Building Strong Relationships
Today there will be millions of cards sent, presents exchanged and flowers enjoyed. Valentines Day is the day we remember to express love to those who are special in our lives.
To hopefully make this day extra special we encouraged those who were married in or through this church to make this time of worship a part of your celebration. We hope that your being in this sanctuary on Valentine’s Day will remind you of the expectations and promises that you once expressed here. In other words, we hope that getting together here will be a shot in the arm for your relationship.
Now we know that good relationships are not rooted in special worship events. We know that a good relationship takes effort. And most of us, if not all of us, are looking for guidance as to how to build better relationships. We know that we are living in very impersonal times. We have our fill of plastic relationships. And all of us would like to have some deep and special relationships with the people we love.
So, this morning I won’t talk about the idea of love. . . . I want to talk about the nuts and bolts of the practice of love. And I don’t turn to my own “expertise” (because it is lacking) but instead turn to the wisdom of God’s Word. I take you to the simple instruction from Paul to the church at Ephesus. Ephesians 4:32 is a verse that can apply to any relationship, with your spouse, your child, your parent, your neighbor, your classmate, your teacher and so on down the line. These words are so simple . . . yet so profound.
BE KIND….or, Give Your Best to the One You Love
The Apostle Paul suggests that one of the keys to a good relationship is showing kindness to each other. In Paul’s great description of love he says, “love is kind” (1 Cor. 13). Paul also numbers kindness among the fruit (or results) of the Holy Spirit in us. (Gal. 5:22). The Bible says that when we act in kindness we reflect God’s kindness.
- Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:34-36)
But we need to be practical. What does it mean to be kind? Kindness is love shown in the little things of life. When we begin a significant relationship we realize the importance of this. We are constantly looking for ways to show kindness and consideration. You hold a door; you give a back rub; you pull out a chair; you express appreciation for anything you can think of; you send cards and notes for any number of reasons. In other words you look for ways to show kindness. If the garbage needed to be emptied you are eager to help. If the dishes need to be cleared from the table . . . you are on it. You’ll sit with your special someone and fold clothes, or dry dishes, or sit in the quiet talking till the sun comes up.
But somewhere along the line, things turn around. We start giving our best to others and only give what’s left to those we love. We come home exhausted, stressed and wanting to be left alone. Taking out the garbage now becomes a point of contention. We’re too tired to give a backrub. We don’t see any reason to help with something that is the “responsibility” of another.
One lady wrote to Ann Landers
My husband doesn’t talk to me. He just sits there night after night, reading the newspaper or looking at T.V. When I ask him a question, he grunts “huh, or Uh’huh.” Sometimes he doesn’t even grunt uh’huh. All he really needs is a housekeeper and somebody to sleep with him when he feels like it. He can buy both. There are times when I wonder why he got married.
What happens? I have a couple of suggestions. First, we get lazy. We take the relationship for granted and we stop working at it. We work hard at business relationships . . . we look for ways to be kind to show that we care. But at home we figure people know we care so we stop trying to be kind. We need to save our best for the ones we love.
Second, we keep score. We are so afraid of doing more than “our share” that we keep a running tally sheet in our head. We don’t want to “be taken for granted”. And do you know what I have found? Both parties in a relationship feel they are giving the most to the relationship. Throw the score sheet away! You can’t have a realtionship that is run like a business. Give yourself to the other person. You’ll find that kindness is contagious.
Another reason we fail in the area of kindness is because we are taught to be mean. We live in a world that teaches us that you have to fight for everything you get. If you aren’t forceful, people won’t respond. If you show weakness, others will exploit that weakness. More and more you see people yelling at each other in stores. People shoot each other on the highway because a person cut them off. Let’s fact it we are becoming a society of mean people.
Let me tell you something. I have found that this worldly philosophy doesn’t work. I have found that people respond much more to a kind and soft word than to a harsh word. They open up when treated with kindness. They build walls when they are under attack.
The advice is so simple . . . . try a little kindness. If you want to deepen your relationships, try being kind.
- the next time you see something that needs to be done . . .just do it. Maybe somebody else should have done it . . . but they didn’t, and you can. By your simple act you may be lifting a burden from someone else.
- Put the paper down, turn away from the television, and look at the person who is talking to you.
- Make it a practice to comment on the things another does RIGHT and Well. Work to catch somebody doing good. Once again, listen to Paul’s words, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (v. 29)” The Bible tells us that a kind word “gives life”.
- Do that “something extra” not because you ‘have to’ but because you can. Open a door, help someone with their coat, stop (really stop) and say “hello” to someone, let someone else have the spotlight, set the table, clear the dishes, spend an evening together, be quiet so another can sleep. Be nice.
I read about a man who was in a taxi cab with a friend. As they pulled to the curb that man said to the driver, “thank you sir for a very enjoyable ride. I appreciate the service you provided.” When they exited the cab his friend said, “what was that all about? That was an ordinary cab ride. That guy was just doing his job. That’s what he gets paid for.”
“I’m changing New York!” was the answer.
“You see I’ve discovered that one positive comment to a person will change the way they relate to the next several people they see.” The next person that cab driver picks up will have a much better ride because I said something kind. And the person who receives the better ride will have a better day and that will impact the people they deal with. It’s like a domino effect.”
They walked a little further and the one man noticed that his friend winked at a woman. He said, “what was that all about? There was nothing extraordinary about that woman?”
“I know”, said the man. “So that wink will mean more to her.” She could be headed to the hospital to visit someone. She might be having a bad day and I just lifted her spirits. And who knows, she might be a teacher. And if she is . . . her kids are in for a terrific day!”
You can change the world if you will take the time to show kindness. You can enrich and revitalize your relationships by simply being kind.
BE TENDERHEARTED or Be Sensitive to Your Mate
The second piece of practical advice Paul gives in this verse is this: Be Tenderhearted. Perhaps you heard this account,
- Friday evening . . . my 8 year old son came to me and asked what cancer was. At this point my Encyclopedia Britannica paid for itself 10 times over. I sat him down, read and explained, and asked several times why he wanted to know. He would not tell me. Finally, I closed the book and told him I would not go on until he told me why.He then informed me that the friend in his class who had been out several weeks came back to school, and that he has cancer. He also told me that all the kids made fun of him because he had no hair. He said that he and one of the other boys were trying to be nice to this boy because he was their friend, that that they had decided to do something that would make the other kids stop teasing him.When I asked him what they wanted to do, he informed me that they wanted to have their heads shaved so that they looked just like their friend with cancer. And that is just what they did.
That’s what it means to be tenderhearted or compassionate. It means taking time to see life through the eyes of another. It means feeling and sharing the struggle of another. It means reaching out to lessen the suffering of someone else.
A train was filled with tired people. Most of them had spent the day traveling through the hot dusty plains and at last evening had come and they all tried to settle down to a sound sleep. However, at one end of the car a man was holding a tiny baby and as night came on the baby became restless and cried more and more. Unable to take it any longer, a big brawny man spoke for the rest of the group. “Why don’t you take that baby to its mother?” There was a moment’s pause and then came the reply. “I’m sorry. I’m doin’ my best. The baby’s mother is in her casket in the baggage car ahead.”
Again there was an awful silence for a moment. Then the big man who asked the cruel question was out of his seat and moved toward the man with the motherless child. He apologized for his impatience and unkind remark. He took the tiny baby in his own arms and told the tired father to get some sleep. Then in loving patience he cared for the little child all through the night.
Wow! Doesn’t your heart yearn to be that kind of person? Don’t you wish someone would show that kind of compassion to you? Maybe it’s not a crying baby. Maybe for you it’s something else
- a struggle at work
- a nagging physical burden
- financial worries
- turmoil over a career decision
- a relationship problem
- a grief you can’t explain
Now, listen carefully. I want to share with you something I don’t want you to forget . . . the significant people in your life are longing for tenderheartedness and compassion too. Let that sink in. Sure, you want to find compassion in these relationships . . .but remind yourself that your special someone would like to find compassion and tenderness as well. But tenderheartedness does not come easily.
Developing a Tender Heart Takes Time. We can’t be tenderhearted if we are always on the run. The key element of compassion is making time to care. It means taking the time to look someone in the eye, to listen to their story, to understand. There is no shorthand for showing compassion. When was the last time you took the time to listen to your spouse, or your child? I mean really listened . . . until you understood and felt what the other was going through?
Developing a Tender Heart is Costly. Have you ever spent the day at the hospital caring for the needs of someone special. You didn’t do much but when you left you were exhausted. Why? Because, when you care about people, when you enter into their lives and their struggles, it takes a great deal out of you. It takes energy to work for understanding. It takes an emotional investment to feel what another feels.
Tenderness is the Key that Unlocks the Door to Intimacy Yes it is time consuming. Yes, it is costly. But it is worth every ounce of that investment. This is the only way to develop intimacy. I’m not talking about sex here . . . I’m talking about love, closeness, “oneness”. This is what we are all craving. But you can’t find it without investing our time and ourselves.
The best way to cultivate a tender heart is to spend time with the Father. When we spend regular time with God we experience His great tenderness and He builds that capacity to care into us. He helps us take our eyes off of ourselves so we can see what is going on in the lives of those around us. It is no accident that after a day of being with people Jesus would spend the night in prayer. Jesus was replenishing His own spirit.
Spending time with God should not make us harder and meaner. . . . it should make us softer. I am always suspicious of those who proclaim the name of Christ but are nasty, abrasive, and just plain mean. People like that may be religious . . . but they are NOT spending time with Jesus. If they were . . . they would be becoming MORE like Him and LESS like the world.
BE FORGIVING or Let Past Mistakes Go
There is perhaps no problem that undermines relationships more than carrying a grudge. Sometimes it is over something minor. Sometimes it was a major failure by a partner. But now it’s past . . . but we don’t let go. We may say it is past, but every time there is an argument, the same thing is brought up again and again. I’ve done it, and I suspect you have too.
Look at the words preceding this command of Paul. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice . . . ” Every one of these things is the result of an unforgiving heart.
Counselor Archibald Hart says, “Forgiveness is surrendering my right to hurt you for hurting me.” But it is not a right we are easily willing to surrender. We want to even the score. We want the person who hurt us to experience the same kind of pain we did. That’s vengeance or revenge. It has nothing to do with forgiveness.
There are several reasons to forgive.
- When we forgive we are acting according to God’s character. We read about (and depend on) God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness is unnatural. When we forgive we act with grace.
- Forgiveness is one of the greatest blessings we can extend to another. The Psalmist says, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven.” Freeing someone from their past failures and sins is the greatest gift we can give to another.
The story is told in Spain of a father and his teenage son who had a relationship that had become strained. So the son ran away from home. His father, however, began a journey in search of his rebellious son. Finally, in Madrid, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in the newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father.”
The next day at noon in front of the newspaper office 800 “Pacos” showed up. They were all seeking forgiveness and love from their fathers.
- Lack of Forgiveness erects a barrier in our relationship which we will never be able to move beyond. Once you refuse to forgive you build a wall. The relationship can go no further. Intimacy cannot progress. Trust is undermined. As long as we choose to hold the past over someone’s head. We are choosing to forfeit any opportunity for a deeper relationship.
- Refusal to forgive cuts us off from God’s cleansing forgiveness. Note that Paul tells us to forgive “as we have been forgiven.” Our example, our model of forgiveness is Jesus. If we don’t forgive each other, we show that we haven’t appreciated the forgiveness that He has extended to us. An unforgiving heart, according to Scripture, is an ungrateful heart. Jesus said, “if we will not forgive each other . . . He will not forgive us.” God offers real forgiveness and wants us to do the same.
- There is more. The Bible tells us that God says, “Vengeance is mine.” Please hear that. God says, I will be the one who takes care of even-ing the score. He is the one who will make the wrongs right. When we refuse to forgive we take that responsibility for ourselves . . . . We are playing God! Friends . . . you had better tread VERY carefully when you travel on that ground.
Do you need to extend to someone else the forgiveness that God extended to you? Is it time to cut your relationship free from the anchor of a past failure? Dare to forgive. I know the hurt was significant . . .but it is time to let it go. It is time to give the hurt and the pain to God and let Him deal with it. When you forgive it is the greatest act of love you can show. When you forgive you set someone free. In fact you set a couple people free: the other person . . .and yourself.
This morning we have not looked at new theories or ideas. There is nothing revolutionary here. It is common sense. I don’t have to argue that these things would change your relationship if applied. You know it. But as simple as these things are . . . we still struggle. And the reason we struggle is because we are by nature, selfish people. We need help. We need a change on the inside.
Do you remember when you were married? In most cases you asked a Minister to officiate at the wedding. Prayers were given. God’s blessing was invoked. Why? Because even then, if only in some litte way, you realized that you could not make it work without God’s help.
Have you forgottem that? Marriage and any other significant relationship begins and ends with God. So let me ask you: What place does God play in your life? Maybe this Valentine’s Day what you need most is to receive God’s love as it is extended in Christ. Are you willing to start the process of renewal by making a real commitment to Him? Are you willing to seek His forgiveness and trust Him to build in you the things that are needed for solid relationships?
If so, tell Him. Tell God that you want Him to lead your life. Ask Him to help you to be more kind, tenderhearted and forgiving. Ask Him to help you to do the little things that can make an enormous difference. If you do . . . He will.