Relationships. We all have them. Whether we invite them in or not, they are woven across every inch of the quilt that is our lives. There are good ones, and there are bad ones. There are some that seem to barely exist. There are some that leave us scratching our heads. They have a knack for influencing our decision-making. We find ourselves thinking about them before saying “yes” or “no” to new and old experiences. Relationships are everywhere and it’s important for us to learn how to navigate these relationships healthily, lest we fall into a Batman-like isolation where our only friends are the guy we pay to stick around and some furry flying rodents.
I learned the most about how I tended to operate in relationships during my time in college. My time on the soccer field, in the classroom, and pledging my fraternity (Phi Mu Alpha) taught me which relationships were healthy and which were quite the opposite. In one of our many late night discussions, my fraternity brothers and I spoke of the influence of relationships. It was amazing to hear from people with so many different backgrounds (Jewish, African-American, Latino, White, Agnostic, Atheist, Christian, etc.). We talked about who we choose to connect with and how influential that connection is on each of us as an ever-growing person. One young man looked at us all over the fire pit we were sitting around and remarked on how we “adopt” characteristics of the people we spend time with. In other words, the people we choose to have intimate relationships add swatches to our personality quilt, good or bad.
It reminded me of the talks my parents and youth leaders harped over and over again every Sunday at youth group. However, it was never really real for me until that chilly, fireside chat. I looked at these gentlemen who decided to dedicate their time and efforts for the betterment of one another. I thought, “This is what my parents and leaders always meant.” Then I began consciously choosing to fraternize with people who tried to have healthy relationships. Those were the people I wanted to emulate. They were the ones I wanted to grant some influence in my life.
1 John 4:7-21 reminds us of the type of love we ought to emulate. The author calls forth the distinction between perfect and imperfect love. The perfect love comes solely from God. It is true, strong, loyal, honest, and authentic. The imperfect love comes from people. It is hindered by insecurities, unhealthy habits, unforgiveness, unresolved resentment, and the list goes on. It has flaws woven throughout because people genuinely struggle to emulate the perfect love from God. The author of 1 John gently, but firmly, calls out our inabilities to overcome these hindrances by describing a love to which we ought to aspire. It’s as if he were measuring our standard against God’s standard. God’s perfect love sheds light on our own versions of love, revealing the imperfections. Though our relationships are prone to unhealthiness, but there is something we can do about it. We can emulate the kind of love God has shown us, time and again.
One particular part of unhealthy relationships is an inability to seek reconciliation and resolution over power-hoarding and pride. God, in contrast to our judge-and-jury-centered tendencies, acted in ways that sought resolution and reconciliation with a distant humanity. Instead of condemning the offender (humanity), God sent Jesus to the world in an act of love seeking the purpose of reconciliation. It wasn’t because God wanted to point out our flaws that Jesus, then the Spirit were sent to us. No. It was because God wanted to re-create the connection between the Divine and humanity, even if it was going to be painful and difficult. God wasn’t averse to conflict! God embraced it with dialogue and an attitude bent on forgiveness.
This perfect love of God through Christ is the ultimate standard for which we strive. It gives a tangible example of seeking reconciliation and restoration within a relationship diminished by conflict. Let us remember that God loves each of us enough to have hard conversations and deal with conflict that affects our relationships. Then, let us do the same with those around us. It may help to take a look around and see who is already handling relationships healthily and who isn’t, then learn from them.