Welcome to the month of hopeless romanticism and hapless heartbreak. The retail world blushes all shades of pink, red, and lavender in an urge to sell us passion in packages. Singles resent the reminders of their isolation. Couples stress over how to avoid disappointing their beloved ones. Moms sigh over the drama surrounding classroom valentines. Children ponder the meaning of cryptic messages sent to them via chalky candies and cartooned cards. The teen years intensify the despair of these melodramatic weeks while momma’s cookies no longer ease the pain. Some kids dream of future bliss, hoping love will grow easier and less painful as they age. Others witness the contention between their parents and never dare to imagine such fairy tale endings exist.
Whether you face this February with the heart of parent, romantic partner, or neither, relationships weave through the fabric of your life. How you connect with others matters more and lasts longer than anything else you might achieve. As a child created in the image of Love Himself, you were sculpted as a living message through whom His heartbeat might be heard by others around you. Spouses, children, and friends represent only a few of the many types of relationship opportunities through which we might convey divine meaningfulness and connection.
All of our relationships serve as a potential field of blessings, into which we sow love and from which the Lord also nourishes us at times. Only the best cultivation practices will allow meaningful and fruitful connections to grow. Our souls need more than pink-laced packages or chocolate chip condolences to thrive. Our culture’s romantic sales pitches have left our hopes to rot with disappointment. Many of us have seen relationships grow stale or bitter due to expectations which withered in silence.
Some of us seek fulfillment of errant dreams and despair when our hopes crumple unfulfilled. At other times, we aspire for true love without availing ourselves of the means we have to nurture it.
Today’s post invites us to explore the ways we can all rejuvenate our relationships. The following points offer the means for cultivating meaningful connections with others in order to fulfill our potential as ambassadors of Love Incarnate:
- Love begins as a choice. We remember to love as a verb rather than awaiting its arrival as a noun. Choose to love in thought and action regardless of your emotional state.
- Our need for love must be met only by God. The Lord may use other people to serve as conduits of His love, but our needs are always met by Him. Directly or indirectly, the Lord alone meets our needs. Any relationship from which you seek spiritual or emotional needs to be met by another human being will fail. No person can fulfill the expectation of delivering what only God can provide. Be a conduit of God’s love, but remember only Christ can act as Savior of our souls.
- Others’ needs can only be met by God. God shares His blessings through us with others. Our obedience to Him in serving others remains important in our relationship with the Lord and with others. Yet we must remember to obey the Lord’s call to love without taking on the Savior’s responsibility to save and fill all emotional needs. We give without need, yet remember not to take on the burden of how the other individual receives God’s gift given through us. Or does not receive them. We might also need to discern when others demand something from us which the Lord has not called us to provide for them.
- Learn to maintain healthy boundaries. The above points refer to a starting point for establishing our roles in meeting the needs of others. Healthy boundaries also includes understanding how to discern the responsibilities and reasonable expectations involved in all relationships. Henry Cloud and John Townsend co-authored a series of titles on this subject, if you’d like to read further details.
- Maintain an “H” pattern of mutual benefit in friendships and romantic partnerships. An “I I” pattern remains independent and disconnected. A “Ʌ” pattern involves crippling dependency, so that one person’s unsteadiness brings down the other. The “H” model reflects independent identity and security while remaining connected and giving to one another.
- Listen. Listen. Listen. Until the other person feels heard. Reflect what you’ve heard to ensure you understand. God models listening in His loving ways of relating to us. Throughout scripture, the Lord asked questions although He knew all the answers. He invites us to vent and assures us of His concern. Listening may sound like a small, inconsequential practice, but our relationships (family, romantic, and community) will improve exponentially by following God’s example in this respect.
- Communicate after the person feels heard. Ask whether they want you to help in some way. Sometimes advice proves unwelcome and unnecessary.
- Share your heart a little at a time. But never dump it into someone else’s lap and ask them to be responsible for your happiness.
- Convey helpful truth with the sandwich method. Make sure your suggestions are delivered amid esteem and respect. Only share prayerfully guided messages with potential to benefit both persons. Avoid offering criticism just because you see a flaw when change would offer little or no blessing.
- Avoid engaging in conflict when angry. Wait until your heartbeat has returned to a resting rate and your brain restores function to the frontal lobe. Otherwise, you will invite your primitive brain lobe to speak into your relationships instead of your reasoning and logic functions. Praying for the Holy Spirit to guide you and take authority before discussing a problem will optimize your response and bless the discussion. A calmed heart and Spirit-led mind offer the opportunity for conflict discussion to actually improve your relationships.
- Choose forgiveness and ask the Lord to guide you through the process of following it through. Some relationships might also be restored through the process of reconciliation, but as a distinct and separate procedure. Forgiveness does not involve justification, nor does it require repentance. Forgiveness sets your soul free from bitterness and acknowledges God as the agent responsible for ultimate justice.
- Play. Whether with your family, spouse, or friends, connections will strengthen when woven with laughter and smile lines. Relationships build and grow through play. Taking time for recreation, joking, and games isn’t a luxury. It’s absolutely essential.
- Pray with and for one another. Pray the will and Word of God over those you love.
If you have other suggestions for rejuvenating relationships, please share them with us. What small steps will you implement this week to improve your heart connections with others? I look forward to your comments!