The Starting Point
The darkness of suffering creates an environment in which misunderstanding and miscommunication can flourish. When we are forced to navigate through that darkness, we all too often bump up against the rough edges, impurities, flaws and weaknesses that mar even our most precious relationships. Our greatest treasures at times may appear to be nothing more than worthless stones.
In such an environment, we may need to refine our relationship skills if we want our relationships to endure and become the priceless treasures God intended them to be. Just as we need to cut and polish precious stones to reveal and enhance their beauty, we need to chisel away rough edges, cut out impurities and polish our relationships.
Whether we need a crash course in relationship building and maintenance or simply need to refine our relationship skills, the first and most basic truth about relationships is that we need God’s help. No matter what relationship challenges we face, we need to ask for God’s help before we do anything else. He is our starting point for polishing the treasure of healthy relationships.
God is the author of relationships, and the trinity is the perfect example of relationship unity. No relationship problems ever exist between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God wants our relationships and love for one another to emulate His love. In fact, He commands us get along with others. “Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible” Romans 12:18 (NLT).
God knows firsthand how challenging that can be. Jesus lived with a large family in cramped quarters. He was a son, a brother, an employee, a co-worker, a neighbor and a friend. So when we talk with God about our relationship problems, He completely understands. But more than that, He can help us deal with our relationship challenges.
Just as it takes knowledge and wisdom to cut a gemstone, it takes knowledge and wisdom to bring out the beauty of our relationships. We don’t have that on our own, but God does. God alone knows the hearts and motives of all men (1 Chronicles 28:9), so He knows all about the flaws behind the relationship challenges we experience. As the creator of relationships, He can guide us through problems we can’t begin to solve. As the source of life and love, God has the power to fix what’s broken, to correct what is wrong. He can empower us to love and forgive others even if it’s the last thing we think we can do.
The Power of Honesty
The most beautiful and highly valued relationships are honest ones. In an honest relationship we don’t need to hide, deny or cover up our shortcomings, hurts or disappointments. We let others see us, as Dave Dravecky says, “warts and all.” Honest relationships allow us to invite others into the deepest parts of our lives and enable us to know and bear each other’s burdens.
Of course, being honest is risky. There are no guarantees that our honesty or vulnerability will be handled properly. Many who have tried to have honest relationships have been, as Joanie Thompson described, “creamed in the process.” Yet honest is absolutely essential. “We learn discernment from the times we are mistreated. It’s not easy to become vulnerable, to become known,” Joanie has learned, “but we’d better because that’s our safety net.”
Before we can be honest in our relationships, however, we have to be honest with ourselves – something we aren’t naturally inclined to do. We are quick to see flaws and failures of our would-be treasures. But before we get out the stone polisher and line up our treasures for a buff, we must heed Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:3-5 to “take the log out of our own eye” before we attempt to take “the speck out of someone else’s.” In other words, we must ask God to help us deal with the flaws in our own heart before we try to correct those of our family and friends.
Honesty is a two way street, a mutual exchange that enhances the value of the relationship for both people. Pastor Ron Benson describes it like this: “More honesty brings more intimacy – and more intimacy bring more honesty.” That’s exactly what God intends, but having such a relationship can be a challenge.
We must remember that each of us is an “unfinished person,” a work in progress. We all have needs and shortcomings, and we all have something to offer. But hurting people can easily (and understandably) become self-engrossed, and relationships can become one-sided. While family and friends of a hurting peson may have much to offer, they still need to know that the hurting person loves them, even if he or she is unable to be as supportive as in the past.
Wayne DeReu found the give and take of honest relationships to be essential during his lengthy cancer battle. He made the extra effort to take genuine interest in the lives and hearts and friends and family members, and he was richly rewarded. It strengthened his faith to hear how God was working in their lives. It helped him feel useful, needed and valued despite his personal suffering.
Developing honest relationships is not easy, especially if our trust has been violated or if we’ve never experienced relationshional intimacy. But relationships in whcih we can bear our soul are priceless treasures. They are worth every risk.
The Power of Forgiveness
In the darkness of suffering, our flaws stand out like beacons in the night. Family and friends don’t meet the hurting person’s needs. They interfere when they shouldn’t. They say stupid things. They don’t say anything at all. They don’t understand the pain. And the actions and attitudes of hurthing people are no less flawed. “Hurting people aren’t always nice,” Joni Eareckson Tada explains. “Suffering can really breed selfishness or insensitivity…sometimes downright rudeness.”
How is it possible to find treasures in such an environment? The key is in one word: forgiveness. Whenever we find ourselves in the darkness, we must learn to live a lifestyle of forgiveness if we want our relationships to survive and grow.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t understand forgiveness. We may agree that forgiveness is a good and right thing to do, but we often insist that the other person’s behavior must surely be the exception to the forgiveness rule. Under our breath we may secretly say, “except in this situation…except for this person.” But true forgiveness acknowledges that we will fail others and they will fail us. Some of us may be further along in the treasure polishing process, but we all need forgiveness.
Learning to forgive requires divine assistance. We may know that we need to forgive but feel utterly unable to. That’s when we can confess our predicament to God and ask for His help. That’s what concentration camp survivor Corrie ten Boom did when, after the war, one of the “most cruel” guards asked her for forgiveness.
“I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from you as well. Fraulein,” he thrust his hand out to Corrie, “will you forgive me?” “I stood there and could not forgive…to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. I had to do it – I knew that. And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. Jesus, help me! I prayed silently. I can lift my hand. You supply the feeling. and so mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. “I forgive you brother!’ I cried. ‘with all my heart.’ For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.
As is true of many of God’s instructions for living, researchers have learned that forgiveness is healthy. A recent article in Reader’s Digest highlights a few findings on the healing power of making peace.
- Giving up grudges can reduce chronic back pain.
- MRI scans revealed that just thinking about empathy and reconciliation sparks activity in the brain suggesting we all have a mental forgiveness centerset to be tapped.
- Letting go of a grudge can slash stress levels by up to 50%.
- Forgiveness can increase energy, mood, sleep quality and overall physical vitality.
The Power of Grace
Grace is God’s love in action. It is the glue that mends our brokenness. It fills in the cracks, covers over the chips and holds the broken pieces together. No wonder it is essential! Grace puts the finishing touch – the brilliant shine – on our most precious relationships.
Some have said that if we would “walk in grace,” most of our relationships conflicts would never occur. So what does grace look like? What does it accomplish in our lives and our relationships? These highlights will give you a picture:
- Grace takes the high road in human relationships. It choosed to reach out rather than retaliate, to forgive rather than turn away in contempt or indifference.
- Grace doesn’t judge or condemn. It doesn’t presume to be better than others.
- Grace accepts us right where we are and places no expectations on us. It is given freely – no strings attached.
- Grace has thick skin. It isn’t easily wounded, offended or put off. When wounded, it refuses to wound others.
- Grace isn’t shocked by the depth of human brokenness and sinfulness. It embraces the one made in the image of God no matter how marred the image may be.
- Grace makes God’s love real to even the hardest, most wretched, wounded and hopeless heart.
No wonder we need grace! It is a powerful commodity in the darkness of suffering. “When Dave and I were in the depths of our valley.” Jan Dravecky explains, “we were hurting. We weren’t fun to be around. We didn’t look like model Christians. We needed grace! The people who extended grace to us forgave, accepted and loved us as we were – with all of our pain, ugliness, anger and doubt. Healing came as grace was given to us.”
What a precious treasure! Because God first extended grace to us, we have the privilege of passing it on to others. Grace is a commodity of heaven that perfects the beauty of our most treasured relationships. At any time we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence. so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
We need to ask God for grace when…
- We find ourselves responding to others in inappropriate ways.
- We’re irritable, demanding, defensive or short-tempered.
- We’re with people who “don’t get it,” who don’t understand suffering.
- We’ve been mistreated, neglected or hurt.
- We’re facing a difficult conversation or confrontation.
- We need to respond in love but our feelings are quite the contrary.
- We feel that we have failed ourselves or others.