RELATIONSHIPS: The No. 1 Hardest Part of Life and a Few Ways to Grow

By Pastor Josh Bundy

These days it is common to hear in church that God is relational. The evangelist says that God desires a relationship with you. The theologian declares that it is God’s nature to be relational since he is eternally Father, Son, and Spirit. The pastor says Jesus’ ministry was relational (feeding, healing, conversing). The church values being relational and wants you to show up and connect with others. In many ways churches proclaim that God is all about relationships. Thankfully this is true, but this can be hard news for those who feel they are chronically bad at relationships.


How would you rate yourself relationally? Between 1 (low) and 10 (high), how well do you make, maintain, and enjoy relationships with others? Just for fun, what persona is your relational twin, on a scale between Oscar the Grouch and Buddy the Elf?


More seriously, what do trustworthy people tell you about your relational ability? Do they say that you are a good friend, that you listen, that you communicate well, that you are easy to be with, that you keep a confidence? Although it can be hard to ask for feedback and admit we are not perfect, hearing from a truly trusted friend or mentor can be very helpful in considering where and to what extent you have grown and where you might yet grow. Whether you have a history of failed relationships or enjoy handful of lifelong relationships there are opportunities to learn and grow.


Whatever else it may be, Jesus’ famous saying in Matthew 7:12 is relational: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” This is incredibly hard to obey. We will need grace to grow our ability to follow Jesus in this command! Consider: this means listening to what others say they want or need, empathizing with others, perceiving how they want to be treated, respecting their desires, concern for their feelings, and acting on their behalf. It also means avoiding selfishness, distraction, and the uglier relational pitfalls of jealousy, apathy, covetousness, and enmity!


When Jesus says to love one another, he isn’t pointing out an easy path.


Today, let’s consider a few of our own relational skills.


Listening. You might need to work on this skill if you

  • Interrupt others often
  • Fail to respond verbally or nonverbally at key points in the conversation
  • Frequently forget what others have just told you
  • Are impatient to share your next thought
  • Are asked by others, “are you listening?”


Empathizing. You might need to learn more empathy if you

  • Tell others why their difficult situation has a silver lining. “Well, at least you…”
  • Tell others why their difficult situation is God’s plan
  • Relate everything others tell you to your own experiences
  • Respond with far more outrage or emotion than the other person
  • Rarely use the words, “I’m sorry, that sounds hard.”


Perceiving/Understanding. You might have room to grow if you

  • Have assumptions before the conversation
  • Fail to ask follow-up questions
  • Fail to discuss feelings and how someone wants to be treated
  • Can’t reflect the other’s emotions back to them
  • Fail to believe their experience or argue that it wasn’t that way


Taking Action. You may have room to improve if you

  • Move on immediately after a hard conversation without processing
  • Fail to send a follow up note, text, card, or call
  • Make promises just to hasten the end of the conversation
  • Cannot name even one action that would be meaningful to the other
  • Fail to end with a sincere “I love you and respect you, thank you for sharing.”


Your stories are probably like my own, with many embarrassing examples of “missing it.” But Jesus really wanted us to take seriously the idea that we can and should treat others how we want to be treated. If you invert each bullet point above, you will discover a concrete item by which you can surely improve a relational skill. For example, you may jot down, “Don’t Interrupt,” or “Don’t explain away another’s pain,” or “Write down and see my promises to completion.” Why don’t we all take a moment today to read through the 20 bullet points above one more time and just make a short mark, score, or note next to those that God puts on our hearts to focus on for personal growth.


If we take this action today while we are apart, it is sure to show up more and more in our homes and church as we relate together for each other’s good and God’s glory.