Spiritual Growth

Made For Relationship

Millie Welsh

We were made for relationship.

At the beginning of time, God said it was not good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18). So He gave us relationship.

Much of what we’re to gain, learn and experience from healthy relationships is a reflection of the kind of connection God wants to have with us. He shows us glimpses of himself through some of the people He puts in our lives. 

Not only that, but you and I can also be a tangible expression of God’s love for people through how we interact with, connect with and care for them through our relationships. What a cool — even overwhelming — reality!

Before we do a deep dive into the topic, it’s only fair that I let you know that I’m an “expert” in relationships. 

I’m the middle child of five girls. I played several team sports throughout high school and attended a small Christian college where, literally, everyone knew my name. I have been in 23 weddings, which should get me some kind of award, and as I write this, I have 1,174 “friends” on Facebook. But I digress.

BFF: Best Friend Forever 

What people used to jokingly sign in school yearbooks has now become a common cultural label: best friends forever.

In reality, we usually have more than one “best” friend, so the whole thing doesn’t really make sense. But humor me: Try to think of the first best friend you ever had. Do you remember what that friendship was based on?

My first best friend was Frieda Star. I’m not kidding, that was her name. 

What made Frieda my BF? We lived on the same block and were the same age. That’s it: the everlasting bond of location and age proximity. 

But what makes for a truly long-lasting “best” friendship? I think it’s a mix of shared interests, shared values, similar senses of humor, commitment, loyalty and, if you’re really fortunate, kindred spirits (someone you just click with). 

Why is it that, even from a young age, we yearn to belong, to relate with someone, to be in the “in” crowd, to be known, to have a best friend (or a few)?


The Genesis of Relationship

If we want to see how this whole relationship thing started, we need to go all the way back to the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, Genesis 1:

Then God said, “Let Us make mankind in Our image, in Our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them. (Genesis 1:26-27, New International Version)

Now, if we fast-forward a little bit to Genesis 2, God tells us it wasn’t good for man to be alone, so He made him a helper. 

From page 1, the Bible tells us that we were created to enjoy a relationship with God (Genesis 1) and relationships with each other (Genesis 2).

Sadly, it didn’t take long for these relationships to get messed up. 

Just a few chapters later, Adam and Eve shared a piece of the only fruit in the garden God asked them not to eat, and it’s all been downhill from there. Ever since then, we’ve been trying to get back to the perfect, untainted, completely fulfilling relationship with God and healthy relationships with each other. But we are often hindered by the lingering effects of the choice Adam and Eve made, as well as by the choices we all make today: namely, the stubborn selfishness (or self-will) known as sin.

This is what makes Christianity unique — the God we worship wants a personal relationship with us! Christianity isn’t about a bunch of rules, it’s about a relationship with our Creator and with each other. And only Jesus can enable this to happen, redeeming us and restoring what God intended.


 

Part 1: The Big Picture

Several years ago, while working with a group of college-aged girls, I discovered that vulnerability cannot be assumed in friendships.

Here’s what happened: I would meet with each girl on a regular basis, and each would talk about her struggles, successes, personal life — whatever. Usually, they openly shared their lives with me, and I would guide them through a biblical perspective on how to pursue God and grow through whatever they shared.

However, one night, when all these ladies were together during our Bible study and I asked the group to go around and share their response, they wouldn’t open up.  

I was dumbfounded. Each of them had shared such personal things with me earlier that week that would have been totally relatable in the group, but they just wouldn’t go there.

That night, or rather early the next morning, I woke up really bothered by the lack of openness and vulnerability in the group. I started journaling and processing my frustration, and the next thing I knew, I had come up with a model I called “The Relationship Cycle.” I have used it ever since.

My heart’s desire has been not only that this would help people go deeper in their relationships but that as a result of Christ-followers pursuing and loving each other as Jesus has asked us to, the world would see a difference when they see us. That as people observe our “supernatural” care for each other, they would want to be a part of that kind of relationship and ultimately the relationship that matters more than any other: the one with their Creator!

I’ve used the diagram above in a variety of situations: from one-on-one to a small group to a large group, like a church retreat or a student meeting on campus. I’ve found it to be really helpful to talk through the cycle with people during one-on-one situations and then ask them to point out where they are stuck and why. 

This has stimulated some life-changing conversations for which I’ve been so grateful!


Made for Relationship: What Is True About Us?

That night, when the Lord helped me put all of this together, He reminded me of the passage that tells us we’re made in His image (Genesis 1:27). It occurred to me that if we really are made in His image, some things are true of us that I hadn’t thought of before.

We have the privilege of learning something very intimate about God in Jeremiah 9:24, where the Lord tells us that if a man is going to boast about anything, it shouldn’t be his wisdom, his strength or even his possessions. Rather, it should be his understanding and knowing God. A few chapters later, He says something extremely important: “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD” (Jeremiah 24:7, NIV).

So that night, in my groggy state of mind, a concept became crystal clear to me: Since we are made in God’s image and He values being known more than anything else, it stands to reason that it is very important to us as humans to also be known. 

Not only do we want to be known by God, but we have a high need to be known by others here on earth. There is something in us that makes us want to belong, to be known and to be understood. We are made for relationship, which is a gift from God. 

Let’s examine the Relationship Cycle and unwrap this gift.


Unpacking the Relationship Cycle

Superficiality

Every relationship starts off on a superficial or shallow level; you don’t really know her and she doesn’t really know you. You meet, you say hi and you move on — unless one of you takes it to the next level. 

Many of our daily interactions with people take place on this level. But if you don’t go to the next level in any relationship and you choose to stay superficial with all people, you will be a very isolated and lonely person. This is not what God intends; remember Genesis 2:18? It was not good then — and it’s not good now — for us to be alone!

Gathering Information

Gathering information is when you ask people questions in order to collect facts about them, like where they are from, what they do, where they went to school, their marital status and so on. Most of us have a lot of relationships at this level — that is, acquaintances.

As you learn more about someone and sense a connection, you are set up to progress to the next level. 

Vulnerability

The term vulnerability was originally used to describe being “able to be wounded/hurt.” 

When a city’s walls were strong and fortified, there was no fear of the enemy getting through. But when any part of the wall (their outward protection) became “vulnerable,” the city’s residents were likely to suffer harm.

In everyday relationship, vulnerability is the willingness to open yourself up to another person. 

At this stage, you aren’t just offering facts to another person, you are choosing to share how you feel about something or someone. Being vulnerable requires constant risk because you are putting something about yourself “out there” with no guarantee of how it will be received. 

It’s our responsibility as Christians to be vulnerable with each other and to pursue deep relationships in which we truly know each other. This is a choice we make, and the more we choose it, the more we know what it looks and feels like!

This level is where the flow of relationships splits into one of two outcomes: When you choose to be vulnerable — to open up, to let down your “protective walls,” to risk with someone — you will either feel accepted or rejected.

Rejection

What makes us feel rejected when we share something personal? We may get laughed at, criticized, ignored, shamed and so on. 

The natural response when we’ve been rejected is to ...

Shut Down

We don’t like this feeling of rejection, so we decide then and there that we will never go there again with that person (or people). If we choose this response over and over again, we will become ...

Impenetrable

We tend to build walls against people when they’ve hurt us. But if we do this too much and with too many people, guess what? We’ll stay ...

Superficial

When we stay superficial with others, we remain in a state of loneliness and isolation. This is not God’s will; He made us for relationship.

Sadly, people who decide (and it is a decision that people make over and over) to live like this tend to live a bitter, lonely, sad existence. And, if this continues for a long time, they will usually develop a hardened heart. 

Hebrews 3:13 states, “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (NIV). We need each other! 

One reason we need relationships is that we need encouragement from each other to keep us from being calloused by sin.

Acceptance

Acceptance is the other possible outcome of vulnerability. When we share something personal and it is received with attentive listening, sincere questions, good eye contact and shared emotion, we feel safe to offer more.

We took a relational risk and it’s now paying off by bringing us into closer relationship with another.

When we feel accepted, this causes us to offer more self-disclosure.

Self-Disclosure

When we share with more depth and meaning — our hopes, our fears, our desires — we reveal our true selves to others. Often during this process, we make statements like, “I feel ... I think ... I am ... ” And this leaves us feeling more known and understood. 

Known and Understood

Now we’re back to the seed, the underlying cause of this entire process! We are made in God’s image, and He speaks very specifically about the significance of knowing Him. So it stands to reason that we, as humans made in His image, also place a high value on being known. 

Agape Love

As we feel known and understood by another, we experience what the Bible calls agape love. This is a love with no strings attached. It’s a love that doesn’t say, “I love you if” but “I love you, period.” Agape is not based on anything we do or don’t do — it’s unconditional.

As we experience this kind of love, we set others up for other-disclosure. 

Other-Disclosure

This happens when others open up about themselves. 

Vulnerability is a two-way street. Others see how messed up and broken we are, so they feel freer and more able to risk sharing things about themselves. 

Vulnerability encourages vulnerability (2 Corinthians 6:11-13). And one of the results is a lack of judgment: “Here I am — the good, the bad and the ugly — and I am in no place to judge you for what’s going on in your life.” 

Accepted vulnerability means moving toward each other without the fear of one running the other way. This takes time and is a risk because not all people are safe or healthy or even know how to do this. But as we take the risk and our vulnerability is well-received, we experience trust and safety in a way that allows us to see a glimpse of God in the other person. I promise that’s a really cool thing, and it’s worth it. 


How We Do Relationships Matters

As others feel known and understood, they also experience agape love, which leads to more self-disclosure, thus creating a cycle of relationships that are deep, meaningful and supernatural. 

I envision this as two gears: One gear is the Body of Christ. As the body grows and experiences true unity, we influence the second gear, which is the world around us. Our relationships turn the gear when people who do not yet know Jesus see our unity/bonding/intimacy/forgiveness (John 17:20-23).

Because of our loving interaction with each other, we Christ-followers set ourselves up to be effective witnesses (Romans 15:5-6; Acts 2:42-47) to the love of Jesus. And because of our unity drawing others to Christ, God’s kingdom grows (John 13:34-35).

And ultimately, God put us here on this earth to know Him and to display, demonstrate, and declare the power of life-changing relationships with Him and each other. Healthy, Christ-focused relationships bring God glory.


What’s the Big Picture?

Notice how this Relationship Cycle begins on a personal, one-on-one level but leads to a much bigger picture. I just want to reiterate that life is not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about you and me pursuing a relationship that honors and reflects God in us and results in a magnetic and appealing way of life. All of this is not about relationships for the sake of relationships. Jesus Himself prayed this for us (John 17), and I, personally, long to be an answer to His prayer.

We are made for relationship — with each other, but ultimately with a God so personal that He sacrificed His only Son so that we could know Him.


 

Part 2: Relational Snapshot

Looking at the big picture of the Relationship Cycle hopefully motivates you to dive in and intentionally pursue deep friendship. 

A God-honoring, deep friendship does not just happen. Friendships of depth take work.

I am forever grateful for the treasured friendships God has put in my life. I don’t ever want to take those for granted, because it took time (and often trial and error) it took to build them. Yes, you read that right: build them. 

A God-honoring, deep friendship does not just happen. Friendships of depth take work.

It’s worth it, though — I promise! Friendships are invaluable.


The Truth About Friendship

No matter what phase of life you find yourself in, you will always need friendships. Even if you get married, you will still need good friends. Find me a healthy marriage and I’ll show you two people who each have good friends of their own.  

I have been blessed with a number of “best” friends over the course of my life. For a long time, I didn’t like to use the label “best,” but in my 30s, I gave in. I started calling my friend Shannon my best friend because God had crafted a truly special connection between us. 

Shannon and I both “get” each other. But the ironic part of our friendship is that we are polar opposites! She’s skinny, I’m not; she’s a thinker, I’m a talker; she’s a runner, I’m a sitter; she’s competitive, I just wanna have fun; she’s blond, I’m brunette; she’s deliberate, I’m drastic. And now, she has sex and I don’t — because she’s married and I’m single! 

We are so different, but we see God growing us and changing us as we continue to learn from each other in those differences. Proverbs 27:17 (NIV) says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” This verse has taken on significant meaning for us over the years.

Shannon and I love each other enough to speak into each other’s lives, even if what we have to say is hard to hear. A phrase we coined at the beginning of our friendship is “delighting in the differences!” We used to say it laughing and delighting in how different we are. And now, with more knowledge of the frustrations that are inherent in relational differences, we often say it through clenched teeth! But that’s what loving by faith looks like, isn’t it? That’s what agape love is about: “I love you period. In spite of the differences — and even in spite of the things about you that drive me crazy.”


Relational Pillars

Since God made us for a relationship with Him, I think it’s the coolest thing that He chooses to tangibly show us His love, care and concern through the people He puts in our lives. 

As I’ve experienced my friendships and observed many others, I have noticed some common foundations that contribute to building and supporting a successful friendship. We’ll call these “pillars”: They are strong, supportive and foundational. 

These are essential elements in the architecture of friendships, giving them solid support to withstand the challenges that come along. Of course, there are probably dozens of other factors that contribute to building a healthy friendship, but the following seem to be the most consistent and crucial.

Pillar No. 1: Communication

Depth makes all the difference in a good friendship. Let me explain using watersports as an illustration.

When you’re water-skiing, you’re flying along on the surface of the water and getting a fun, exciting experience. But you don’t have time to stop and enjoy the scenery. However, snorkeling is a whole different experience than water skiing. You look below the surface, and you see things you couldn’t see at all from above the water. You see fish and various sea creatures as you allow the current to take you where it goes.

Then there’s scuba diving. As you submerge dozens of feet, an entirely different world opens up. You can see fish and plants that are full of colors we rarely see above the surface. It’s an amazing experience, but one that takes a lot more effort than just floating along the surface.

Let’s compare these three activities with our communication experiences in friendships. Water-skiing is when you stay at a surface level with your friend. You have fun together and share laughs and relate together about things you do, but that’s as far as it goes. There’s nothing wrong with this level of communication. But honestly, you’ll long for more eventually. I know I will.

Then we have snorkeling: going a little deeper with your friend as you share things beyond just fun experiences. Now you’re exploring thoughts and feelings as you test the waters of vulnerability. You get to see things in your friendship you didn’t see when you just stayed on the surface, and a meaningful relationship begins to form.

With continued acceptance, trust and safety, this friendship can take a scuba diving adventure! This is when you really “go there,” to a depth that is truly meaningful and life-changing. You both trust each other with things you don’t tell just anyone. Vulnerability and intimacy become a shared experience, which allows you to bond in a way that leads to the sharpening and honing of your character and maturity. This can only happen with someone who loves you enough to tell you hard things, as well as life-giving things.

It’s in the scuba diving of communication that you see God love you through someone else. We need to take the risk of this communication level if we want to experience what God intends for our relationships. This is scary; becoming known by another isn’t always easy! It’s not all that fun to have your sin and yuck be exposed, but we put “weights” on to hold us down so we can experience that unconditional love that makes us grow and become more like Christ — the ultimate scuba instructor!

This kind of communication is very challenging to do through Facebook or texting! But that’s a topic for another time. Scuba-diving will usually occur in person, although there certainly are exceptions to this now that we can see each other over our phones and computers. Being able to deeply connect with a friend is crucial to experiencing a strong friendship; we need people in our lives we can “go deep” with and know it’s safe. This brings us to the next pillar.

Pillar No. 2: Vulnerability

I’d like to expound on this topic a little more. It’s important to see the difference between being transparent and being vulnerable. For whatever reason, our culture now places a high value on transparency. It has seemingly become cool to talk about our struggles. 

The airing of our dirty laundry is often mistaken for vulnerability. A window is transparent: We can see a tree outside, but guess what? We can’t fully experience the tree. We’re able to make several observations about it, but we can’t touch it, hear it, smell it or taste it.

Being vulnerable involves risk. When you are vulnerable with someone, you are allowing that person to experience you, to really know you. Being vulnerable is taking the risk to share something about yourself that is deeper than just how your day was! It’s more about something at your core that’s key to who you are or how you feel about something.

My friendship with Shannon went to the scuba diving level of intimacy when I sheepishly approached her and confessed a number of my struggles to her, knowing I needed to bring these sins “into the light” (1 John 1:7). 

I had no idea what Shannon would do with this confession, but she moved toward me in such a gracious, non-judgmental and accepting way, I knew our friendship was solid. That day, I took a risk that was met by empathy, unconditional love and acceptance. 

Over the years, this has been a two-way process. It never ceases to amaze me that when I experience this from Shannon or any friend, I’m getting the slightest glimpse of the unfathomable love and acceptance of God!

And here’s the cool thing — when you have a friend you can be vulnerable with, you are set up perfectly for the third pillar.

Pillar No. 3: Freedom

The third pillar is the freedom for you to be who you are and for your friend to be who she is rather than each of you being who you need each other to be.

For example, my best friend Shannon and I have very different temperaments. She is laid back, even-keeled and stable and I’m excitable, hyper and talkative. I am a verbal processor and she is an internal processor, which means I need to talk to figure things out and she needs to think (in silence) to figure things out. 

This combination is a recipe for disaster if we don’t give each other the freedom to be who we are! But I have learned that she’ll talk when she’s ready, and she has learned to pull ideas out of me (because when they’re stuck in my head, it’s dangerous!). I have to be patient while she thinks and she has to be patient while I babble! 

We are learning to be patient with each other, to trust and delight in each other, and as we do this, we give each other the freedom to be who we are. 

Pillar No. 4 Agape Love

One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” (Matthew 22:35-37, NIV)

The “love” Jesus describes in the above passage is what we talked about earlier: agape — unconditional love. Jesus told us to agape love the Lord with all our hearts, souls and minds. 

According to my NIV study Bible notes, agape love is “the commitment of devotion that is directed by the will and can be commanded as a duty!”1 Jesus knew that sometimes we weren’t going to feel like loving God or people and that sometimes we would have to choose, with our will, to do so.

Gary Chapman wrote about his concept of the five love languages, which has gained popularity over the years.2 People are discovering the specific ways in which they want to be loved and the ways friends and significant others need to be loved — which are often not the same at all! 

It’s critical to remember that loving others often means choosing to do so in ways that communicate love to them (speaking their language) regardless of what we need.

Let me just say, unconditional love is impossible without the power of the Holy Spirit. When you have a relationship with God, His Spirit lives in you, enabling you to love in a “supernatural” way. Without Him, in and of ourselves, we can’t love unconditionally. 

Often, we must choose to love the people in our lives by faith — based on who God is and what He says, not based on how we feel.


Relational Pitfalls

Hopefully, looking at the “pillars” of friendships is encouraging and helpful to you. When I was thinking of a concept that was the opposite of a pillar, I came up with a pitfall. Not only is it a clever use of alliteration, but when I think of the word pitfall, I envision an old movie where someone is being chased through a thick forest and suddenly, out of nowhere, they fall into a camouflaged pit and become captive to the chaser.

I firmly believe we are being chased by an enemy (Satan) who doesn’t want us to have God-honoring relationships (see the Relationship Cycle), so he sets up pitfalls — dangerous and all-too-common traps that can ruin friendships if we don’t recognize them before we fall into them!

Pitfall No. 1: Manipulation

In the same way that it seems many males have a sports gene, I think many females have a manipulation gene! It just seems like we are innately good at manipulation — especially guilt manipulation. Sadly, our first experience of this tends to come from our mothers. (Of course, not my experience. I mean, come on, she’s reading this!) You could say it’s hereditary: Sin was passed down to us in our DNA, and we’ll struggle with it until we get to see Jesus face to face!

Often manipulation is most noticeable in the tone we use. Maybe you’ve heard something like this: “Well, I guess I’ll just go by myself even though I am tired and could possibly crash on the way. But don’t worry about me — I’ll be okay.” It’s also possible to be manipulative without using words at all, the most common form being passive-aggressive nonverbal communication. For example, your roommate’s dirty dishes have piled up again, and you’re sick of it, but you don’t say anything. Instead, you just pile them all up on her bed.

We women are just naturals at saying things to get what we want. This is a very dangerous trait to have in a friendship — and you are the only one who can control it! First and foremost, you need to carefully watch your tone and choice of words. A good rule of thumb is simply to say what you mean and mean what you say; don’t force people to read between the lines in order to connive and exploit them into giving you what you want.

But when it comes to manipulation, don’t let others get away with it either. I have taught others a phrase I’ve learned to say to people in my life: “I don’t respond well to manipulation or guilt balls!” Some people are just so masterful at manipulation that it can feel like they are just throwing one “guilt ball” after another at you! You can emotionally put your hand up and refuse to be hit by them! People in my life soon realize that they won’t get far with me using that tactic, and hopefully it doesn’t stay a part of our relationship.

Many people have to unlearn this since it’s so entrenched in many of our relationships, usually starting with our experiences at home. One of the only ways to unlearn manipulation is to be involved in godly, healthy, loving relationships that reveal to you the unhealthy wiring you probably didn’t even know was there. This is another reason why it’s crucial to have friends in our lives who can speak the truth to us in love!

Pitfall No. 2: Expectations

I used to teach that expectations were always wrong and would get you in trouble in your friendships. Then I heard someone say, “Expectations are delayed resentment.” So I looked up the definition of expectation: “a confident belief or strong hope that a particular event will happen.” The synonyms for it are hope, anticipation, belief, prospect, probability. These all sound like nice words!

I don’t see any reason why it would be wrong to have hope, belief or anticipation in friendships. As a matter of fact, I think it’s impossible not to have them. It seems like there has to be a degree of expectation that is necessary for a good friendship. With that in mind, I obviously disagree with my former teaching that expectations are always wrong!

I think it’s more accurate to say that unrealistic or unspoken expectations will lead to resentment and disappointment. We tend to have unspoken expectations: “She should’ve just known that’s what I needed!” But having understood and agreed upon expectations will lead to healthy friendships. And this just reinforces the importance of the first pillar, communication. You have to talk these things out!

Pitfall No. 3: Jealousy

Jealousy means fear of being replaced. In friendships, this will stifle and suffocate a relationship quicker than anything. I was never a jealous person — until Shannon started dating the man who would be her husband, Marc! It was a strange new feeling for me as I experienced that definition first-hand: I feared Marc was replacing me.

During this tumultuous time, I came across a helpful article by Dawn Sundstrom that said this:

“No matter how silently jealousy creeps into the heart, left untreated it infects relationships and leaves behind broken hearts. ... Jealousy distorts your perspective, locking all your attention on another person’s blessing instead of your own.”3

She suggests doing the following to deal with jealousy that inevitably shows up in relationships: (1) Confess it as sin; (2) rejoice with the other person; (3) reject comparison; and (4) choose gratitude.

This was extremely beneficial to me in my acceptance of Marc into Shannon’s life. I had to confess my sin — that I was jealous or envious. I had to choose by faith to rejoice with her. I had to reject those feelings — not allow them to consume me. I had to choose by faith to be grateful for what God was providing for her and for me. The fact that our relationship has remained so solid over the last eight years of her marriage is a testament to our commitment to maintaining our friendship in spite of barriers like distance and marriage. I am so grateful for her devotion to me and that Marc values friendships in his wife’s life!

Pitfall No. 4: Gossip

Closely related to the manipulation gene is the gossip gene. We females tend to be really good at this very damaging activity!

I love a particular folk-etymology of the word “gossip.” It connects it with “to sip.” Politicians would send assistants to bars to sit and listen to general public conversations. The assistants had instructions to sip a beer and listen to opinions; they responded to the command to “go sip” which allegedly turned into “gossip.” Isn’t that hilarious? Nothing like adding some alcohol to bring some color to the story!

Interestingly, the last pillar is exactly the opposite of this last pitfall. You can’t agape love someone and choose to gossip about that person — they just don’t go together. Here’s a paraphrase from the “love chapter” of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “If you really love someone, you will be loyal to her no matter what the cost. You will always believe in her, think the best of her, and stand your ground in defending her” (1 Corinthians 13:7).

Am I believing (and saying) the best in everyone I talk about? Yikes! Are you? Imagine what your friendships would be like if instead of gossiping, you held your tongue. Or if, when you heard gossip sneak into a conversation, you said, “Stop! I don’t need to hear that — it has nothing to do with me.” Where’s the best place to start combating gossip? You!


The Greatest Commands

We were made for relationship. We thirst for intimacy with others — to know and to be known. Isn’t it amazing that the greatest commandment Jesus gives us isn’t an item on a to-do list that we can check off?

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39, NIV)

The fact that the two greatest commands God has given us are about love speaks volumes about the significance of relationships! He truly made us for relationship — first of all for a deep devotion to Him and secondly for a strong commitment to others. Friendships are an invaluable way God allows us to see even the tiniest glimpse of how He loves us! I hope you’ll keep building strong relationships with sturdy pillars and be on the watch for those crazy pitfalls that will endanger healthy friendships if you’re not intentional about avoiding them.

Everyone has a mental picture of friendship. I’m not sure what yours looks like. In our culture today, where acquiring a “friend” has been reduced to a mouse click, I fear our friendships could be drawn on an Etch-a-Sketch and erased with the slightest shake-up.

I hope that’s not true for you. I hope that you take to heart some of the things I’ve shared and that you allow the Lord to craft for you a beautiful and lasting work of art. By following a few godly principles, we get to be a part of what He has intended for us all along: deeply committed relationships of unconditional love that mirror His love for us.


Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion

Now that you’ve learned about how you can’t live the life God created you for without a relationship with Him and others, here are some questions for personal or group reflection:

Part 1: The Big Picture

  • Think of five of the closest relationships in your life right now. How do you feel you reflect God’s love in each of them?

  • Think of a time you’ve felt rejected. What did that feel like? What did you do about it? Is there anything you would do differently if you could have a do-over?

  • Read Hebrews 3:12-14. What observations can you make from these verses? How can you make this practical in your relationships?

  • Take a look at the flowchart for the Relationship Cycle. Focus on the left side and look up each of these verses, making observations in relation to the cycle:

    • Jeremiah 9:24; 24:7.

    • John 3:16; Matthew 22:37; John 17:20-23.

    • 2 Corinthians 6:11-13.

    • Romans 15:5-6.

    • John 13:34-35.

Part 2: Relational Snapshot

  • Pillar No. 1: Communication. How would you describe your closest friendships in comparison to the “relational water sports” example?

  • Pillar No. 2: Vulnerability. Why do you think it seems “cool” in our culture to be “transparent”? Describe an example of the difference between transparency and vulnerability.

  • Pillar No. 3: Freedom. How do you know when you feel “freedom” in a friendship? What would make you feel freedom with a friend?

  • Pillar No. 4: Agape Love. Agape love is defined as “the commitment of devotion that is directed by the will and can be commanded as a duty.” Based on that definition, how well are you doing at loving your friends?

  • Pitfall No. 1: Manipulation. Describe a way you’ve felt manipulated recently. How about a way that you have manipulated someone recently?

  • Pitfall No. 2: Expectations. How would you communicate with a friend who had unrealistic or unspoken expectations for you?

  • Pitfall No. 3: Jealousy. Respond to this statement by Dawn Sundstrom: “No matter how silently jealousy creeps into the heart, left untreated it infects relationships and leaves behind broken hearts. ... Jealousy distorts your perspective, locking all your attention on another person’s blessing instead of your own.” Where have you seen this play out in your life?

  • Pitfall No. 4: Gossip. As this is one of the easiest pitfalls to succumb to, here are a few simple guidelines to steer you away from falling into the dark hole of gossip. Ask yourself:

    • What is my motive in sharing this? Does this involve me?

    • Is it true?

    • Is it nice?

    • Is it necessary? Will it help?

    • Can I be a part of the solution?

For more resources on relationships check out our “Life and Relationships” section or read “Drawing Boundaries in Our Relationships”
 



Endnotes

1. “NIV Study Bible” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), p. 1472.

2. Gary Chapman, “The Five Love Languages” (Chicago: Moody, 2010).

3. Dawn Sundstrom, “Jealousy’s Silent Effect on Our Lives,” WorldWide Challenge, July/August 2002.

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