Written By Melly Tjoa, Australia
“My life is incomplete. I’m still waiting until my knight in shining armor swings by on his horse, scoops me up in his arms, and takes me away in the distant sunset! And then, I’ll feel complete.” I laughed at that comment, along with others who attended the talk on relationships that evening.
But as I thought about it, I realized that we do not just think about romantic relationships that way. As relational beings, we—myself included—have a natural tendency to make an idol of any relationship.
Last year, I moved to a new church. The saying that church should be like an extended family came to life as I experienced being in a community that lived this out. As months passed by, the hospitality, gentleness, and kindness I witnessed impressed me. I met caring and humble people I admired.
When you see something of great beauty, it’s natural to want to exalt, praise, and call attention to it. You see, we were designed by God not just to have relationships, but also to worship. That makes it natural for us to want to worship people and/or relationships. At least for me, I know I rush to idolize when something looks admirable, often forgetting that I have not seen all there is to see yet.
The Problem with Idolizing Relationships
But while my heart surged with delight in this new family and relationships, my mind reminded me not to get carried away. After all, the reality of human relationships is that people will eventually fail.
A friend recently told me of her disappointment with a new friend. She thought she had found someone she could build a meaningful friendship with, only to realize after spending more time together that the friend wasn’t who she thought she was. This happened within a month, leaving her discouraged.
It only took my friend a month—it might take me a while longer with the new church, but it is coming. Disappointments will come eventually (from either ourselves or the other party).
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t invest in our relationships. But perhaps, we need to reframe our perspective when it comes to viewing the relationships God has graciously given us.
The Better Alternative: Reframing of Perspectives
1. Recognize It’s A Glimpse of Something Greater
If we’re blessed to be in a warm and tight-knit church family right now, imagine what heaven will be like eventually! The joy of the present good relationships and community should give us a better picture of what is to come. It should spur us to long for and look forward to the ultimate joy of heaven.
With a clear perspective of what relationships are for and what they point to, we’d then be able to find the right enjoyment in them and have the right response even if things fall apart.
2. Look to the Source
I aspire to be like people I admire, but I need to remind myself that my ultimate role model is Christ Himself. People who live by the Spirit manifest the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), but they are ultimately, a reflection of the true source, Jesus Christ.
To strive to be like someone else, apart from Christ, would be to miss the entire point. So, just as Paul calls on the Corinthian church to be imitators of him, just as he is of Christ (1Corinthians 11:1), let’s turn our admiration for others into a desire to be like Christ.
3. Rest in the Unchangeable
Because we live in a sinful world, disappointments will come—both from those we don’t like and those we admire. When faced with disappointments in relationships, we should become more sober and less attached to the things of the world.
This also sets a contrast with the only One who will never disappoint and will always remain good. That should drive us to draw closer to Him each time and help us find our assurance in Him.
4. Consider the Cross
I find forgiveness hard when someone offends me, and it is often so because I am inward-looking. During these moments, I need to remember the one who was once mistreated too (and to the worst degree), yet forgave completely. I am only partly wronged as I am not blameless like Jesus was.
In fact, when someone wrongs me, it is likely that I have wronged him or her too (either in outward retaliation or subtly in my heart). So, other than seeking to forgive, I should seek forgiveness too. The cross is a reminder not only that He forgives, but that He forgives us. It is because we ourselves have experienced mercy that we now can extend forgiveness to others too.
When we exalt relationships higher than they really are, they have the potential to become harmful to us. This is equally true of relationships that are clearly unhealthy for us and of those that seem good.
Viewed rightly, however, the experiences we have in our relationships can awaken us to reality, drive us to Christ, and free us to love willingly even those who are undeserving—just as Jesus would. With the help of the Spirit, we can realign our perspectives to live the way God intended us to.
In the end, it’s not about the relationships, or about us. It is about Christ and becoming more like Him.