How To Intentionally Grow Healthy Relationships

by | Jan 13, 2022

I love gardening. I love helping bring something to life, nurturing it, and watching it flourish.

I am not particularly great at gardening though. Any improvement I’ve had has come through the school of hard knocks: a plant I put in the wrong soil, a plant placed in the wrong amount of sunlight, or not giving a plant the right amount of water. (My default is always that more must be better. It isn’t.)

Relationships are like plants, aren’t they? They are fragile. They are challenging.

Relationships require the right people connecting at the right season of life under the right circumstances.

We work hard to create friendships, and even when we form strong friendships, they require effort  to maintain. It’s easy to lose friendships that don’t need to be lost. 

In the past year I had a friend who stopped responding to my emails and texts. I felt hurt and frustrated. I racked my brain for something I might have done to offend them. I genuinely couldn’t think of anything. Why would they ghost me? 

Have you ever had something similar happen to you? Why did they stop calling? Why don’t they want to hang out any longer?

We feel pain when we are rejected. How can we move past that pain? I would suggest that our strongest ally is empathy. If we consider the times we have spurned others, we might understand why they rejected us.

Have you ever been on the “giving” side of rejection?

There is a story that is so painful to me, that I hesitate even to write it. In our first year of seminary a friend asked my wife and I to be their child’s godparents. It was their final year of seminary. We were honored to be asked and quickly said yes.

When that year concluded, they moved a thousand miles away and we did not keep in touch. The little boy’s first birthday passed and we forgot to reach out to him. Embarrassed, I told myself I would make it up. But time continued to pass and not only was every birthday forgotten, our communication soon came to a complete standstill.

Why did I neglect my responsibility as a godfather? It was not because of anything our friends had done. They weren’t rude; they didn’t say anything that was hurtful. We simply got busy. But it wasn’t just that we got busy–

it was that we got busy and that I was ashamed.

I was embarrassed at my failure. That shame, compounded by busyness, led to my failure as a friend.

As I reflected on the friend who ghosted me this past year, my mind created many stories. I don’t fully know the reason and I probably never will. But I do know that I was privy to some sensitive things they shared. That uncomfortable vulnerability coupled with the busyness of life likely compounded their shame and led to the ghosting.

There are a few takeaways from these experiences that speak to being intentional in our relationships:

1. Let’s not take friendships for granted. Friendships are challenging to form and delicate to maintain. 

2. Let’s be empathetic with one another. When we are hurt, it’s so easy to create stories in our minds that misunderstand the motives of those who have disappointed us. Let’s push past the human impulse to cast others’ failures in the most negative light. Let’s assume the best and consider what untold challenges they might be walking through. Pausing and praying for that friend who has rejected you can shift your heart toward them. I know when I pray for my friend who rejected me, my heart moves past hurt and to empathy for them.

3. Finally, let’s not underestimate the corrosive impact of shame in our relationships. There are few shifts more dangerous in our hearts than the shift from feelings of guilt of what we have done (or left undone) to feelings of shame about who we believe we are. The voice of guilt tells us that what we have done is wrong. The voice of shame tells us that we are wrong. Shame becomes our identity.

Shame tells us that we are not enough and we will never be enough. Shame tells us that we are unlovable and worthless. It shuts us down emotionally and spiritually. The voice of shame tells us our friend who didn’t respond to our text doesn’t think we are worth the time.

When we allow shame to attach messages to action (and inaction) in our relationships, we will hear a chorus of self-hatred in our lives, which can cause us to lash out or flee.

When we hear God’s voice, we can lean in with vulnerability. 

The weed in the garden of our relationships that chokes out the flower of love is shame. Empathy is the soil those relationships will thrive in. In his mercy, Christ can pull the weed of shame and fertilize the soil with empathy that comes from Him.

Resolve not only your guilt, but your shame, before Christ. He takes away both at the cross: forgiving us for what we have done and transforming who we are. In his final hours Jesus was ghosted by his friends and even forsaken by his Father. And yet, he loved them.

He knows your shame. He knows your hurts. And loves you to the end.  

Speak forgiveness quickly and don’t miss out on opportunities to remind those close to you of who they are in Christ. Let’s do all we can to walk through coming to terms with our own shame and be gentle with others as they deal with their shame. 

It is only when we see others as Christ sees them and experience the cleansing work of Christ for our shame that we can experience emotionally and spiritually healthy relationships that God intends for us.

Reclaiming Healthy Relationships Together,

John Beeson, Co-Lead Pastor at New Life Bible Fellowship

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