When my friend, Laurie, asked me to speak on Effective Relationships recently, my first thought was “Me? I’m no authority on relationships!” On further contemplation I realized that I’ve made almost every mistake in the book and I’m probably more qualified than I think! I started my talk with a little story I had come across…
A couple was celebrating their golden wedding anniversary. Their domestic tranquility had long been the talk of the town, and on this special occasion, a local newspaper reporter paid them a visit. He inquired as to the secret of their long and happy marriage.
“Well,” explained the husband, “it all goes back to our honeymoon. We visited the Grand Canyon and took a trip down to the bottom of the canyon by mule.”
“We hadn’t gone too far when my wife’s mule stumbled. My wife quietly said ‘That’s once.’ We proceeded a little farther when the mule stumbled again. Once more my wife quietly spoke: ‘That’s twice.’ We hadn’t gone a half-mile when the mule stumbled a third time. My wife promptly removed a revolver from her purse, hopped down off the beast, and shot the mule dead.”
“I started to protest over her treatment of the mule when she looked at me and quietly said, ‘That’s once.'”
This story illustrates something powerful about relationships—it isn’t what’s on the surface that counts, it’s what lies deep within. This couple appeared to have a strong, healthy relationship for many years but when the truth came to light, at the root there was an unhealthy driving force behind the peace everyone observed on the surface.
What does it mean to have a relationship with someone? Clearly the couple in the story had a relationship—such as it was—because they had lasted for 50 years. And some of you are probably thinking of someone in your life who you would like to take to the Grand Canyon with a donkey and a gun! But control isn’t “healthy relationship”—so what is?
I went to the dictionary and it said ‘the condition of being related to’… So I looked up “relate” and it said: “to have a connection; interact”. It doesn’t specify the type or quality of that connection or interaction; it is merely a generic definition.
Our entire lives revolve around relationships—either the lack of relationships or the abundance of them, either good or bad. Whether in a healthy or dysfunctional way, we have relationships with many people in our lives. Some are deep, some are superficial. Some are casual and occasional. Others are constant—like marriage, children and co-workers, for example. And often we take these constant relationships for granted, assuming they will always be what they are and we have no choice or ability to impact what they become. In good relationships this is taking advantage of the other party, in bad relationships it becomes the victim mentality.
What I mean by this is that in a good relationship, when we take the other person for granted, we are presuming upon their kindness toward us and don’t necessarily express appreciation or reciprocate by giving our best. In a bad relationship, when we take for granted that it will always be bad and there’s nothing we can do, we focus on our pain and don’t take the risk of loving, confronting or asking for help.
To go beyond this ‘state of apathy’ is to risk rejection, to risk losing what we have, to risk things getting worse than they already are, to risk something being required of us. So we resign ourselves to mediocre interactions with the people in our lives. But what if God had a better plan? What if relationships were intended to be meaningful? Life giving? Empowering? What would that look like?
Many of us go through a large part of our lives with predominantly bad relationships and we don’t have a good frame of reference for something better. How can we give what we have not received—create what we don’t understand?
Imagine if I had never seen a rose and I tried to paint one for you. It wouldn’t matter if I was an outstanding artist, the end result would not be a rose. If you described it, I would paint it based on what I imagine it to be, but if you presented me with a rose or a picture of a rose, I would paint it for you and it would be recognizable. The same is true in relationships. We need something to guide us, to show us how to do it and do it well.
I realize how much my ability to do relationships has been shaped by experience, by positive role models and most of all by getting to know Jesus and how He did relationships. For these heroes in my life, I am truly thankful!
Learning to do relationships well requires humility and a teachable spirit and, sometimes, just plain, old-fashioned ‘hindsight’ and learning from our own mistakes.
In my next several posts I will share what I have learned from Jesus about doing relationships but with one disclaimer: I have not mastered what I know to be true based on His life. I am learning… progressing.