Sunday, February 10, 2013

Thoughts on Human Relationships

[This collection of thoughts on human relationships first appeared in a series of random thoughts on Facebook. They are collected here and will be edited and expanded throughout 2013.]

1. The hope of reconciliation should not be the restoration of a relationship to what it once was; such attempts are destined to fail as they are locked within irreconcilable imaginations about the past. The hope should be for the creation of a relationship that should have been. Thus, true reconciliation is aimed at the future, the hope of what might be if both are willing to become. JDJ
2. Forgiveness should not be measured in emotions. We too often condemn ourselves for negative feelings when remembering an offence. The presence of the offender reminds us of the offence and we hurt. Then we feel guilty for hurting and possibly for feeling anger. We should not. Forgiveness is an attitude, a disposition, a dogged determination to treat the offender as if they never did us wrong. It is a firm commitment to act out of our convictions and not our feelings. Forgiveness should be measured in our resolve to bless the person who offended us. JDJ

3. If my freedom oppresses someone else, my freedom does not come from Christ. In truth such freedom is bondage to the self which is in fact slavery to sin. The freedom which Christ gives is the freedom to know the fullness of life and the fullness of life is by its very nature a life giving force. JDJ
4. Forgiveness must be more than the mental negation of an offense or simply “letting go” of a grievance. Such definitions allow, and even encourage, apathy toward the offender. Apathy is perhaps the greatest of the dehumanizing dispositions and indifference is a form of resentment. Thus, forgiveness requires a positive disposition toward the offender, a commitment to bless. JDJ  [Note: This is “Forgiveness” #2; See the first entry on January 4.]

5. Anger is a lot like wine. In and of itself it is not a sin. But like wine, anger has the potential to rule our lives. Mingled with other weaknesses it excites our brokenness and our inclinations toward sin. It numbs our better judgment and our self-restraint. Even righteous anger must be sobered by love and grace lest it devour our peace and give opportunity for evil in our hearts. JDJ

6. The love of God is most exquisitely expressed in a holy and unfeigned love for one’s spouse. Properly construed, this love not only binds the one to the other, it also binds the one to God; it serves as an ongoing expression of the worship of our gracious Creator. In the Garden, Adam and Eve knew and loved God as they knew and loved each other. For some, the great challenge in life is to not let love for one’s spouse eclipse that holy love from which it flows. For too many, the connection is never made so in failing to love their spouse they fail to know the love of God. Blessed are those whose love for spouse and love for God are of the same essence. They have already begun to know as they are known. JDJ

7. The human soul cannot be known through reason alone. Prose is woefully inadequate to communicate the beauty and complexities of the inner self.  The heart may be prone to hide behind rhetoric, carefully constructed defensible descriptions of our state of being. But when it offers itself voluntarily, without reservation and in its entirety, it does so with song -- music, rhythm, rhyme and cadence. For our deepest hunger is not to be understood but to be known and to be loved, not to stand apart but to stand with, not to sing a solo but to harmonize. We long to be one with another, to sing in perfect pitch together as one chorus in harmony with the divine image in which we were made. JDJ

8. Human relationships can either hinder or nurture our relationship with God. By design, the need for intimacy with another human is linked to the need for intimacy with God.  Adam and Eve were created to know each other knowing God. The first couple fell into sin when they agreed to share a knowledge apart from their Creator. And the knowledge they shared became the knowledge that divided them. In eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they lost their fellowship with God and their harmony with each other. Once marred by sin, the drive to live in deep communion with another became a primary battleground for sin. Ever since that fateful choice, humans have hungered to return to the Garden. That hunger is in truth a craving to return to that condition of knowing and being known in the shame-free, life-giving presence of our Heavenly Father. JDJ

9. The hunger to know and to be known is revealed most clearly in the gaze of our eyes. As we stare deeply into the eyes of another we are not voyeurs merely seeking to see into the soul of that person; we also desire for someone to see our inner self. When we lock our eyes on this person whom we are coming to trust, we enter liminal time and space. Without losing our personal identity we join this other person to create a new, shared reality. We enter into a covenant of co-existence. In that shared existence we freely give ourselves away; we boldly embrace that which was foreign to us, and we become more than we are. Hearts and minds are intertwined with or without physical connection. This psychic union offers the promise of personal fulfillment and the hope of the renewal of the image of God. Before the mouth speaks, the eyes expose the secrets of the heart. JDJ

10. Anger is not a sin. It is an emotional response to a person, an event, or a situation. Counselors tell us it is a secondary emotion, one triggered by a primary emotion such as fear, or insecurity, etc.. I suggest that anger can also be grounded in love for others. Further, I suggest it is sometimes the only appropriate response to evil. Holiness draws us into the affections of God; we love as He loves and we hate as He hates. Thus, it may be sin to not have anger toward sin, especially sins of injustice. Our holy response to injustice should be to share in God’s anger toward it. Only, let our response be governed by His mercy and focused on the sin itself, not the sinner. JDJ

11. The Hebrew word for “honor” also means “glory” (kabod).  The root meaning of this word is “weighty” or “heavy” and so it carries the connotation of “abundance.” Thus, the glory of the Lord is His heavy presence, the weightiness of encountering His personal presence. The inverse is to give glory, to weigh down with praise, blessings, and honor; it is to make the other fat, stuffed with goodness. Likewise, the commandment that we honor our parents is less about obedience, than it is about respect. But it is even more; it is about blessing, making their lives rich and full. We honor our parents when we weigh them down with the richness of our love toward them. JDJ

12. There is no age limit on the commandment that we honor our parents. Indeed, it only has its full force when we become adults ourselves. To limit the commandment, and the promise of the commandment (long life), to children is to pervert its meaning. The objectives are holiness and a righteous social order, not mere etiquette. Etiquette is a matter of behavior that insures politeness and avoids embarrassment. The commandment, like all the commandments, addresses the affections of the heart. Honoring our parents is an adult thing to do; children will model their parents who honor their parents. JDJ

13. Human relationships are by design a primary mode for knowing God. The struggle to know and be known by others is but an expression of the struggle to know and be known by God. The Spirit of God is the ever-present giver and sustainer of all life. To know another human is to stand before his or her Creator. God is thus a witness and participant in all relationships. It is for this cause that all sins against others are in fact sins against God. And discord in human relationships is caustic to our relationship with God.  JDJ

14. The quest for righteous intimacy is integral to our transformation into the likeness of Christ. Christian love, fellowship, and mutual honor mirror the glory and honor of the image in which we were made. In relationships of love and mutual respect we join with God in the restoration of His image in us. JDJ

15. Our reconciliation with Christ and our reconciliation with each other comprise a single event in the divine economy. We will not be forgiven if we do not forgive (Matthew 5: 23-26). In the fellowship of the Spirit, we realize that the altar of self-denial at which we forgive one another and the altar at which we are forgiven of our sins against God are the same altar, the one at which all things are being reconciled to the righteousness of God. Similarly, at that place of reconciliation the voice of God’s pleasure (these are my beloved) and the voice of His call to service (go proclaim the good news) are heard as one voice. Those reconciled to God are reconciled to each other and they share in the ministry of reconciliation (II Corinthians 5:18-21). JDJ

16. Forgiveness and reconciliation do not require a return to former patterns of relating, nor to old definitions of the relationship. Those patterns and definitions were no doubt built on an illusion of fidelity. They do require an openness to begin again and to build a relationship on truthfulness. Never settle for going back to the way things were. Never be driven to create that which should not be. Just be open to God’s power to make all things new. Seek to build a relationship that pleases God. JDJ

17. Forgiveness does not erase the pain of betrayal nor does it guarantee we will ever be fully healed. It is an exercise of faith in others that builds our faith in God. Forgiving others opens our soul to receive gifts from God. The grace that brings emotional healing flows from the same fountain as the grace that works redemption and sanctification. All of the gifts of grace are provisions of the atonement of Christ. Thus, we do not heal ourselves by forgiving others, instead we prepare ourselves to receive healing. JDJ

18. We will have reconciled not when we fully agree on what happened to divide us, but when we each see what happened through the eyes of the other and embrace the other as though it happened the way they remember it. JDJ

19. Young parents receive a lot of advice, tips on sleeping and schedules and diapers and food and discipline and on and on and on. My advice is rather simple. First and foremost, passionately love your child in a way that communicates love and the fullness of life. Second, set age-appropriate boundaries for security, safety, behavior, and responsibility. Third, expand those boundaries at the pace of the child’s development and ability to set his or her own boundaries. Fourth, be consistent with enforcement of the boundaries (i.e., discipline) and be united; in front of the child each parent must fully back the other when a decision has been made. Finally, in your relationships with your parents and your relationship with your heavenly Father model for your child how to be a good child. After all, the Scriptures say much more about being a good child than they say about being a good parent. JDJ #73

20. The Scriptures have surprisingly little to say about marriage. A careful study of the New Testament reveals only a handful of texts addressing husbands and wives. I Corinthians chapter 7 teaches mutual sexual fulfillment in marriage. While most cultures would agree that a woman’s body belongs to her husband, it was radical to state that a husband’s body also belongs to his wife. Other than this one text, all other statements on marriage can be reduced to this, husbands and wives are to relate to each other as Christians are to relate. If husbands are to love their wives, are not all Christians to love one another? If wives are to submit to their husbands, are not all Christians to do the same within the body of Christ. In Christianity, the central task of marriage is for husbands and wives to live as an example for the world of what true Christianity is. JDJ  #74

21. One modern error is the view that the home and the church were created as separate entities. The two are often placed in competition for time and energy. It is sometimes stated that the family has priority because it was the first institution created by God. But that simply is not true. God created a people for Himself (the church) in the same action in which He created the first couple. In the New Testament, Christian homes are viewed as expressions of the church. Pastors are in error when they give their congregational responsibilities priority over their families not because the family is more important than the church, but for the inverse reason. The family must be our first church. To view our families as anything less than the church is to devalue our family. Love, and all the other shared Christian graces, must begin at home because the Christian home is the foundational expression of the church. Even our unredeemed family members share in those graces as those who are attached to the church for nurture until the day of their new birth. JDJ #75

22. Two of the great challenges to intimacy are learning to give without expectation and learning to receive without reservation. Both are essential. Both involve risks. Both are necessary for human fulfillment. The first is difficult because giving without expectation involves surrender, letting go of the power to control. It acknowledges the other person is free and entirely other than us. We have been programed by sin to want to hold, to consume, to control, and to restrain. But it is delusion to think we can possess things and people. Perhaps the greater challenge is to learn to receive without reservation for that requires that we trust. We must trust the gift and the giver. To receive without reservation is to open ourselves to change. It is to admit that we are needy, we can be more than we are and better than we are. The great promise of intimacy is that through giving and receiving we can be whole and fulfilled.  JDJ #155

23. Healthy, loving, intimate relationships require that each partner provide four critical functions in the relationship. In these four things there must be mutual participation, each doing for the other without reservation. First, both must give/nurture, without expectations (see yesterday’s thought). Second, both must guard/protect the other and the relationship without qualifications. Third, both must govern themselves, the relationship and the other without restrictions. Fourth. both must guide the other without presumption. There are other functions but these are essential. In marriage, they are gifts that cannot be forced; they must be welcomed and they must be reciprocal in order to be effectual. JDJ  #156

24. Healthy, loving, intimate relationships require that both partners be unrestrained givers to the other. The question must never be who gives the most or how much is given. The standard is giving feely without expectation of return. Conversely, the receiver must receive those gifts freely and completely. Each must be as willing to receive as to give. Both must nurture and receive nurture. The lone qualifier in giving is the purpose of the gift. It must be intended to nurture and honor the partner and not to exalt the giver. Otherwise, gifts are nothing more than tools for control. Gifts cannot be compared since their true worth lies in their appropriateness for the receiver. Men and women in general, and each individual in particular, differ in their needs and resources. In God’s sovereignty we have each been endowed with resources needed by others. Marriage (and all other intimate relationships) is designed for growth, the continual enlarging of the tents of our shared and personal existence. This may be best accomplished when we are intentional about receiving well and joyful in giving lavishly. Receive with reflection; give with abandonment. JDJ #157

25. Healthy, loving, intimate relationships require that both partners be vigilant in guarding the relationship and in guarding each other without qualifications. Marriage is a covenant that binds two people together and God is a witness and participant in that covenant. His presence in the marriage makes the marriage both sacred and dynamic, greater than the sum of its parts. In this mystery of marriage God joins two persons in a manner that even their personal weaknesses mingle to produce strength and beauty, their individual brokenness merges to reveal wholeness in relationship. And that beauty, born out of the brokenness of individuals who have become one, bears witness to the promise of the incarnation and resurrection, death is swallowed up in victory. For this reason both partners must honor the strengths and weaknesses of each through mutual protection. The beauty of their union is a reflection of the glory of Christ as He embraces His creation. Only remember, protection of the one we love begins with guarding our own heart for the betrayal of affections is the most deadly of poisons.  JDJ #158

26. Healthy, loving, intimate relationships require that both partners serve as governors of each other and the union. This is the essence of mutual submission. As governors, each must set the limiting boundaries of their intimacy and each must respect the boundaries as set by the other. In marriage each partner should have veto power over constitutive changes in the relationship and over changes that would threaten the viability of the marriage. This is not the restriction of self-expression or of personal opinions. This is not parent-over-child control; it is adult-with-adult mutual submission. It is a mutual commitment to honor the boundaries of the marriage covenant. Marriage is like a dance that demands more than either can give so that each partner must take the lead in the various movements according to their gifts and abilities. JDJ #159

27. Healthy, loving, intimate relationships require that both partners serve as guides to each other. In marriage, both must be teachers and both must be learners. Teaching and learning must be a life-long process as the couple progressively learns to trust each other and to trust their unique ways of knowing and being. True intimacy in human relationships is achieved only between peers. At its core is a bond of friendship, a desire to share life, to hear the opinions of the other, to be instructed by the other. We must serve as one another’s principle guide out of a commitment to walk the same pathway of life. But intimacy is not only a journey forward; it is a journey inward into the unmapped territory of the soul of another. Only God and that individual can guide through that fragile terrain without doing harm. The journey is necessary and immensely beneficial because it is through the eyes and ears of the other that we come to more fully know ourselves. JDJ #160

28. Within systems theory, a “function” of a system is the transformation of one set of substances into another for the purpose of meeting a need. For example, a mother transforms her food and fluids into milk to meet the nourishment needs of her infant. Our kidneys transform substances in our blood into urine serving the need to purify our bodies. In human relationships we may have innate gifts suitable to those we love, but we must also create the things that they need. Love is a gift, but it is also work and the quality of the work is determined not by skill, but by intensity of desire and consistency of effort. Love transforms our limited resources into the appropriate resources needed by our lover. This is not to say we must be the sole source of supply for each other. We all need multiple, meaningful relationships that nourish our souls. It is to say that a marriage covenant defines, governs and limits the resources that we offer to and receive from others, restricting the most intimate of resources to our spouse.  JDJ #161

29. The core functions of marriage are also the core functions of the parent-child relationship: giving, guarding, governing, guiding. These functions overlap but unfold in the order they are listed. Infants require that the parent function primarily as the giver of life and the source of all things essential to life. For the toddler, the parent increasingly serves as a guardian of well-being. Parents are responsible for creating a safe environment. On the heels of guarding erupts the function of governing, or guarding the child from his or her self. Parents are responsible for setting boundaries and establishing patterns of behavior intrinsic to healthy self-governance. Finally, for the older child and adolescent, the parent is needed as a guide, one who is willing to share out of their own experiences. Parents are responsible for setting the stage that invites the older child to approach the parent as someone with whom they can identify, the key being a willingness to be vulnerable. JDJ #162

30. My thoughts on the core parental functions (giving, guarding, governing, and guiding) were born out reflection on pastoral experience and were later extrapolated to describe the core functions of all human relationships. Many years ago I observed the differing approaches of parents to the discipline of their children in church (or lack thereof). One couple had their children only after years of trying; they were nurturers. They saw themselves as existing to provide for their children; discipline in public was not one of those provisions. Another couple seemed to see their role as that of protecting their children from the world. They wanted their children near them as much as possible, always in the sanctuary, never in the nursery. Another couple seemed driven to provide correction for their children. They were loving disciplinarians who believed that it was their responsibility to prepare their children for success in life. I believe Proverbs was their favorite book. All of these parents were good parents; their children have grown up to be wonderful human beings. Perhaps the perfect parent would integrate all of the models/functions, but perfection is not what children require or will receive. They need love, security, emotional boundaries and intentionality/purpose. JDJ #163

31. One great challenge in parenting is to not allow our inner wounds to surface as toxic influences on our children. We are all wounded and we carry those wounds inside our souls. We are sometimes conscious of how those wounds affect our lives but we can also be completely unaware of their influence, especially their effect on the way we relate to our children. Good parenting does not require that the wounds be healed; it requires that they be managed/controlled and if possible integrated into a healthy way of relating. The most critical factor is that we recognize, acknowledge, and confront our pain; that we not let it control us. A similar factor is the level of our motivation to use our pain and disappointments as resources for our children. We can learn from our hurts ways to better nurture, guard, govern and guide our children. It is critical that we not allow our personal issues to define our relationship with our children. Typically, this is best done without them even knowing about our issues, and they should only know if we are confident we are not allowing our pain to define us. In summation, through faith and determination, and with God’s help, our pains and disappointments can help us be better parents. JDJ #164

32. While marriage is the quintessential expression of knowing as we are known, all relationships must point toward our Christian destiny in which we will stand together face to face with our Savior. JDJ #169

33. Mr. Thurman, my Jr. High School English teacher, often stated “I will trust you until you prove to  me you cannot be trusted, and then I will never trust you again.” I was impressed with his adage, an adult trusted us. I did not want to lose that trust. For many years it seemed a good motto by which to live. But life is not so simple. Meaningful relationships require trust, vulnerability, disappointment, forgiveness, and renewal of trust. Intimacy requires a willingness to have our trusting heart wounded more than once. The simple truth is that people will disappoint us and if we resolve to never trust them again we doom ourselves to a life without intimacy. JDJ #171

34. Trust is a cornerstone of intimate relationships. It is not earned or purchased, accepted or rejected; it is bestowed by a desiring heart. We all hunger, and yet fear, for someone to be the guardian of our very life, someone to trust with our heart. This trust is a sacred gift that cannot be returned. Once placed in another, it remains tethered to the giver’s heart while locked in the receiver’s control. It can be cherished or betrayed, nourished or neglected, but it cannot be simply given back. Such trust placed in human beings is always destined to pain the bestower, for trust is formed more by the hopes and dreams of the giver than to the character of the receiver. While some may deceive in order to gain trust, most are not so evil. The receiver may place his or her hopes and dreams above the giver’s, or they may simply be unable to supply what the giver thinks he or she needs. Some may hold the trust of another in contempt. Others may truly try with all that they are, but simply fail. No one can ever fully live up to our expectations which were after all malformed by our own brokenness. JDJ #172

35. The key for lasting intimacy is to learn how to forgive and to renew trust in the other when we feel he or she has failed us. One aid in this daunting task is to remember that we have ourselves failed to honor the trust vested in us by others; we could not, or would not, fulfill their dreams. Another aid is to learn to discern who is worthy of our trust, not based on our desires and expectations from them but rather on the promise of their character. We should judge a person as trust-worthy not on the grounds of our needs and hopes but rather on the grounds of his or her proven integrity and/or the promise of his or her character. Faith in the other may see clearly what he or she may become but that vision must never be blurred by our infatuations. JDJ #173

36. Long ago I concluded that at the heart of forgiveness is the desire to bless. Experience taught me that when offended the desire to bless often has to be preceded by a will to bless. I chose to bless those who abused me. In that I found great peace and contentment, not to mention some occasional self-righteousness. However, there is a difference between a will to bless because it is the Christian thing to do and a desire to bless that flows from love. The former focuses on the forgiver and his or her character. The latter focuses on the person being forgiven and their worth as a fellow human being. My earlier thoughts failed to properly connect forgiveness and justice. I thought that forgiveness did not exempt the offender from justice. While I did not express it this way, my underlying assumption was that if I forgave and let go of a demand for justice, if I chose to bless, God would in due season exact appropriate justice on the culprit. I was in essence defining forgiveness as washing my hands of the offence. I now understand that true forgiveness requires the opposite. I must not distance myself from transgressions against me; I must own them as my own. True forgiveness compels me to pray for my enemy with a sincere desire that he or she be blessed and that justice be covered with mercy. Justice must be supplanted with desire for reconciliation, even when reconciliation seems impossible. Since reconciliation requires movement by both parties it is the desire for reconciliation and not the state that is critical. JDJ # 461

37. Just a Thought: People get hurt. Promises are made and broken. The most sacred of vows are discarded for pleasure, greed, personal fulfillment, or just plain lust. More often than not the victim is then further victimized by implied failures and presumed responsibility for contributing to the transgression. They are then left unto themselves to fix their pain, “just get over it.” Jesus taught the necessity of forgiveness, reconciliation and restitution. In my experience, there is within the church a simplistic set of expectations in these matters; the offender is to ask for forgiveness and the offended is to instantly forget it ever happened. Consequently we bury our pain and avoid the hard work of true reconciliation. When the offence is clear the offender must accept responsibility for much more than a mere confession of his or her sin. Transgressors must understand (1) they are responsible for "binding-up" the wounds of the person they have injured – they are not the healers but they must do what is needed for healing to take place, (2) no matter how great their desire for a beautiful future, they must recognize that they cannot fix the future by ignoring/burying the past, (3) trust cannot survive in an atmosphere of half-truths and secrecy regardless of the motive for the secrets, (4) trust is essential for intimacy and intimacy is a relationship of mutual transparency, (5) in covenant relationships, truth is a gift that makes intimacy possible and a debt that must be paid to keep intimacy real. JDJ # 488

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