One of my favorite theological blogs belongs to my friend and mentor Jason Micheli (www.tamedcynic.org). Recently, Jason produced a number of posts about the importance of being in relationships. In a similar vein, I have decided to post a few of my thoughts on the theological virtues of relationships.
(Some of the following elements were first taken from a post written by Ron Edmondson, and then re-evaluated for this post. You can check on Edmondson’s blog here: www.ronedmondson.com)
Relationships are tough, perhaps tougher now than ever before. The impact of social media and changes in our contemporary culture have affected dating, marriage, and divorce in ways that cannot be fully comprehended. Moreover, maintaining a relationship predicated on the model of discipleship of Jesus Christ is a challenge in and of itself.
One of the many blessings of what it means to be a pastor is being invited into a couple’s relationship during pre-marital counseling. A few weeks ago I shared the following thoughts with a couple preparing for marriage and I believe they are relevant for anyone engaging in a serious relationship.
You are different. You are different and thats a good thing! Both members of a relationship differ from one another physically, emotionally, psychologically, and theologically. This is not a curse against relationships but something to be celebrated. The more a couple can live into the differences that make them who they are, the better a foundation can be made for experiencing life together. God has uniquely created you to be you, and no one else.
Set your own path. Don’t let either set of families/in-laws dictate how you will go forward with your own family. Our respective histories are important but they do not define how we can be in relationship, or how we can raise a family. Try to make sure that you are in this with/for one another, do not let anyone (related or otherwise) divide you and your thoughts on family. Every couple has a number of other relationships, but care should be made to maintain the oneness that God intends to create within a relationship. Respect the advice given to you, but listen to your spouse and work together.
Prepare to be surprised. Life will not always be peachy and perfect. For the many mountain tops that you will experience, there will be a valley waiting on the other side of the horizon. No one can ever be completely prepared for the changes that might come, but we can prepare ourselves to be ready to handle and address the changes appropriately. When difficulties arise, and they will, this is a prime time to improve the strengths and dynamics of a relationship. Theologically speaking, it might feel like you are always sitting in the shadow of the cross, but the glory of the resurrection will come. Prepare to be surprised.
Model after other couples. Look around and pay attention to the people in your life in relationships that you admire. They will inevitably have stories to share and appropriate advice to give. Remember to not just simply insert their techniques and strategies into your relationships, but allow them to model what it means to be in a fruitful connection with someone else. Often times when we come to church we assume that everyone in attendance has everything together in their lives, and similarly we often make the same assumptions of people in relationships. There is always something under the surface that we cannot see. If other couples are willing to share some of that information with you, it will likely prove helpful for your own relationship.
Communicate. Evaluate your relationship with one another. However, wait for the appropriate time to do this (in the middle of a fight is not always the best time). Couples should ask themselves, “are we growing together as a couple or are we moving further apart?” Do not always assume that your partner feels exactly the same way as you do. If you can create a habit of honestly checking in with one another about the greater trajectory of your relationship, it will help prepare you to be open with one another in a loving and life-giving way as you move forward. Communicating with one another might sound like a simple aspect of a relationship, but its importance makes it worth mentioning over and over again.
Put God first. This is perhaps one of the hardest things for a pastor to bring up with a couple because it sounds like the “preachy” thing to say. But, its important. A couple’s individual, and collective, relationship with God will help navigate the deep “valley-like” hardships of life and maintain a sense of stability when everything else feels like its crumbling. Talk about God with each other. Pray together. But also experience God in the way that only you can. Your first identity as a Christian will help so communicate who you are and whose you are. Far too many individuals in a relationship come to define themselves on the other person. You are not someone’s better (or lesser) half. You were uniquely made in the image of God and this is important to celebrate. Live into your relationship with God and it will strengthen your relationship.