the key to maintaining lasting relationships

If I’m honest, I don’t feel qualified to discuss relationships with you. If I’m extra honest, it’s because I really suck at maintaining healthy relationships with anyone, whether it be family, friends, or significant others. I’m introverted, independent, and have a nasty habit of isolating myself from anyone and everyone just on a whim. Wounds from the past still bite, and I tend to let the lies push me away from those I love most.

I keep my heart behind a brick wall that not even Grond can take down (that joke’s for you, LOTR fans) because I’m afraid of getting hurt again. I keep people at arm’s length because I don’t want to step out of my comfort zone. I keep my feelings to myself, my thoughts under lock and key, and my words reigned in nice and neat. My insecurities are on the throne, and I tend to surrender to them instead of to Truth.

Why do I tell you this? Because I know you struggle with it, too.

Nobody’s perfect, and I will be the first to stand on my little podium and tell you that I certainly am not perfect, BUT that doesn’t mean I can’t try to be. It doesn’t mean I have to give up and call it quits on relationships. The fact that I'm a little rough around the edges does not mean that I’m going to give in to the lies and the obstacles, because I’m just a tad too stubborn to let something so superficial beat me.

Because if I’m really honest? I crave those real, authentic, godly relationships more than I crave cookie dough ice cream (which is saying something). I have this innate desire for community, a deep longing for someone I can count on. And I bet if you’re honest, you do, too.

It’s there in everyone, because God placed it there in each of our hearts. He placed a need for relationships in us, and what He does is on purpose. We have the ability to have those relationships that we so crave. We can maintain lasting relationships, but first we have to purify our tainted way of going about relationships. We have to let go of the fear and embrace love. We have to let Love change us.

Because, if we’re all honest, the problem really isn’t our family, friends, or significant others (as much as we’d like to blame it on them). The problem is us.

I’m still learning, and I doubt I will ever stop learning, but these tips are what I’ve picked up along the way. I hope you find them helpful enough to stick them in your Relationship Toolbox, as well.

When you’re afraid, choose to love.

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18 NIV)

Even when it’s really scary and you want to bury your head in a hole like a chicken (do chickens do that?), the truth is that the more you love, the more the fear will leave. If you sow love, you reap love, even if it’s not immediately from the other person. Don’t be afraid of the other person not loving you back, because God sees your love, and He will send so much love back to you. Love makes His heart happy, and when you love, He uses that in wonderful ways that you may never even see. Loving people changes you, it changes them, and it allows God to reign. To me, that’s reason enough to put my heart on my sleeve, tell the guards around it to take a hike, and let people in. Even when it’s scary and it goes against everything that I’ve “learned” in my life. God wants me to unlearn the ways of the world and choose love, choose Him.

Be the red carpet.

"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:1-7 ESV)

Let them walk on you and your plans (with wisdom and boundaries, though!) when they need to be built up. Be the steadiness they need to rise up to victory. Drop everything, drive 400 miles, and give them a hug. Wipe their tears as you wipe your schedule for the day. When she needs a friend, be one. When they need a sister, be one in Christ. When he needs a wife, be the gift to him that you were made to be. Even if it costs you. That’s love and servanthood, and those two together are a force to be reckoned with. They’ll see your love and will, in turn, experience God’s love. Nothing is greater than that, and nothing will give you more fulfillment in life than loving and serving for the cause of Christ.

When you want to give up, give more.

"So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9 NLT)

Relationships are hard work, and sometimes it’s tempting to call it quits on them. Your sister just did something stupid, you’re really mad, and you want to just make her go away for a little while until you’ve had time to think. Your friend made a cutting remark, and it makes your jaw clinch every time you think about it. You don’t know how you’re going to forgive her this time, and the thought of bailing sounds pretty good. Your boyfriend completely wrecked your heart, and now you’re a sniveling mess on the bathroom floor. Breaking up is in the cards no matter how much you love him and know that this is the guy God has for you.

It hurts, I know. And you don’t want to hurt. You just want the pain to go away and for life to continue.

Can I burst your bubble for a hot sec? Hurting is good, because it means that you’re growing. And running from the pain is just going to make it harder to deal with when it finally knocks you to the ground with the force of a Dementor’s kiss (that analogy’s for you, HP fans).

What am I telling you? Run to the pain, go through it instead of around it, and keep loving. Love hurts, but it’s worth it in the end. Stick your heels in the ground, tell the the devil that he can bite your big fat left toe, and keep giving to others more than you ever thought you could give. When you do that, that’s when you know that you’re relying on God’s strength instead of your own, and that is worth giving everything for.

When you want to pull out, push in.

"Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.” (James 5:16 MSG)

Being real and vulnerable is terrifying. I don’t want people to see my mess or my mistakes or my imperfectness. I’d like to keep pretending that I have my crap together, so when it comes down to it and I have a choice between honoring God and admitting that I need help or relying on myself and keeping a wall around my heart, I hesitate. My gut tells me to retreat, but the Spirit tells me to dig deep. The world tells me to pull out, but God tells me to push in, to lay my burdens out for all to see, to place my heart in another’s hands. As hard as it is to admit, the world is wrong. My pride may be wounded, my heart may be stung, but the reality is that healing comes when I allow others to treat my wounds instead of growling at them from my hiding place. Don’t flee from the pain; stand up and allow your family, your friend, or your significant other to fight for you. That’s the only way you’ll ever be free.

Recognize that sinners sin.

"Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32 NLT)

Robert Morris, lead pastor of Gateway Church, said this in a sermon and it’s stuck with me. Hunters hunt, painters paint, and sinners sin. We’re all sinners, and sinners sin, so it shouldn’t be a surprise when someone close to you makes a mistake. And you shouldn’t shame yourself when you make a mistake, either. Your family, your friends, and your boyfriend/husband will mess up, and they will hurt you. It’s going to happen, and there’s no way around it. Flip the coin, and there will be times when you hurt your family, your friends, and your boyfriend/husband. Accept it, and choose grace instead of shame and anger. When you mess up, ask for forgiveness from that person and from God, then walk away knowing that Jesus already took care of it. When you’re struggling with the ramifications of someone else’s mistake, tell God about it, tell them about it, and choose to forgive. Look at everyone through the lens of grace, and the hurts will hurt a little less.

Use your ears twice as much as your mouth.

"Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” (James 1:19 NLT)

Okay, the kindergarten teachers are right. You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Before you get snippy, stop and think about why they said what they said or did what they did. What is he struggling with? What’s going on in her heart? Before you try to prove that you know all, take a step back and think about their words and their actions, pray about it, then strike up a conversation about it. Don’t get on their case right from the get-go. Listen first. Listen to what they are saying and what they’re not saying. It will save you some time and some hurt.

Don’t be the Debby-Downer.

"Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 MSG)

This may hit you in the face like a brick (at least, it did to me), but nobody wants a friend, a family member, or a girlfriend/wife who is always negative and complaining. There’s enough of that in the world, and as followers of Jesus, it is our job to be a light, not another addition to the darkness. Think on the bright side, speak with gratitude, and always act in such a way that shows people the joy that is in Christ Jesus. It will make people want to be around you, will make them respect you, and it will make them listen to you because, no matter how much crap hits the fan, they will see your smile and it will make them want to know how the heck you’re still laughing. Positivity is a road leading to Christ that others will follow you down.

Be intentional.

"Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” (Hebrews 10:24 NLT)

You want a better, closer, godly relationship with them? Tell them. You want their trust and to be able to help them and be there for them? Tell them. Ask them how you can help and what you can be praying for. You want to know what’s on their heart? Ask them, and if they don’t give a straight answer, push in (they’re pulling out). Pray for them and with them. Be honest, be real, be encouraging. Study the Word together, serve together, laugh together. Call them and blow their phone up with a whole bunch of Doctor Who gifs (er, maybe that’s just me). Check on them, send them silly jokes and book recs. If you need a friend or someone’s hand to hold, humble yourself and ask. Make your intentions clear. You don't have to be perfect at it, but you do have to start.

I like the way Jordan Lee Dooley put it: "Friending is like loving, rarely easy but always worth it, because it requires much but also returns much."

Chase after Christ, and He'll provide someone to chase after Him with you. Chase after Christ, make your desires His desires, and He will bless you immensely. That's a promise, and that's really all there is to it. (Psalm 37:4)

In the end, it's all about Christ. It has always been about Christ. He is the one our hearts long for...more than the relationships that we crave. Our hearts thirst for Him. If you're lonely, recognize that feeling as a hunger pain for more of Christ, and go get fed. Dig into the Word, worship, cast your burdens on Him and let Him care for you (1 Peter 5:7).

The harsh reality is that if you don't have Christ, there is no way that you could ever have a healthy, soul-fulfilling relationship with anyone, much less to maintain one. If you're not so sure that you really have a relationship with Christ, I invite you to check out this page. If you do have a relationship with Christ, maybe you need to work on growing that one.

I'm still learning, still hurting and trying, and I write this to myself just as much as I write it to you. Relationships are vital in our walk with Christ. I want to make the most of mine, and I want you to make the most of yours, too.

Which is why I wrote an ebook called "5 Days To Being A Better Friend". For 5 days, you get a scripture reading, devotional, prayer, and challenge to help you truly understand what being a friend means and to help you live it out. You'll learn what may be holding you back in relationships, why you need to get past the fear and a way to do it, and what true, godly friendship really looks like. It's all in a bite-size package, and each day will take you less than 5 minutes to complete. If you're thirsting for a friend, trying to figure out what being a friend means, or need some help in the friend department, I invite you to grab it. It's totally free, and you can either grab it in our Resource Library or sign up for it below.

I'm praying blessings over you, sweet friend.