On a scale of one to ten, with ten being healthiest, how would you rate your relationships? I once asked church leaders in California how they’d rate their church. Most elders gave it a seven; I would have said four. I am sometimes humored when I ask couples how it’s going. He says, “Fine;” she answers, “Struggling.” She’s not smiling. Doctors diagnose to determine physical health. Here are clues to relational wholeness:
SPEAKING TRUTH TO ONE ANOTHER.
Dysfunctional systems major in pretense. “Honesty is the best policy,” but insecure people don’t want it. Pretending overshadows facing hard truth. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” but fragile relationships can’t handle it. Can you? Can others risk speaking truthfully with you? Not if you’re unhealthy. Have you grown to the place where the truth (light) is not a threat but a promise. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7). Satan says that if we are honest about our failures, we will be shamed and rejected. John said that we will be loved and forgiven. We will experience koinonia and the lifting of shame.
CONFRONTING AND RESOLVING PROBLEMS.
The Bible lays out processes for peaceful resolution. Some have neither the desire nor the know-how to close books by making the columns balance. They would rather build up a deficit in the emotional bank account. When a relationship with his spouse deteriorated, Jerry viewed quitting as an easier option than confronting.
Tension doesn’t mean that something is wrong; it means that something is happening. But if we learned to treat tension as threatening, we react instead of saying, “My relationship with you is not up for grabs. How can we deal with this misunderstanding?” The light on the dashboard is our friend. It tells us that something is happening in the engine that needs our attention. If we cover it over and pretend the car is fine, get ready for a bigger problem.
When a friend in a difficult marriage went to in-law gatherings, he listened to people staying on the surface rather than dealing with painful issues. Unhealthy people avoid confrontation or do it recklessly. You need to have made investments into the relationship if you plan to make a big withdrawal, such as lovingly confronting someone. Otherwise the check bounces.
RESPONDING WITHOUT REACTING.
People who live by principles more than by the Spirit will tend to return evil for evil. They want to be even-handed. People of grace are radical. They return the opposite spirit, responding to God rather than reacting to people, one mark of maturity. A Spirit-empowered life is required to overcome evil with good. Our sense of justice kicks in when insulted, and we may choose to nurse the offense rather than forgiving the offender. Wounded people who hold onto injuries keep getting wounded. Like a sick person with no immune system, they catch everything that comes along. Healthy people have emotional immunity; resentment doesn’t stick to their soul. They don’t have emotional baggage buried deep inside, like hostility or resentment, so they don’t operate out of past hurts. They stay current and up-to-date, rather than holding onto past wounds and remaining in reaction mode. Unhealthy people don’t even know why they are reacting so much. Healing of the past could free them in the present and enable them to respond to a spouse rather than continuing in reaction mode. And a healthy partner will give them time, space and grace to heal and will be a good forgiver!
SHARPENING EACH OTHER.
Healthy relationships combine grace and truth in a way that builds us up. We leave the encounter encouraged. Unhealthy relationships are often filled with sarcasm, dumping, complaining, innuendos. No investment is being made for the future. If anything, money is drawn out without new deposits being made. Bankruptcy is not far away.
I once mentioned in the hearing of my daughter Karis, then six, that I was short on money. She encouraged me to write out a check for some easy cash. I explained that I had to put money in to draw money out. Unhealthy people will overdraw and go from crisis to crisis. They must learn to make good deposits in the lives of others. Love is the answer.
How are you are making good deposits into the account of your spouse? Can you be positive simply for the reason that it builds up your spouse. I did it recently when I thought a suggestion might be more appropriate. Thank God I had a good moment and poured on a few compliments when I considered a correction. Am I glad I did? Karen first texted me a wonderful response, then came into the room choked up by love. If you don’t know what to do, love is probably the answer. Like a great man once said, “Love never fails!” I have failed too many times with good advice. This time I succeeded–with love. I think I’ll try it again!