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March 5, 2015

The Priority of Relationships

“The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration but its donation.”  Corrie Ten Boom

When all is said and done, relationships are all that really matter. It doesn’t matter how much money we have, where we live, or how many beautiful toys we’ve collected. None of these can comfort us, console us, cry with us, or love us. Our investment in the people we care about is the only legacy that has the power to endure beyond our lifetime.

God designed us to be in relationship, both vertically with Him and horizontally with the people around us. Even though we have a deep desire to connect with our families, friends, and communities, we’ve all experienced some of the messiness that comes with relating to others. Expectations, disappointments, betrayals, hurts, lies, misunderstandings — there are so many obstacles to loving other people and being loved by them. But, we were created for relationships and, if we knew our time was limited, we would be more concerned about them than ever before.

If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know how important it is to try to wrap up any unfinished business between both of you. It can be as simple as expressing how much you love each other or as complicated as discussing the impact of a lifetime of failures and, then, asking forgiveness. Either way, both of you considers it a priority – rearranging schedules if necessary, traveling great distances, and speaking from your hearts.

If you were the one whose time was short, you would want to connect with those people in your life whom you value most. You would want to give them the gift of time together, to say all that you want to say, and to allow them to know the real you. You would want to leave them with memories, words, and a personal investment that would linger long after you’re gone.

So, why don’t we live as if our relationships matter most? Why do we wait until people are dead to give them flowers? It seems ironic that most of us value relationships but don’t expend the energy to invest in them fully. But, when our time is up on this earth, suddenly we would realize just how much we need other people as well as how much they need us.

Two core truths of human existence can be found in the first book of the Bible. In the story of God’s creation of man and woman, we see that we need more than just ourselves, apparently even more than just our relationship with God. “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” (Genesis 2:18). So, God provided Eve to join Adam in the garden. We’re designed for social and emotional intimacy with those around us, but our desires are polluted by our selfish inclination to make it all about us. Basically, these two forces remain in conflict for the duration of our lives. We want to love other people, to be known and enjoyed, and loved in return. But, people disappoint us, hurt us, and don’t usually respond the way we want them to. So, we settle for playing it safe, telling ourselves that we don’t really need them after all.  But, our hearts tell us otherwise. Mother Teresa said that loneliness is the most terrible poverty. She was right – without love, we’re emotionally bankrupt.

Love can’t be bought, but it definitely carries a price – it’s called sacrifice. Love always means risking pain. Even in the best relationships, there’s a haunting sense of potential loss – if nothing else, the possibility that the other person will die someday, leaving us alone. We love someone, get married, and then discover how painful an all-out intimate relationship can be. Many of you have experienced the incredible grief of losing parents. Children you invested your life in grow up and, eventually, move away. Our closest friends change jobs and relocate across the country. We don’t stop loving any of these people, but we ache because we can’t be with them and can’t remain connected to them the way we would like. Pain is an inherent part of any significant relationship.

If we’re going to love other people, to endure the heartaches as well as to celebrate the sharing of lives, then we will need a greater love than our own. We need to experience the fullness of God’s love for us in order to die to our selfish desires and give freely to others. We have to look to God first. As much as we’re made to need others, people can never fill our ache to be loved the way God can love us. He demonstrated His love in a way that forever changed history and continues to change countless lives today.

The greatest sacrifice of love in history occurred in Christ’s death on the cross. God allowed His only Son to become mortal – Word made flesh – and, then, to endure the most excruciatingly painful and publicly humiliating death possible:  crucifixion. God’s love for us is truly incomprehensible. Our love has limits, but God’s love has none. It’s completely unconditional – no strings attached.

My prayer for you is the same as the one Paul expressed in his letter to the church at Ephesus: “And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp… how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ – and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond comprehension.” (Ephesians 3:17-19 Phillips)

Your problem is not that you don’t love God enough.  It’s that you don’t understand how much He loves you. If you could grasp just a little bit of how much God loves you, you’d surrender all areas of your life to Him. With His love as your foundation, you can discover a new power in the way you relate to others. You can be free to be yourself, not looking to them for validation, approval, or permission. At the same time, you will relieve them from the pressure of having to mean more to you than is humanly possible. If you cut through the busyness and blurred priorities and absorb the fact that your remaining time on earth is limited, you can experience more intimacy in your life than ever before.

Personal Challenge:

  1. Make a list of the people you would want to see and to share your heart with if you knew your time on earth was limited. What specific steps would you take to connect with one of them and share your heart?
  2. Choose someone you know you have hurt by your words, actions, or silence. Call them and ask forgiveness explaining everything you’d like to say before it’s too late.
  3. Think through your schedule for the next day or two. No matter how busy you may be, find a time to surprise someone you love. Take a friend to a favorite restaurant. Pick up the kids early from school and go to the park.  Kidnap your spouse from the office and go out for coffee. Find a way to add quality connections to your life on a daily basis.