Being relational is core to who we are as human beings but it’s not easy to be in relationship with one another. We are all unique; we have diverse backgrounds and different views and opinions. Despite inevitable conflict or disagreements, we can still enjoy relationships. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realise that relationships are life giving for me, and I thrive in places I can create an environment where people enjoy each other despite their differences. As I reflect on this, I’d like to share some lessons learnt along the way.
Often, we have preconceived notions about people – those we know, but even people we know little or nothing about. Henri Nouwen says, “When we give up what sets us apart from others— …opinions, prejudices, judgments, and mental preoccupations—then we have room within to welcome friends.” Hence, we need to let go of our prejudices and judgments, and try to see people as how God sees them. It helps when I have prayed and asked God to give me grace to see people through His eyes rather than my own. Often, this is most important with those closest to us, even our own family. Otherwise, we risk not fully knowing or understanding them.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” Maya Angelou
Each of us has a story inside us – where we came from and what brought us to the present. It’s beautiful when we can be fully present to hear another person’s story and deeply know them. For years, I refused to hear my dad’s story because I was unable to see past his attachment to alcohol. But one evening when my parents had visited Delhi, we sat around our table and I sensed God nudging me to listen to him. Over the next couple of weeks, each night my Dad continued to narrate his story – his childhood, work, marriage and life. It opened my eyes to see and love my parents more intimately. As Henri Nouwen says, “The table is the place of intimacy. Around the table we discover each other.”
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6
So much of building new relationships and deepening old one’s depends on our communication. Often, we take close relationships for granted. Small gestures, like saying “thank you” or letting our loved one’s know we are thinking of them or asking how they are doing, go a long way. Our words can build up or tear down a person. As Henri Nouwen puts it “When we say to someone: “You are useless”, we might be using words that can continue to do harm for many years.” Hence we should choose our words wisely and seek to build trust, confidence, dignity and love. Sometimes we may need to speak truth into our relationships, which requires having hard conversations. These spaces in our relationships are delicate. But when we choose to speak with love, these hard conversations create opportunities to strengthen our relationships.
"Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger." James 1:19
Conflict is inevitable in relationships or friendships. It causes anxiety and most people would rather avoid it. However, conflict can be an opportunity to dialogue and deepen our relationships. When I’m experiencing conflict, it helps me to pray that I would value the other person’s interest above my own. This helps me shift the focus from myself to the other person so I can see things from his/her perspective. And while we must communicate to resolve conflict, at times, it’s equally important to stay silent and reflect on what led to the conflict. When we take time to pause, the clutter and unhelpful emotions settle down so we can see clearly what needs to be addressed. When faced with conflict, I’m learning to step back and reflect – and when I do that, it helps me guard my heart and mouth. As Proverbs 18:21 says - "Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
Finally, as hard as it is, we must try to forgive or ask for forgiveness. When we forgive, we free ourselves of the heaviness we carry of anger and bitterness. When we ask and receive forgiveness, we acknowledge that what we did was wrong – this creates space to take responsibility and make things right. It is freeing for both and allows us to move on.
Solitude and Community:
“Solitude is the ground from which community grows." Henri Nouwen
In order to give to others, we must first be filled. And one of the ways, we can be filled is when we spend enough time in solitude. As a mom of a toddler, I often find myself exhausted and reactive if I’m moving from one thing to the other without pausing. I get irritable easily and I can be particularly sensitive. My husband and I try to make it a routine to give each other some alone time to read, journal and reflect. When I spend time alone, I can appreciate and value relationships in my life. This allows me to give fully, from a space of love and gratitude. The spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude centre us, so we learn to depend on God for our deepest needs. In turn, we can give and receive freely in our relationships.
I feel relationships are a sacred space where we can be a light to each other. As we navigate this space, may we be intentional and strive to see the other through God’s eyes, listen deeply to each other’s stories, communicate choosing our words wisely and seek to strengthen our relationships through conflicts. As we discover each other, let’s start from a place of love, and seek to build trust and respect.
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