Relational GPS

Recently, some friends let me know that what I have written has really stretched them and given them things to think about.  Besides being flattered that I’ve made an impression, I also feel a sense that I am on the right track.  I hope that I can continue to help people grow.  In that vein, I hope that my next several posts will encourage people to think deeply about the way we interact with each other and what it means to wear our internal faith on the outside.  I’m blogging a series of posts about the ways we deal with others in our relationships–friendship, marriage, and reaching out to others even when that may challenge our preconceived ideas.

I’m going to start by telling you something about myself.  I make hash of my relationships all the time.  I don’t mean that I occasionally forget to call my BFF back or that I speak sharply to the kids out of frustration or I forget my husband’s birthday (although I have done all of those things).  I mean that I can be a nag to my family, I have a wicked temper, and sometimes I come off as uncaring, disinterested, and/or self-absorbed.  I have left so many relational messes that it would take several filing cabinets to hold notes on all the sordid details.  I am often completely clueless when it comes to dealing with other people.

Why am I explaining all this?  Trust me, it’s not to drum up sympathy or unload my guilt.  First, I want to make it clear that I am as human as the next person.  Sometimes it can be too easy to fool ourselves into believing that there are not actually people behind the posts we read, particularly if the blogger is exhorting us to live more fully Christian lives.  It’s the same thing that happens to pastors, leaders, teachers, and parents.  Second, even though I make mistakes, there are still things I have to offer.  I learn and grow by reading and listening to what others have to say when it comes to my own weak points.  I hope that what I offer does the same.  Like me, you may wonder if your transgressions might stand in the way of leading or teaching others.  I can assure you that is not the case—you, too, have much to offer.  If I share what I know in the areas where I don’t struggle with you, perhaps you will do the same for me.

One of the reasons we all struggle to navigate the waters of relationships is that relating always involves—wait for it—other people.  (I know, that’s a shocker.  We all thought we were doing it in a vacuum.)  It is impossible to see what is going on inside someone else’s brain.  We have to rely entirely on the other person for verbal and non-verbal signals.  For some of us, this comes fairly naturally.  Some people are extroverts, drawing their strength from relating to and being around others.  They read social cues readily and are usually well equipped to carry out societal norms.  For others of us, relationships are infinitely more problematic.  Introverts, while not necessarily shy, don’t thrive on social energy.  Some people, even if not introverted, have difficulty interpreting social cues.  Reading the cues is, at its worst, frustrating and exhausting.  The results can be disastrous.

No matter which end of the relational spectrum you tend towards, we all need to think carefully about the way we treat other people.  We may not have control over personality traits that influence how we find our way in love and friendship.  What we can control is the way that we conduct ourselves.  We have absolute power over our actions and words.  Learning to speak and act in a Christ-like fashion is the first step toward improving our interactions with others.

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