Over the last year or so I’ve been realising how everything in life is related to our relationships, whether we realise it or not. All of our interactions are either constructive or destructive for our relating. That’s why life is so difficult. I thought of saying during a sermon once that life is easy until you have to relate to someone!
It is for this reason that doing our best to get our relationships to work is the most important thing we can do with our lives. Now, getting our relationships to work doesn’t necessarily mean they will be easier, but it does mean we will be more at peace. There is not much we can control in our relationships, but we can control the way we come across, with the help of God’s Spirit within us and with the help of others who love us enough to speak lovingly into our lives.
What we can’t control is how others relate to us. We can try to manipulate our relationships to get people to be nice to us or like us, but when we do this we will always know, deep down, a sense of distance from those people. That distance will be because we are actually trying to use them to make ourselves feel better. Whenever we are doing this we are not loving, and whenever we are not loving, we are not living as God intended and therefore not joyful.
Probably no one has brought this across better in my thinking than Larry Crabb, the Director of New Way Ministries. Crabb has written numerous books over the years, but the two that have impacted me the most are Understanding People, and Inside Out. The first was given to me by a friend in 1987. When he gave it to me I remember feeling offended because it came across like he was giving it to me because I didn’t understand people. So it was like, “here, maybe this will help.” I felt like my friend thought I had no clue about relating to people when my greatest desire in life was to be Christlike and my friends were not serious enough about it. I thought he was being arrogant. I may or may not have been right.
Finding Inside Out was a different story. There are very very few times in my life where I can say with confidence that I thought God specifically led me to something. In fact, as I write, I cannot remember any other occasion apart from when I found this book in Keswick Christian bookstore in the centre of Melbourne in late 1988. Flicking through it in the bookstore that day, I experienced the sense that this book was written just for me and that the only way I could describe how I found it was and is that God led me to it.
Over the years I have read both books a number of times, mainly going back to certain sections rather than re-reading from cover to cover. Inside Out in particular spoke directly to everything I was going through in the way I was relating and the way I wanted to relate at the time, and it still does today. One of my greatest desires in life has been to find a group of people to relate to, be committed to and grow with in the way that this book suggests. I am convinced it can bring about the genuine change every human being desires in their heart of hearts. For many years now I have been part of something approaching a group like that and it has been life-changing.
Since Crabb wrote Inside Out, many Christians have benefited from putting its principles into practice. They have found genuine change and life in Christ – the abundant life that Jesus promises.
The more we grow in relating as Christ does, the more fully human we become. It was St Irenaeus who said that the glory of God is a human being fully alive. The more alive we become, the like Christ we become. The Jesus we see in the Gospels is the most fully human person who has ever lived. He lived the perfect human life. He was the embodiment of God’s design for humanity, and we give glory to God and know the most intimate joy with the God of love the more like Christ we become.
When we look at the way Jesus relates to everyone, it is always with love. Sometimes it is gentle love and sometimes it is extremely tough love. But it is always infinite love, always done with the greater good of the other in mind. It is done with what Tim Keller calls the freedom of self-forgetfulness.
This way of relating is also what changes the world. It is not just something for our inner lives with no other effect than giving us the joy of living. It’s inevitable effect is that gives itself away for others. That is the very nature of love. It cannot be kept unless it is given away. “It leaves you baby if you don’t care for it.”
Relationship changes everything, for good or for ill. If it changes things for ill then it is not really relationship; it is the opposite: the lessening of humanity. Following is how one person describes how relationship changes the world:
“If we, as followers of Christ, are to fulfill His established law then we ought to carry each other’s burdens. If I were to help an elderly woman carry her groceries from her car into her home, the first thing I would need to do is get close to her. If I truly wanted to help her I would have to go to her. I wouldn’t merely stand on her lawn and instruct her from afar on the proper technique for lifting her heavy bags from the vehicle, or chastise her for trying to carry too much or too little, and then stand by hoping she fared well enough to make it safely into her home. No! I would rush to her side, make sure she was sturdy and stable, then pick up and carry groceries on her behalf. Why? Because I am strong, capable, and have been given the ability to do so.”