Relationships. We all have them. And unless you're a hermit living in a cave somewhere (who happens to have an internet connection) we can't get through life without them. The fact is we were made for relationships. God looked at Adam all alone in the Garden of Eden and said: "It is not good for man to be alone." So He created Eve and as a result, marital and family relations have been the foundation of human existence and society ever since.
But in spite of their normalcy in our everyday lives, we have a complex relationship with relationships.
On the one hand relationships provide us with life's greatest joys: The tender love of a mother - feeling the pride of a father; romantic love - the thrill of a first kiss; a best friend - someone to share life's joys and sorrows with; holding your newborn child for the first time - the rush of responsibility and the flood of unconditional love for something so tiny and helpless.These are just some of the joys of relationships.
But on the other hand relationships also provide us with life's greatest sorrows: Being unwanted by a mother - rejected by a father; the intimacy of love leaving one vulnerable to the worst kind of betrayals - neglect, abuse, infidelity and rejection; a lifelong best friend turns their back in betrayal - slandering the other with words that cut deeper than any knife; the newborn child is now a rebellious teen - the last words to their parents were: "I hate you, stay out of my life!" These are just a small sampling of some of the sorrows that relationships can bring.
We definitely have a complex relationship with relationships - often they're like the old adage "can't live with 'em, can't live without them."
So what can we do to nurture good relationships?
It begins by understanding that we are all fundamentally selfish (Yes, I am including myself in that statement!). Selfishness is not a new phenomena, but is traced all the way back to our human origins as described in the Book of Genesis. Eve desired something that she did not have and should not take, but the serpent whispered "when you eat of the fruit your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." In that crucial moment Eve did not stop long enough to consider the potential ramifications for her husband or her future children, the lure of instant gratification was too strong, she wanted it now, so... "when the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it." Adam also ate of the forbidden fruit and shortly thereafter, when God questions him about what he had done, Adam throws Eve under the bus and selfishly blames the whole thing on her!
"The woman you put here with me - she gave me some of the fruit from the tree, and I ate it."
And in some way, shape or form, selfishness has been at the root of all relational problems ever since.
We want our way even at the expense of someone we care about; we want our feelings understood without needing to truly consider the feelings of the other; we try to make others feel guilty for not meeting our needs first; we want others to admit to their mistakes without us having to admit our own; we want to receive forgiveness without needing to apologize; we will nurse a grudge until the other has groveled and begged for forgiveness for a sufficient length of time... then we'll think about it; we want instant gratification without pausing long enough to consider how that choice may affect others.
Even things that appear selfless to others we can use to disguise a selfish motive: we give to the charity... so that we can receive the tax-deductible receipt, we volunteer at the kids club... because it looks good on resume, we serve at the church... so that people can see how good we are, we do a favor for someone... because we expect one in return.
Are you beginning to recognize how selfish we truly are? If so, what can we do about it? Start by going to the most selfless event in the history of the world, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Let's pause for a moment at the foot of the cross and simply consider this one fact - He didn't have to do it. No one forced Jesus into doing what He did. He willingly took the judgement that our sin and selfishness deserves upon Himself.
The Cross of Christ is where selfishness goes to die.
So what can we do to nurture good relationships? Go to the cross and die. Die to selfishness and be resurrected with Jesus and become more and more like Jesus - by living a life of selfless service to others.
Philippians 2:3: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to his own interests, but the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!"
An anonymous author has summed these truths up on a very practical level in a poem entitled:
The Six Most Important Words.
The SIX most important words: "I admit I made a mistake"
The FIVE most important words: "You did a good job."
The FOUR most important words: "What do you think?"
The THREE most important words: "After you please."
The TWO most important words: "Thank you."
The ONE most important word: "We."
The LEAST important word: "I."
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