Relationships: Earthly Relationships
This is the second in a series of essays examining various aspects of relationships. The essays are intended to be read in sequence. The first was “Relationships: Is There No Hope?” A link to the next essay in the sequence is provided at the end.
In the previous essay “Is There No Hope?” we explored the nature of healthy and unhealthy relationships. Healthy relationships abound in selfless love, an attitude of service, attentiveness, and consideration for others as demonstrated for us by Jesus Christ.
One of the key differences between Christianity and all other world views is the fact that all other world views require a man to follow specific rituals to attain certain desired spiritual benefits and rewards. Even Judaism, our closest kin, requires a man to become righteous by following a set of commandments and rituals. The same is true of Islam, Mormonism, and so on.
Christianity on the other hand requires only the existence of an intimate personal relationship between an individual person and Jesus Christ. There is no requisite set of specific rituals that a person must follow. A Christian’s positive righteous behavior is not the ritualistic fulfillment of a set of requirements but is the outward proof and product of a vibrant intimate personal relationship with Christ Jesus. For example, a Christian is not a Christian because he has been baptized; rather a Christian is baptized as a public demonstration of his personal relationship with Jesus – his Christianity.
A personal relationship with Christ Jesus? How is it possible for a person alive today to have a relationship with another person who physically lived on this earth 2000 years ago? How can someone living today have a relationship with someone who lives in a spiritual realm inaccessible to our five senses? Is that possible?
Let us examine the matter. Let us examine the elements and characteristics of earthly relationships and apply what we learn to our personal relationship with Christ Jesus.
Every relationship is the fruit resulting from the state of the mind and the state of the heart of its members. Healthy relationships have healthy states of mind and heart; unhealthy relationships lack one or both.
A healthy state of mind is the fruit of an accurate understanding of the other individual in the relationship. A healthy state of the heart is the fruit of a loving attitude toward the other individual in the relationship. Thus a healthy relationship demands both accurate understanding and a loving attitude.
Situation: The layoff
Take for example a couple married for a long time. The wife has correctly learned through experience that whenever her husband is grumpy, he acts cross, irritable, and is easily angered. The result often is a fight, but the fight can be avoided and his mood can be changed if she reaches out supportively to her husband. Whenever he is happy, he makes jokes, is helpful with chores around the house, and is quite pleasant company.
Over time the wife has also learned to tell whether the husband comes home from work grumpy or happy. She has learned over time that whenever her husband comes home grumpy it’s usually because his boss yelled at him. The rest of the time he usually comes home happy and sails in the door saying “Honey, I’m home!” By contrast, whenever he comes home grumpy, he drags himself in the door and says, “Oh, what a day!”
One particular day the husband was a half hour late coming home from work. The wife had prepared dinner on time and now she’s been sitting on the couch watching TV waiting for her husband while dinner simmered on the stove. The wife had just gone into the kitchen to stir the food when the husband arrived home and threw himself on the couch without saying a word.
The events that transpire between the two in the next few moments illustrate the health of a relationship. These events are summarized below and contrast a healthy relationship with an unhealthy one.
|Experiential knowledge||Wife has correctly learned over time through experience that…|
|Situation||Wife is upset because husband is late and dinner is about to burn.Husband’s arrival represents non-verbal communication that something is out of the ordinary and stressful.|
|Observe||Wife is attentive and observes that her husband did not sail in the door saying “Honey I’m home!”||Wife is preoccupied with her anger because her husband arrived home late and the dinner is spoiling; she doesn’t pay attention to his unusual arrival.|
|Interpret||Wife understands that her husband didn’t act happy, that he came home unusually late, and didn’t say a word. She interprets that something must be very wrong.||She focuses on her spoiled dinner and says, “About time you got home. I expected you half hour ago. Dinner is almost burnt!”|
|Apply||She thinks to herself, “When something is wrong, he usually likes to talk about it with me.” So she sits next to her husband on the couch, turns off the TV, and asks sympathetically, “Bad day at the office? Do you want to talk about it?”She is considerate and ignores the potential for spoiled dinner. They can go out to eat if necessary.||“Come in here and let’s eat before the dinner gets cold,” she yells to get him to the table. She totally ignores her husband’s situation.|
|Communicate||He sits dejectedly and begins to talk, “They’re going to lay me off. My boss called me into the office just before quitting time and…”She listens supportively and encourages him that everything will be all right; she lets him know that she is right there next to him no matter what happens.His fears somewhat allayed, the two go eat dinner. The food may be a bit burnt, but neither really cares.||He is put off by her tone. “I’m not hungry,” he yells back. “Go eat by yourself.”She is insulted and a fierce argument ensues.Neither eats dinner, which is burnt during the argument.All meaningful communication ceases and the wife has no indication that the family is in great financial jeopardy due to possible layoff.|
|Learn||The wife’s understanding of her husband, herself, and her relationship was reinforced through correct observation, interpretation, and application.The husband’s fears and self-criticism were reduced; he learned that he is not alone after all and can depend on his wife’s support.The couple’s unified purpose to overcome whatever difficulties may come at them through life was strengthened.||Both parties learned that each is alone; that the other may be undependable during times of difficulty.The value of the relationship is diminished, adding further strain on the relationship.|
But what if face to face interaction is not possible in a relationship? Does that change anything? No, it does not. Take for example the situation where a couple is physically separated because one member is traveling. The process remains unchanged: Some form of normal communication (written via email or verbal via phone) usually occurs between the two parties on a regular basis. Any change from “normal”, either the frequency or content of communication, may be the equivalent signal of the husband walking in the door without saying a thing. In a healthy relationship the other party would observe this unusual situation as a flag, interpret it correctly, and apply it.
Now what if the separation is not only physical, but temporal? Does that change anything? No, it does not. For example, I have a grandfather I knew only as a small child but he made a huge impression on me. I respect and love him greatly because of my childhood experiences, but he has passed on. Because I respect and love him, I want to learn as much as I can about him. Therefore I interview family members and those who knew him intimately; I read his writings and letters to better understand him; the more I learn about him the more I respect and love him. Consequently I even try to emulate his example!
Clearly the relationship between my grandfather and me did not die when he passed; it simply changed. In fact I developed a deeper, more truthful understanding of my grandfather as a result of my adult research than the one I had as a child. Our relationship actually grew and matured as I grew and matured – in spite of the fact that he had passed on!
Now, if one can have a maturing relationship with a dead grandfather, would it not make sense that one could have a relationship with Jesus, who is still alive? Absolutely, if we approach it the same way as any other relationship:
- Get to know Jesus Christ
- Observe His actions (study the Bible) and observe your circumstances
- Interpret the situation according to His teachings
- Apply His teachings to your life
- Communicate by praying and listening (He will respond)
- Learn and repent of your mistakes, and ask for His help.
If one does these things, one will have a healthy state of mind and an accurate understanding of Jesus. But state of mind is only half the equation. A healthy state of heart – a loving attitude – is also required.
Now, as it turns out, the husband was indeed laid off. The wife in the healthy relationship continued to be helpful in the husband’s job search: She helped prepare and mail out resumes, she searched the internet for opportunities, and she encouraged him in his search when things looked hopeless. The other wife went about her business as usual and left the job search entirely to her husband. In both cases within a few months the husband found a new job, but that job was much more demanding of his time; he often came home late, hungry, and tired.
Consequently the cycle described in the layoff situation continued to be repeated over and over. This repetition continued to reinforce the positive or negative experiential knowledge base in each relationship.
The wife was an accomplished singer; she was a member of a local ladies’ quartet. Her lifelong dream had been to sing at the Grand Ol’ Opry in Nashville. Shortly after her husband began working at his new job, the quartet was invited to participate in such an event. She was excited to go, but she would have to devote a great deal of time practicing in preparation, and the cost of the trip would present a financial burden. So she approached her husband about the matter, knowing that her participation in this event would place a tremendous burden on her husband. All other things being equal, which husband was more likely to support his wife’s trip to Nashville? The one in the healthy, loving relationship, or the one in the unhealthy, selfish relationship? Why the former, of course. The recipient (object) of a loving attitude is more likely to reciprocate with a mutually loving attitude.
What is a loving attitude? Simply stated, it is living a life that continuously demonstrates love to the beloved. But what is love? Volumes have been written on it, but for the sake of brevity let’s use the following definition:
Love is consciously choosing to do something for the benefit of another in spite of personal cost.
Therefore a loving attitude is living a life in which one continuously chooses to do something for the benefit of another in spite of personal cost. Another way of stating that is: Living a life where we always put another’s needs ahead of our own, in spite of the cost. ALWAYS!
Now let us examine the the layoff situation between the husband and wife and its relationship to the Nashville trip.
Healthy (loving) Relationship
Unhealthy (unloving) Relationship
|The wife demonstrated her love to her husband:
||The wife demonstrated that her focus was on herself:
|The husband responded positively to the love shown by supporting her trip to Nashville||The husband responded negatively to the lack of love shown by complaining that his wife’s trip to Nashville would be too burdensome.|
Clearly it is possible to establish a loving relationship based on face to face interactions, but is it possible to establish a loving relationship with someone who is separated by space and time? If so, how?
We have determined from the situation with my grandfather that it is possible to establish a relationship independent of space and time. The only question remaining is, “Can such a relationship be based on a loving attitude?” There are only two possibilities: “Yes” or “No.”
Since love is a conscious choice – a decision to do something for the benefit of another in spite of personal cost – and a loving relationship is based on love, then it must follow that the establishment of a loving attitude must also be a conscious choice! One can consciously choose to love someone next door, or someone far away separated by space or time. Love transcends both space and time! Therefore it is absolutely possible to establish a loving relationship with someone who is separated by space and time. This conclusion is consistent with our finding in the situation with my grandfather: The fact that I emulated his example demonstrated my love for him, honored him, and extended his “life” – even in death!
Situation: The Sick Man
There was a certain sick man. He was quite wealthy but had no relatives and needed a kidney transplant but could not find one. One day a donor far away donated a kidney to the sick man, and the man lived. Did not the donor demonstrate love? Indeed! The man correctly understood this fact and was grateful for the gift of life he received.
Then one day the man (now healthy with a new kidney) heard that the donor had experienced a bad accident and could not afford the hospital bills. Did not the man delight in reciprocating the gift of life to the donor by paying his hospital bills, just as he had received the gift of life with the organ donation? Absolutely – because a loving relationship had been established between the two in spite of their separation and lack of continuous interaction.
In fact, love can be contagious: What if the man had heard of someone other than the donor needing the gift of life? Would he not be motivated to pay the hospital bill for someone else because of the gift he had received from the donor? Would that not have been a demonstration of a newly established loving relationship? Absolutely!
Careful examination of earthly relationships has demonstrated the following truths:
- Every interaction we have with another being we had not met before creates a new relationship
- Every situation involving an interaction with another being either strengthens or harms the relationship (has a positive or negative impact on the relationship)
- Relationships are independent of space and time
- Relationships do not require continuous, constant interaction
- Not all relationships are healthy; in fact most earthly relationships are not healthy
- A healthy relationship rests on two key factors:
- Accurate understanding (an experiential process)
- Loving attitude (a state of the heart)
Relationships may be depicted and analyzed according to the following diagram:
Next: Relationship with Jesus