By Jenny Fulton
Relationships are hard. Sometimes they seem downright impossible.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of great, wonderful relationships, but even these require time and effort to get to that place of being loving, mutually beneficial connections. And then, after all that work and intentionality, there are still rough patches to be worked through.
So why exert all that energy?
I know plenty of people who don’t. I know Christians who have told me they’re not interested in investing in relationships with other people and that it’s good enough for them to invest their time and attention in studying God’s Word and developing their spiritual connection with Him.
That sounds good, right? Just focus on your walk with God and don’t worry about any other relationship. Let God deal with everyone else.
Another version of this idea might read something like this: “Focus on yourself and on what makes you happy. That’s the only thing that matters.”
Why do we need to bother with all those other people anyway? We should just focus on God. God is all we need. He is enough. As long as our relationship with God is solid, nothing else matters, right? If we don’t feel fulfilled in God, then something must be wrong with us. Right?
Unfortunately, there’s one major problem with that mentality.
While God is meant to be the first priority in our life, it is not His desire to be our only priority. God never intended for us to go through life alone with Himself as our only companion.
God With Us
Our God is a God of relationships.
Before He created the world, God resided in a family that consisted of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. In the Oneness of Himself and this relationship, God created angels, the earth, and all the plants and animals. And then, with a desire to share His creation, God created people – men and women who could fill the earth and live in community with Him and each other.
After years of residing and communicating with His people by means of the prophets and the temple system, God took another step in His pursuit of a relationship with us.
On December 25, we celebrated Christmas, the day when God sent His Son to earth as a tiny baby to live among us. This baby grew up and, according to Luke 2:52, “Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.”
Jesus’ relationships on earth were important. In being fully God, Jesus had a perfect and complete relationship with the Father. As a human, He set the example as He sought out fellowship with other people.
The Greatest Commandments
As incredible as it is to fathom that God desires to be with us, it’s often easiest part of that equation. In many ways, it’s far simpler to love a perfect Person we can’t see than imperfect people we can. These other individuals intrude into our lives in a physical, inescapable way and test our ability to be a good and righteous Christian.
In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus listed the two greatest commandments – love God and love each other. While the directives are listed in a first-second order, they are meant to work together. We were made to live in relationship with God, and we were made to live in community with each other.
Our relationship with God is paramount. It is our first concern. If our connection with God is weak, we will have greater difficulty loving others.
Similarly, if we’re behaving unrighteously in our dealings with each other, then our relationship with God will suffer. If we’re alone and without good fellowship with others, our understanding of and journey with God will never grow as strong as it could.
Those who prioritize their relationship with God are better able to build one another up. Even when they make mistakes, miscommunicate, and sin against one another, which they will, their love for God and commitment to one another will likely motivate them to work things out. Often with time, intentionality, and instruction, they will gradually grow to see and acknowledge their role in the conflicts and draw closer to both God and each other.
God gave each of us a different set of skills. We have our own walk with Him and possess varying areas and degrees of maturity. No one understands everything. When we fellowship with others who are pursuing God, we learn and grow from our differing strengths and weaknesses. One person’s knowledge adds to my own. Their strength helps me stand and sometimes illuminates areas in which I’m weak and in need of help and growth.
As incredibly difficult as it is to create and maintain relationships, the fact is, we need each other desperately. We need others who can encourage us, strengthen us, and lift us up as we in turn encourage, strengthen, and lift them up.
While there are times when separation and boundaries are necessary in a relationship (whether on a permanent or temporary basis), I believe these cases are the exception and that God’s command to love doesn’t change, even if our proximity does. Sometimes stepping away is the righteous response.
As we move into the new year, may God grant us healthy relationships that both challenge and strengthen us in our journey with God and each other.
_ _ _