We have finished up this year's rendition of our Relationships series. As a quick recap here they are:
1. The Forgiveness Principle
I will choose to walk in forgiveness and not easily take offense against me.
“I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.” Acts 24:16
Thoughts: Can you just forgive and move on? Are you a forgiving person? Are you committed to choose forgiveness first?
2. The First Word Principle
You will be the first person to hear about any problem I have with you.
“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend.” Matthew 18:15
Thoughts: Have you spoken to anyone else about this offense? Will you commit to go first to the person who has hurt or offended you?
3. The Faithfulness Principle
Faithfulness to our relationship outweighs the importance of any offense between us. I will not allow any problem to override the principles by which we live.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Proverbs 27:6
Thoughts: Is this problem or your concern a threat to our relationship? Will you value the relationship above the non-essentials in order to walk together in unity?
4. The Friendship Principle
It is my responsibility to approach you if I need your help. I will not expect you to interpret my actions or recognize my heart’s condition.
“Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.” Proverbs 18:24
Thoughts: Are you offended that I did not recognize you were troubled? Are you willing to assume the responsibility of letting others know if or when you need help?
5. The Four-Day Principle
I will not allow any problem I have with you to go unresolved for more than four days.
“You can’t whitewash your sins and get by with it; you find mercy by admitting and leaving them.” Proverbs 28:13
Thoughts: How long have you been troubled about this problem? Are you willing to confront in a gentle and peaceable way before the end of four days?
6. The Final Word Principle
I will believe and act upon the last words we spoke concerning our relationship.
“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on ...the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” Philippians 4:8
Thoughts: Did you forget or disregard what we last spoke to one another concerning our relationship? Are you willing to believe what was last spoken to you?
7. The Flexibility Principle
I will search out options with you in making possible adjustments in how we relate to one another.
“Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord...” Isaiah 1:18
"Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name." Malachi 3:16
Thoughts: Are there adjustments in our relationship that need to be made because of changes in our personal lives or circumstances? Are you a flexible person?
8. The Frustration Principle
When all efforts to apply these principles have failed to the point of frustration, we will commit ourselves to appeal to a person with higher authority for the sake of the relationship.
“Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.”
Thoughts: Have you followed through with all the other principles? Do you have a leader or a person higher authority in your life you can appeal to if needed? Are you committed to make such an appeal?
In our modern day, we have many tools at our disposal for building relationships. We have books, podcasts, Scriptural studies, non-profits dedicated to relationship issues, and counselors, to name a few. And let's not for get the personality typing tests like Briggs Myers, DISC, Enneagram and other self-discovery tools like the Spiritual Gift Quest, Strength Finder or The Five Love Languages. All of these are beneficial in better understanding ourselves and each other.
One thing that is crystal clear about all these relationship instruments is that they highlight the fact that we are all unique. We do have similarities but we are each of us our own expression of those similarities. And we have many differences. All of the tools help us better fill in relational gaps caused by our individuality. They expose us to the fact that people think differently, view things differently and experience differently than ourselves.
My cross-cultural marriage to Claudia (my Brazilian best friend) brings to the forefront differences between us. I appreciate our situation. We have had to intentionally make adjustments due to cultural differences. This intentionality enhanced our communication skills and strengthened our relationship. Too often in relationships we assume others think like us, see like us, speak like us, understand like us, feel like us, etc. This assumption widens relational gaps and increases frustration. It can cause many things to get lost in translation (or not translated at all).
When we assume others intentions, desires and methods are the same as ours we set ourselves up for disappointment and unnecessary relational friction. Misplaced expectations serve only to deplete the resources we use to keep relationships healthy. Solomon says it this way: "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12)."
Tools like the Relationships Series serve as translators. When you go to a foreign cultural you often need a translator to help you communicate. Imagine ordering grilled chicken but getting chicken feet stew because you assumed you knew what you were ordering. If you were really hungry, you would be highly disappointed. When we apply relational tools to our interactions with others we are much more likely to bridge gaps (a.k.a. tree of life) and avoid the chicken foot stew(a.k.a sick heart).
When things are translated correctly in our relationships our expectations will not be all out of whack. Let me use this last illustration to get to the question I started with about compassion. We do not expect a poised and well-articulated response from a toddler when asking them to recount how their fishing trip with grandpa went. We actually patiently listen and ask clarifying questions to better understand their experience. We have compassion with toddlers and extend to them large amounts of grace because they are children. They are not expected to understand or know what we understand and know.
Often in relationships we assume too much and expect wrong outcomes. We lack compassion towards our differences. In fact when things get lost in translation our responses are contrary to compassion. We respond with impatience, anger, hard-heartedness or skepticism. Let's not be that way in our relationships! Let's be empathetic, compassionate, tender-hearted, kind, patience and full of all other fruit related to Jesus-centered living and sacrificial love.
Just like Claudia and I had to be intentional about bridging the gap between our cultural differences. We should use tools like the Relationship Principles to give us the compassion we need to bridge gaps in between ourselves and those around us. After all, what is more important than relationships?