“At some point you will wonder whether relationships are worth it.” - Lane & Tripp*
Had a conversation with a church member today that triggered a thought. It was something I read in a book about relationships. The quote goes like this: “At some point each of us will become discouraged and disappointed with a relationship. The health and maturity of a relationship are not measured by an absence of problems, but by the way the inevitable problems are handled” (Lane, Tripp, 2008).* In other words, all relationships are messy. How you deal with the mess, determines the future of that relationship.
There’s no way around it. Take a second and think of your friendships. Think of your favorite friends. Chances are your most treasured friends are the same ones who have weathered many storms with you. They’ve seen you at your worst, watched you do things you’re not proud of, heard you say things you regret, and somehow they‘re still here for you. (Hopefully the same can be said about you).
It’s no wonder we have a hard time developing deep meaningful relationships. More often than not, what we’re really concerned about is not what our friends do or say as much as what they will think or how they will react when they see us for who we really are.
In this context, it’s interesting to read what the Apostle Paul has to say on the subject of relationships when dealing with the Galatians circa 30-40 AD. He writes, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” (Gal 5:16 NKJV). His advice for dealing with relationships is to walk in the Spirit.
But you say, wait a minute, that verse above says nothing about relationships. You know what, you’re right. It doesn’t say it literally, so let’s go back a little. Galatians 5:13 (ESV) says,“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Key words like "love" and "serve one another" refer to relationships. Then Paul adds in verse 14: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Between those two verses, I’d say Paul is building a case for relationships. Essentially Paul is stating that once we become followers of Christ, it opens us up to a freedom of loving others. But this love is not natural; It does not flow naturally through us. That’s why Paul wrote the part about walking in the Spirit. He explains that when we walk in the Spirit, it’s God‘s love that grows in us. The results of God's Spirit in us or the “fruit of the Spirit” ends up being things like, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness," (Gal 5:22) and much more. Now this is so much better isn't it? Can you imagine sharing a dose of these fruits with your friends or those with whom you have relationship?
You ask, but why the pain? Why the heartache? Why the messiness of relationships? Why not simply go and start a new relationship and run away from the difficulties of the previous one? Sure seems tempting doesn't it. I like how the author Brant Hansen puts it:
“It’s tiring to have to work through difficulties with people. But for what it’s worth, I’ve learned it’s way easier than starting over.”**
It's true. It can be tiring having to deal with drama. But having to start a relationship all over again... only to find that this new person has issues too (or rather, going through the motions of having them see me for who I can be sometimes) no thank you, that's downright exhausting.
More importantly, perhaps God allows our relationships to grow us; mature us. Maybe it's the mess of the relationship that teaches us who we are and where we need to grow. Or stated another way:
“While we would like to avoid the mess and enjoy deep and intimate community, God says that it is in the very process of working through the mess that intimacy is found.”*
So here's to not running away from, but running toward the mess of a relationship you may be going through... Here's to learning from and working through the difficulties we face when dealing with those we like, we love or those whom we despise. Here's to the growth we experience through the mess and the beauty of what we call, relationships.
* Excerpt From: Tim Lane & Paul Tripp. “Relationships A Mess Worth Making.” Apple Books.
** Excerpt From: Brant Hansen. “Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better.” Apple Books.