestures of affection
4. Quality Time
5. Thoughtful Gifts
I’ll go into each of these in detail over the next few days.
When we correctly identify a person’s dialect and take time to “speak” in that way, they blossom and flourish.
How much of a linguist are you? Think of the significant people in your life: spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends.
What are their love-languages?
Could you be a linguist and speak to their needs?
2009-08-21 – “Lingo#1:Words of Affirmation”
An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up. (Proverbs12:25)
Mark Twain claimed that he could live for weeks on a single compliment. Some people are fuelled by words of affirmation:
- “Good Job!”
- “We appreciate you!”
- “Thanks for your dedication and commitment”
- “You look great!”
- “I’m so grateful to have you in my life.”
If may seem narcissistic to need affirmation all the time, but the reality is that about one fifth of the world’s population need and thrive on feedback that reassures them that they are on the right track and that they are valued.
To be effective, words of affirmation need to be _genuine_ and _unforced_. Our spouses, children and friends whose tank-filling language is affirmation are not looking for limelight or glory, but long to know that they are getting it right. If we leave their tanks unfilled they are unsure of themselves and don’t know where they stand with those around them.
The Proverb writer understood this. A kind word can mean a great deal.
The problem is that people who thrive on encouragement don’t wear labels that say so! So who should we encourage and who should we not encourage? The answer is simple: Speak affirming words whenever and wherever you can!
John Maxwell, who is considered one of the world’s leadership experts, is renowned for being someone who consciously speaks words of encouragement to those around him. He makes a real effort to write notes, send off emails and speak affirming words. It is a lifestyle for him and makes him an effective leader. For four fifths of society, the kind words are nice and appreciated. For the remaining one fifth those affirming words are rocket fuel!
Try to make sincere affirmation a regular part of your communication with others, especially when you suspect that its their fuel!
2009-08-25 – ” Lingo#2: Acts of Service”
The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. (Acts27:3 )
Paul was under arrest and was being taken to Rome because he had exercised his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar. The officer in charge shows special consideration to Paul – he allows him to see some friends who can provide for his needs. It was probably a home-cooked meal, a bath, fresh clothes and a comfortable bed for a night or two. This was a tank-filling time and we know it was needed because they were going to head into a storm and ultimately be ship-wrecked.
Throughout Paul’s writings we have words of appreciation from him when people have done things for him. I think it would be safe to say that his love language was acts of service.
Some people’s love language is acts of service. It means a huge amount to them if you do little things to help them. A cup of coffee when they have to work late, unpacking the dishwasher for them when it’s hectic, putting their briefcase/bag in the car when they’re running late for work, pitching in with the housework whenever you can or helping them pack when they go on a journey.
Folk whose tanks are filled this way tend to be at their best when they can focus on one task when you can protect their focus by doing little things like answering the phone or dealing with little things so that they can maintain that focus, it means a great deal to them.
It might seem that these folk just want a servant to do their bidding, but it is not the case. They value the sense of teamwork and are always grateful that they are not facing their challenges alone.
On the other side, when you are a person whose tank is filled by the kind deeds and assistance given by your loved ones, make sure that you are never guilty of seeming to take that assistance for granted. Make sure that you respond appropriately and remember that your loved one’s language may be something other than acts of service.
2009-08-26 – ” Lingo#3: Physical Touch”
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. (Matthew8:3 )
I’m constantly fascinated by the different ways in which Jesus healed the sick. There is no discernible formula or standard procedure. Ten lepers come to him and ask to be healed and He does nothing physical but simply sends them to the priest and on their way they are all healed. Then here in Matthew 8 the leper says “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” and Jesus answers by touching the man.
In that day and age, Jesus action would have had the crowd gasping. Leprosy was contagious and touching a leper made you ritually unclean. Elsewhere Jesus has proved his power to heal over a distance. So why, in some of His healings, does he choose to touch the person being healed??
I can’t help but wonder if it has something to do with their love language being physical touch…
Some people thrive on physical gestures of affection. They are hug and cuddle-powered. They are the children who always climb onto your lap or wrap themselves around your legs. They’re the ones who perk up with a physical pat on the back or arm around the shoulders. They need a “high 5″ more than a compliment and in guy/girl relationships want to hold hands and be physically close to their partners.
In marriages some people tend to interpret this simply as a need for intimacy, but for those who language is physical touch, it ranges from the simplest of touches and hand-holding all the way to intimacy.
Parents of children whose language is touch will need to provide cuddles and snuggles and will find that cranky children will often settle if you as a parent provide wordless affection.
If you have a loved one whose language is physical touch, you will have to get over your “personal space” issues and be sure to top up their tanks with hugs, high fives and other physical gestures of love.
2009-08-27 – “Lingo#4: Quality Time”
People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (Mark10:13)
First a general comment:
I think this one is very relevant for our children. What all our children need from parents and grandparents more than anything is quality time. More than posh schools and fancy sports-coaches, our children need time.
But more specifically: Gary Chapman argues that about one fifth of people spell “love” as “t-i-m-e.” They are people whose tanks are filled by quality attention and time from their spouses, friends, children and parents.
Some people need us to drop everything and give them some undivided attention. You can’t multi-task with them. They want meaningful conversation, eye-contact and that you connect with them and get synchronised with where they are at.
They are topped up and replenished from meaningful connections with those around them. It does not have to be great chunks of time, but just a clear sense that you are completely there for them and committed to them in that moment and that you really hear them and and know where they are at right now.
For couples, friends and parents this means regular coffee dates that allow one-on-one time. As a parent, if you have more than one child, you will need to take time with each child on their own.
Remember the emphasis is quality and not quantity and it needs to be a priority. There was plenty of argument that Jesus had “better things to do” than cuddle some kids, but His actions made it clear that they were a priority too. When it comes to quality time, actions speak louder than words.
2009-08-28 – “Lingo#5: Gifts”
A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great. (Proverbs18:16)
Across the cultures and all over the world, there are people who love receiving gifts. They don’t have to be expensive or fancy. A single rose purchased on the way home, a knick-knack bought in a foreign airport, a witty card, a small chocolate bar, and even a single daisy plucked from the neighbours garden says “I was thinking about you and here’s the proof.”
For about 20% of society, receiving a gift is a deeply meaningful experience. They appreciate the effort and the concretization of affection and appreciation that the gift signifies. It’s always the thought that counts, but the gift is the proof of the thought.
It’ really important to understand that it is not the size or cost of the gift that matters. People whose love language is gift-receiving have cupboards full of the little things that they’ve been given over the years. When Johnny picks a flower for mommy on the way home from school, a gift-powered mom will keep it on her dressing table until it has dried out and is self-destructing.
The bottom-line is that a gift says “I was thinking of you and went to some effort as a result.” For folk who love receiving gifts its better to give lots of little presents, each individually and care-full-y wrapped, than giving one big gift.
It’s buying a “PS Bar” (the one that says “I love you”) for your spouse when you’re buying petrol. When you go on a business trip it’s about keeping one of those little umbrellas that they put in drinks for your little girl. It’s about buying a car magazine at random times for a teenage son.
If their love language is gifts, their tank will be full!
2009-09-01 – “Speak tenderly”
“May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to your servant–though I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls.” (Ruth2:13)
There is a quirky story in the Old Testament about a war between the Gileadites and the Ephraimites where the one tribe could be identified from the other by their pronunciation of the word “Shibboleth.” One tribe said “Sibboleth” while the other said “Shibboleth.” If you said “Sibboleth” at the border-post it got you killed!
In relationships our language and accents also have great power to heal or to harm. We’ve identified five languages that are important for us to learn and use in our relationships with others.
Over the next few days I want to spend some time in the book of Ruth. The romance that blossoms between Ruth and Boaz is very instructive for our relationships.
Ruth had taken huge risks to stay with her mother-in-law:
- She’d left her home country
- She was living as a poor refugee
- She was living among people known for their nationalistic pride
When Boaz spots her, there is immediate interest from his side, and he shares his lunch with her and has a very caring conversation with her. He speaks affirming and gentle words to her, connecting with her sacrifices, commending her for her faithfulness and pronouncing blessing on her life. His one-to-one appreciation and sensitivity does a great deal for her.
There are times where a good face to face connection with important people in our lives is very valuable. Ruth’s response says it all. Boaz has filled her tank!
Maybe you need to take time with a spouse, child, colleague or team-member to have a care-full conversation.
It can mean a great deal.
2009-09-02 – “Love is more than chemistry”
Boaz asked the foreman of his harvesters, “Whose young woman is that?”
Although I’ve tried to keep this series focussed on relationships in general, the next few eDevs lean more to guy-girl relationships that lead to marriage. (But there are principles transferable to other relationships too.)
The romance between Boaz and Ruth that leads to them being great grandparents to King David and Ruth being in Jesus’ genealogy, starts with chemistry: Boaz sees a pretty girl named Ruth.
The flow of events from there indicates a bit more depth than chemistry alone. There is
- initiative from Boaz
- careful and sensitive communication
- a response from Ruth,
- integrity on the side of Boaz and Ruth (more on this tomorrow)
- support from Naomi (the mother-in-law),
- due process in the eyes of the culture and community
- determination from Boaz
- generosity from Ruth.
We talked about sensitive communication yesterday. The key thought for today is that love keeps taking initiative. Love reaches out, love takes risks.
Boaz took initiative and risk by going to chat to Ruth in front of all his workers. He did this courageously and transparently. From the text we know that he was an older man, but his approach to Ruth was not met with a “tut tut tut there he goes again…” from his workers, but the response from the townspeople to their “engagement” is genuine delight and real joy.
Love means that we always go to the ones we love. We always reach out to them, we always take the first steps.
2009-09-03 – “Integrity”
And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character. (Ruth3:11)
A lot of the romance between Ruth and Boaz is nuanced with references to their integrity. Boaz treats Ruth appropriately and respectfully and, within the culture of workers and bosses, Ruth’s responses are fitting.
In chapter 3 Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi advises her to pay attention to her appearance and then to go to Boaz at the threshing floor to ask him to be her kinsman-redeemer. (This was a social rite that protected widows who had no rights in the culture of the day.) She was to go to the threshing floor and ask him to spread the corner of his garment over her. This was a symbol of protection and provision and symbolised his willingness to act as her kinsman-redeemer.
The threshing floor scene is a problematic one because a number of the surrounding cultures had sexual fertility rites that took place on the threshing floor to secure their gods’ blessing on the harvest. Occasionally these practices found their way into Israel’s life.
Many make the assumption that Ruth went to the threshing floor to seduce Boaz because he would be a bit drunk from the celebrations of the harvest and there would be a charged atmosphere conducive for a peasant woman to trap a wealthy man. However, a careful reading of chapter 3 convinces me that Ruth and Boaz walked a line of purity and integrity.
When Boaz goes to negotiate his right to act as Kinsman-Redeemer he also acts with transparency and integrity and the response of joy and blessing for the town-elders is ample proof of Boaz’s righteousness.
In any friendship it is very valuable to have high standards of morals, values and integrity. Even more so in relationships that lead to marriage. A great king and and even greater Saviour came from this line and Ruth as a foreigner stands out as exemplary.
2009-09-04 – “Generosity”
Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son.” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth4:16)
Naomi was the mother of Ruth’s first husband. I like to call her a “mother-in-law-once-removed.” But Ruth loved her and was loyal to her. Naomi was a relative of Boaz but not his mom. We don’t know if his mother and Ruth’s biological mother were still alive. If they were, then Ruth and Boaz would each have had two mother-in-laws, and we know all the jokes about mother-in-laws….
Naomi’s sons had died childless. Now one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, chooses to adopt Israelite culture and to stay with her and even come back to Bethlehem. The traditional “Kinsman Redeemer” custom stated that a relative of the deceased husband could marry Ruth and the first child was considered the child of the dead husband.
The women of the city _could_ have said that “Naomi has a GRANDson”, but such is the extent to which Boaz and Ruth are kind to an old widow who has lost a husband and two sons that it is almost like the child is hers and so the townswomen say “Naomi has a SON.”
Generosity of spirit and the willingness to share is a hallmark of strong relationships. Our love for others is shown to the extent that we allow them into our spaces and make allowances for the people that are special to them. In marriage it means “love me, love my parents.” In second marriages it means “love me, love my kids.” It’s about being generous as Ruth was in sharing her child instead of being protective.
In all facets of life it is about having an abundance mentality and not a scarcity mentality. It is about being open and available and willing to share.
Good relationships encourage openness and sharing. If any friendship or relationship causes you to become protective and closed, if you find sharing difficult (and possessiveness is the worst form of this) then something is unhealthy…
2009-09-08 – “Forgive!”
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew18:35 )
Jesus told a parable about a slave who was pardoned from a huge debt he owed his master. Having been forgiven he went and prosecuted a fellow slave who owed him a small debt. Their friends were appalled at his behaviour and told the master who immediately had the hard-hearted servant thrown into prison. Our verse is Jesus’ summation of the story.
Forgiveness is a very difficult relational skill. We talk about “forgive and forget” and this is where the trouble comes in! To make me forget a hurtful thing that someone has done, you would have to hit me on the head with a hammer to give me amnesia!
People think that forgiving is a once-off process and that we will then magically forget and life will go on. The reality about forgiveness is that it is a _process_. We keep choosing to forgive until we can remember without pain.
When someone we love and trust hurts us, we struggle to come to terms with that. Sometimes they know that they have hurt us and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they are sorry for what they have done, sometimes they are not.
Choosing to forgive is choosing to let go of the feelings of pain, disappointment and betrayal that someone’s actions have caused us. Every time someone’s failure comes up like bile in my throat I choose to forgive. I can’t forget, but I can choose to let go, again and again and again until those failures don’t have power over me anymore. I keep choosing to pardon someone because I have been pardoned and I know what it is like to have been set free by God!
The interesting thing about unforgiveness is that it mostly hurts the one who won’t forgive, and not the one who isn’t forgiven. Very often the people we are angry with don’t even know it!
We started our series on relationships with a fair warning: People fail. You can go through life picking at the scabs that people’s failures have caused you and infection, sepsis and big horrible scars will be the result, or you can choose to dress those wounds with daily applications of the ointment of forgiveness until the wounds are healed and only small scars remain.
2009-09-09 – “Pray”
10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. (2Corinthians1:10-11)
This may seem like an obvious relationship builder, but the truth is that we often forget to do this! Couples need to pray for each other. Parents need to pray for their children. Friends need to pray for each other.
When couples come for counselling and are angry or disappointed with each other, the last piece of advice I give them at the end of of the session is that they pray for each other.
The amazing thing is that both the pray-er and the one being prayed for are transformed by the prayer process. It is hard to harbour hatred and unforgiveness when you stand before a holy God to pray for someone else. Also, when we bring our prayers for a spouse, child or friend to God, we have to come to a place of being willing to be the answer to that prayer too. And when we pray with all our hearts and God answers our prayers, it is good for the relationship and our faith.
But we don’t have to reserve prayer only for the times when the relationship is in trouble… There is something powerful about praying for someone who you know well and whose circumstances you are well aware of. One of the most incredible relationship boosts I experience in my marriage is when I drive out the driveway to respond to a crisis and Brenda reminds me that she will pray. It’s good on many levels:
- She knows me better than anyone else and understands the urgency
- She prays passionately and with real determination
- Over the years God has answered her prayers in powerful ways!
One of the most loving things you can do for a good friend is to pray passionately for them.
So… prayer is not merely a good therapeutic action – it isn’t just a psychological trick to take yourself out of the focus and place someone else’s need at the centre (although that happens anyway). Praying for a friend brings me into the presence of a Triune God who is Love and _prayer_ unleashes His love-power in me and my spouse/child/friend who I am praying for.
Help each other with your prayers!
2009-09-11 – “Be an encourager”
But my mouth would encourage you;
comfort from my lips would bring you relief. (Job16:5)
One of the most powerful things we can do for a friend, colleague, child or spouse is to be an Encourager.
In a rather chilling confrontation, Job challenges his friends with these words:
4 I also could speak like you, if you were in my place;
I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you.
5 But my mouth would encourage you;
comfort from my lips would bring you relief.
We live in a challenging perfectionistic society where we are in a quest for “zero defect.” We are surrounded with an overwhelming number of fake and often unrealistic finish lines: “If you drive _this_ car, live at _this_ address or socialise with _these_ people, then you have won the race. Oh, by the way, congratulations, you are the King Rat!”
In the light of these circumstances it is not unusual for people to feel irrelevant, overwhelmed, discouraged and depressed. But in the light of challenges and setbacks we can be encouragers. Here are a few kinds of encouragement we can offer:
1.You’re doing a great job even though you think no one notices.
2.Don’t worry, you may have missed it this time, but you can try again
3.I really believe you can do it – even if you don’t believe in yourself
4.Great Job! Thanks for the hard work!
5.I know it’s a big challenge, but I’m praying for you
6.You’re not alone – I’ll be here for you!
7.I will always love you! It doesn’t matter if you try and fail.
And you can probably think of more. The secret is to find ways to encourage our loved ones with notes, calls, cards, verses, emails and sms’s. A pat on the back, a word of recognition, prayer support and a look that says “I believe in you!” can radically transform people.
Give it a try and watch what happens!
2009-09-15 – “Synergy”
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
As we move to the end of this series on relationships, I’d like to turn to some wisdom from the book of Ecclesiastes. The author of this unusual document is identified as the mysterious Quoheleth (“Teacher”) and some argue that he is none other than Solomon.
The basic trend of the book is that it questions a lot of conventional thinking. Some would even call the author a cynic. He examines and evaluates many aspects of day-to-day life and finds them wanting. He “trashes” many things we would regard as the “staples of life” and categorises them as “meaningless chasing after the wind.”
Work, wealth, fame, position, and the pursuit of pleasure are considered meaningless and like vapour. Even the pursuit of wisdom, though a good thing in general cannot provide ultimate peace and security.
Ecclesiastes is like a pin that pops the balloons of false security, wrong priorities and religious assumptions and draws our attention to a very basic reality – we must all die and we must all face God. Put another way: The teacher systematically blows all our idols and symbols of significance out of the water until we are left with only two absolute certainties: Death and God. For death is the great leveller and we must all face it, and unless we face it with God, we will not stand.
Along the way the teacher manages to keep the babies even though he throws out a lot of bathwater. One of the babies he keeps is the value and necessity of friendship and companionship.
Over the next few days we’ll look at Ecc4:9-12.
Today’s passage reminds us that our relationships can produce tremendous synergy. The best illustration I’ve heard on this was given by Chris Moore at my induction to Emmanuel congregation as he spoke of the importance of Brenda’s role as my wife in ministry: An English carthorse can pull up to a maximum of 1 ton of load, however when you span in two carthorses and “yoke” them together, they are able to pull 10 tons of load.
Those you are in relationship with (spouse colleague, team-member, or friend) can multiply your effectiveness. It requires communication, team-work and connection, but it can be a very powerful thing.
Take time to thank God for the people He has placed in your life who multiply your efforts….
2009-09-16 – “Help”
If one falls down, his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! (Ecclesiastes4:10)
It was the Beatles who sang:
“When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way
Now that I’m older and I’m not so self-secure
It’s time to change my mind and open up the door.
Help me if you can I feeling down
And I do appreciate your being around
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me – help me.”
One of key relational skills we need to learn is to be willing to ask for and to receive help. And this is not something we are good at! We are very slow to ask for help: We’re too proud to admit weakness, too stubborn to acknowledge need, too selfish to be “beholden” to someone, too insecure to trust others and often too superficial in our relationships to have the relationship-depth that’s needed before we can ask for help.
Stephen Covey talks about three important stages in our lives:
Dependence –> Independence –> Interdependence.
Many people make the first transition to independence, and, thinking they have arrived, never transition to the important stage of interdependence.
So we become self-made people. We are independent, strong, purposeful and resourceful. We are rocks and islands and like the Paul Simon we think that “a rock feels no pain and an island never cries,” but the truth is that there are moments when life knocks us off our feet. The Teacher says: “Pity the man who has no-one to pick him up!”
Maybe its time to change your mind and open up the door.
Increase the relationship depth around you – you never know when you will be needed to help a friend or when you will be in need of a friend.
2009-09-17 – “Protection”
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves. (Ecclesiastes4:11-12)
These may very well be images from the battlefield. Soldiers who have camped out in the wilderness have learned that in the harshness of the night cold, body warmth is not to be wasted. There are times that one gets past issues of “personal space” for the sake of protection. Either your own or someone else’s.
There have been a number of times over the years that I have made a decision to climb over that fence called “None of my Business.” There are times when it is not comfortable to go to someone and say “Is everything all right?” But I have very seldom been sorry that I have taken the risk to reach into someone’s “personal space” when I have sensed that they have been in trouble.
There are some trials in life that we should not face alone. There are some enemies we face that can overpower us. There are times we need to lower our defences and allow people to come and stand back to back with us so that we can face down the enemies that attack on every side.
If I am needing help, it requires that I let go of my pride and my need to appear strong. If I am the one helping, I need to realise that I must enter that private space with utmost respect and that I must maintain the dignity of the one-being-helped as much as I possibly can.
When the cold of the night is over, each soldier gets on with his own thing again. When the battle is over the soldiers don’t continue stay back to back. So to our helping or being helped should never lead to dependency. (Or even worse, co-dependency where one needs to be needy and the other needs to be needed.)
There are enemies out there. There are times we need protection. We must learn to climb over the fences of “privacy” and “stubborn self-suffiency” when someone is in trouble.
2009-09-18 – “Conclusion: Three way friendships”
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes4:12)
Up until now the Teacher has been talking about two’s: Two are better than one… Two can defend themselves… Two keep each other warm. Then suddenly, in the last line of the poem, the Teacher moves to Three.
We can interpret this in more ways than one. It could simply be that the Teacher is saying that “more is even better.” That the more friends we have, the better protected we are.
There is another perspective, and although I can’t prove it, and some may feel that I am reading something into the text, I think it _is_ a viable interpretation and that is that the Teacher is pointing us toward involving God in our friendships.
I often use this passage at weddings and my argument is that the best marriages are a friendship-triangle with God at the top and the husband and wife at the bottom two corners. As they move closer to God, they move closer to one another.
As a principle it holds true: Our relationships will be better if we place God in the top position.
- His values and principles will guide us to be honourable and faithful friends
- His love, poured out in us, will help us love our friends when we run out of our human love.
- His priorities and direction are the best way for friends to go
- As He transforms us, we become better friends.
Over the years I have seen that when Christ is in the centre, friendships develop faster, are more robust, and last longer.
This brings us to the end of our series on relationships. I hope you have found it helpful!