Human Diversity: How to Develop Relationships
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Intro: Concluding the series
We’ve been talking about different kinds of people for the last several weeks. People who like people . . .
And this is great, because people are still the best thing going. There’s been a lot of competition lately. But I still think there is a general consensus that people are the most important thing in life.
People are alienated
It’s kind of too bad, in that light, that people are so alienated from each other. It’s too bad that people are so distant. I mean, if it matters so much, it’s too bad that we can’t get it together here.
I’ve seen so many signs of alienation in my life, a lack of honesty, a fear of broaching topics, etc.
I’ve come to see that is the rule. It is not the exception. People live in different states of distance from one another, even people in families and people who are married.
Examples that show alienation
Example: I was talking to another friend, who had been talking to one of his friends. “He told me he had been real depressed lately.” “Really? Did you ask him why?” “Well, no.” “Wait a minute! A guy was sharing with you that he was real depressed lately, and you didn’t ask why?!”
What is this? This is uncomfortability. This is distance. Something vulnerable comes up, something close to the heart, and people don’t want to mess with it too much. It’s scary. But it’s a sign of distance.
Example: Here’s another conversation I’ve had more than once. “She’s been avoiding me lately.” “Well, have you expressed to her that you miss her and feel less close than usual?” “Well, no. Not really. I’ve just been avoiding her too.” Now that’s effective!
We see things in people that we think we know the interpretation for–a look, a motion, a comment. And instead of talking about it and what it means, keep it to ourselves and let alienation build.
These kinds of things are happening in relationships all across this room.
People who live in chronic alienation
Then there’s all the other stuff that is just chronic. It’s not a matter of a relationship getting worse. It’s just that things have never been there to begin with. Some of us are chronically distant from people.
You know one of the greatest signs of chronic distance between yourself and other people? Yes, maybe there’s a sense of loneliness. That might be noticeable. But one of the greatest signs is a lack of energy, a lack of drive. A listlesness.
I know that there are some people among us who can compensate for that emptiness by an extreme goal orientation. They can achieve this, and as soon as they’re finished they move on to the next thing. But, there is no doubt, the emptiness will catch up. It’s just a question of time.
Example: That loneliness is like the vulture circling overhead, waiting till we finally fall down. It’ll be there.
But there are those of us who have learned to exist with loneliness. We have learned to live with distance and alienation in our lives. This is scary.
Example: I remember a time in my life which I call “The Lonely Summer.” It was really a fascinating time in retrospect. Most of you might think of me as kind of an active person, maybe even a sociable person. But not always so. In the lonely summer, I didn’t have one real friend. I didn’t get desparate about it. I didn’t go seeking some replacement thrill as I have at other times. Instead, I just resigned myself to loneliness and boredom. I would wake up in the morning and watch Wild Wild West, followed by the Brady Bunch, and a few other meaningless shows. I was so totally commited to nothingness, I even watched game shows like “The Price is Right!”
I learned an interesting lesson that summer. It is possible to just exist. Nothing more. Just exist. It is possible to drag yourself to the things you have to do. It is possible to get them done because you just have to. It is possible to be so withdrawn and lonely that you just don’t care anymore.
Some of us here may think that our problem is something like, “I have a drug problem.” Or, “I have a habbit I can’t quit.” I’ll tell you what is more likely that anything. You are distant from other humans.
These other things are just symptoms.
This is expressed a number of ways in the Bible. An example I have brought up here recently is that of Adam, the first man recorded in the Bible. The Bible tells us a story of God creating Adam, and giving him the whole earth to work with and accomplish things. And the story goes a long way to establish that everything in this world was great. The food was great. The place was great. But the punch-line is that God looks down and sees, Adam is lonely.
None of the other things will satisfy. The only answer is to have human companionship. Humans were made for human companionship.
This is also expressed in I Cor. 13, where Paul goes through a list of things that he could have. And the list is pretty impressive. We looked at it a couple weeks ago. But let’s look at it again for a reminder:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
“I am nothing.” That’s the feeling that resonates in the soul of a person who does not have real, intimate human contact. It is a reality of human existance. We need intimate contact with other humans in order to be healthy and whole.
Well, we could go on. If you know that you struggle with alienation with people, then you will benefit from what we are going to say here. If you don’t, if you think that you have great relationships, then maybe you won’t. But then again, maybe you’ll be surprised later on.
I want to get on to the issue at hand, bringing people together, and not just in some superficial way, but real human contact.
I said I had four things I wanted to talk about. But as I worked on these, I had to cut the list to three because of time. The issue at hand is obviously complex enough and deep enough that we could talk about a dozen dozen things. But I picked these three issues because I thought that we could benefit from them the most now.
The first big issue I want to touch on is the issue of emotion. Now I don’t want to spend a lot of time here because in the course of this series we have already talked about an emotional impact a couple times.
One of the things I did not talk about at the time was the issue of why it is that feelings are so important. This has been a struggle for me. And I’m sure I’m not alone on that issue.
Why is it important to effect someone’s feelings? And why is it important to allow your feelings to be effected by someone else?
Feelings are vulnerable
The biggest reason that emotions are important in human intimacy is because emotions are at the heart of our vulnerability. That is where we can be pierced through. That’s where we’re soft.
That’s why we spend so much time building barriers and defenses for our emotions. In this life, survival is often measured in how effective your barriers are. But, as long as you live behind those barriers, no one will come in contact with you. As long as you are hiding this most vulnerable side of yourself, people will not touch you.
Example: Buck, it was great spending time with your sarcasm today! Maybe we can do it another time!
Example: Hey, it was great spending time with your silence and your expressionless rubber face today!
And if you want to talk about knowing, feeling, experiencing real human contact, then you are talking about opening this soft area to another person.
There are a number of biblical examples of this type of relationship. Jesus had it with some of the disciples. The Bible describes them hugging and weeping together.
Peter instructs us to love each other emotionally in I Pet. 1:22.
Since you have purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart.
Paul also opened himself up this way, as we noted a couple weeks ago. He talked about tenderly caring for people, being anxious for them. There are numerous occasions that Paul talks about the emotional impact that others had on him, how he longed for their presence, to be close to them, how he missed them, how he was broken-hearted at their absence.
There is no doubt that opening up this area of our lives is an essential ingredient of really getting close to another person.
Example: I’ve always been amazed at people who tell me that they’ve never had a problem with relationships. “I’ve been close to my buds all my life! We work together. We go to school together. We do everything together!”
Example: Look, when you are driving down a country road and you see a herd of cattle all hanging around, those cows are not close.
But if you want to be close, then you have to intentionally work at exposing this area to another person. You could be with someone 24 hours a day and still feel lonely. You could go through all kinds of experiences and still feel distant.
But we tell ourselves that it will work for us. “All I have to do is be with this person and it will be OK.”
So, that is the first principle of vulnerability in emotions: Be intentional. It’s not enough to just affect each other’s emotions. The fact is, we do this to each other all the time without really acknowledging it. People affect me emotionally. They don’t even have to be close to do that. In order to have a close relationship, you have to concsiously sharpen your effect on the other person. You have to openly work on honing your abilities to effect the person you are close to.
In short, what this means is talking about how you affect each other. You have to get it out on the table, “I would like to have this or that effect on you.” You have to tell the person about how you feel about them. And you also have to tell them how you would like to make them feel. Be up front.
Then you have to go beyond that. You have to consciously sharpen your ability to effect the other person and vice-versa. Once again, this means talking about it. “This is how you affect me. How do I affect you?” “How did I make you feel when . . . ?”
The point is to consciously be working at affecting each other’s emotions for the good. I’m talking about a regular time when you do this. This is vulnerability. You are openly admitting that you want this person to affect your emotions and you want to effect theirs. And you each know, “This other person is trying to do this.”
When you start doing this, you know you are getting in touch with another person.
Example: After you have a talk with a girl about how you feel about each other, how do you feel? After you share your feelings on how you have been affecting each other, how does it feel?
Why is this? It’s because you really touched another human being. You really had some emotional interaction with another human. There is nothing so powerful as this. There is nothing so invigorating as having an encounter with another person as real and as deep as this.
And it doesn’t and shouldn’t be limited to exchanges with the opposite sex. This is something we should strive to experience with the same sex.
Aim low, build slow
The second thing I want to say about emotions is, aim low and build slow. What I’m saying is that in the emotional realm, our goal is not to go get a charge out of someone. Those are not primarily the emotions we want to work on.
The high intensity emotions are great. And we should experience them with people. But, that’s not the stuff that fuels a relationship over the long term. In fact, without question, relationships that are built on the big-bang are short lived.
Example: When I was a kid I used to ladle sugar onto my Cheerios. Sometimes I would put it on about a quarter inch thick! This is hard to believe but true! That was my after school snack. And since it was an after school snack, I was looking for that thrill. I was looking for that thing that would taste so yummy, it would make me feel good after a day at school.
People are like that sometimes in the area of emotions. People are looking for a high, a fix, a jolt. And, just like a sugar diet will eventually kill you, so will an obsession with the maximum turn-on. If that’s what you’re hunting for in relationships, you will always burn out on them. Because there is a limit to the thrill you can get from a person. And when you’re looking for stimulation, and you reach that limit, then what? I’ll tell you what. You get bored!
Example: I didn’t always put a quarter inch of sugar on my Cheerios. It started off with a srpinkling. But over the course of time, it got to outrageous proportions.
What I’m saying is that long-term, really fullfilling human contact is built on the more subtle emotions. Some of us may not even know what that means. But it includes things like loyalty, an interest in that person, a desire just to hang out–to be with that person.
These are all low-key, non-thrilling, basics. But they are the meat and potatoes of emotional relationships.
So, if you learn to live on these and express them, then the sugar will be a treat. The high-intensity emotions will be the treat that they were meant to be.
The second issue I want to discuss is honesty.
Some of you think–I know some of you think–that you are going to get close enough to another person without really being honest.
Let me assure you, you will fail. You will always fail. You will always be at some distance with others.
People in the counseling field and the medical field tell us that there is no greater source of mental and perhaps even physical ailment than a lack of honesty. Notice I didn’t say, “lying.” Because this is the way we always rationalize things. “Well, I don’t lie to people.” That’s not the point. The point here is to be honest with one another.
The Bible confirms that dishonesty wears on a person. Last week we talked about Psa. 32, in connection with David’s conscience. But if we read on, we find this,
Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
That’s powerful imagery. “My bones wasted away.” It was a feeling of weakness that went right down to his bones. Every chair he saw he wanted to flop down into it.
The Bible also acknowledges the need for honesty between each other, so that we can encourage and help each other. In the book of Hebrews 3:13,
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
What he is saying is that we need to share with each other our weaknesses, our failures, our problems, so that we can build each other up! He’s saying that if we don’t air out those things and allow someone else to help us, we will be hardened. Somehow our attitude will grow cold and hard–a phenomenon I’m all too familiar with.
How often? Daily! This is a lot of honesty. In fact, I would say it is more honesty than just about 95% of us get into here, including me.
Of course, that does explain a lot of the distance between us in our relationships.
Let me just give you a few comments on the practical stuff of honesty.
Know where your acceptance comes from
The first things that is imperative if we are going to be really honest with other people, is to know that it is not other people’s acceptance that matters. We don’t go to other humans for acceptance. We may, but a) we will get burned, and b) we will always struggle with honesty.
Because our acceptance and forgiveness has to start with God. God is the one whom we have to first and foremost go to for acceptance and forgiveness. And we have to be able to stand on the foundation that he does accept us and forgive us. That’s why we can go to others and be honest.
“Because God accepts me and loves me, I can go to others and be honest.”
We talked about a passage last week that I’ll refer you to again, II Cor. 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
This is how God views us if we have come to him for his forgiveness. This is how he views us if we come to him for a relationship. This is what it is to be a Christian, to come to God and request his forgiveness. And it tells us here that from that point on, God looks at us as a new creature.
And it’s because of this that we can go to other humans. We go to other humans, not for acceptance and our source of identity. We go to them because they can help us. We go to them because closeness demands honesty.
Lots of time
The second point has to do with the type of time you spend with a person. You may think this is a little simple, but it’s true: the kind of time you spend with someone will greatly help the honesty of the relationship.
Example: If you are having lunch with someone, you don’t finish the hamburger and say, “So, let me tell you the way I really am . . .” It’s just too awkward.
You have to have time together. I mean lots of time. You have to intentionally schedule hours of time on end. But of course, the issue isnot just time. It has to be time which is focused on communication. What I mean is not TV, playing a game, etc. It has to be an intimate setting with good opportunity for communication.
If you are with someone for long periods of intimate time, alone or maybe with three at the most, it is hard to not start coming out with the real stuff.
I think this should be done regularly. But it is also something that we can go out of our way for. I have gone on trips with people, just a person or two for the weekend–to try and achieve this. And I try to make it so that we are spending time talking, lots of time.
Submission to God
The third and final point about real human contact I want to make here is that both parties need to be in submission to God. I’m saying that we need to consciously submit our relationship to God.
I said last week that one of the greatest problems we have in the church is people who look at everything horizontally. That means that they see everything as a matter of relating to other humans. They fail to see God’s hand, God’s presence.
Well, if you approach another human from that perspective, eventually (I don’t know when) that relationship will either break apart or grow cold and distant.
Provides long term meaning
For one, seeing your relationship in the context of submitting to God provides the long term meaning for that relationship. It’s not just me and you. It’s that God is using me in your life and you in mine.
We don’t have time to go over it tonight, but read the chapter of I Cor. 12:13-27. There Paul makes the case that we should appreciate how God uses other people in our lives, and us in other’s. That is one of the ways that a relationship keeps it’s steam up over the long haul. You try to see how God can use you in each other’s lives.
Helps us accept each other
Secondly, both parties submitting to God helps us to accept each other. I wanted to talk at length about accepting each other, but I can only say a few words. And one of those words is that at the heart of accepting the people in your life, is this issue: To see them as tools God is using in your life. To be effected by them is to be effected by God. To be changed by them is to be changed by God.
The author of Hebrews tells us that hardships in our lives are from God. Ulitmately, they are from him. In Hebrews 12, he puts it this way,
And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves . . . Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?
What he is saying is that there are hardships that come our way, usually in the form of people and relationships, right? But don’t make the mistake of forgetting where they ultimately come from. Ultimately, God is in charge. Nothing happens in your relationships or in your life without God knowing about it.
And that is why the author of Hebrews can say that we must recognize God’s discipline and not just see things horizontally.
People do things all the time to ruffle my world. And I know that a lot of people would conclude, “This person is getting to be a pain.” But a passage like this tells us we need to say, “God, how are you using this person in my life?”
There’s no way a relationship can survive if you don’t have this view. You’ll just butt heads. It’s just the two of you. And sooner or later, you’ll either break apart or find ways to make some distance between yourselves.
Example: I know plenty of families who know exactly what issues you can never talk about. You just can’t talk about them.
And for some relationships, those issues are so many, that they can hardly talk about anything substantive.
The only way around this is to both turn to God and submit to him as the higher authority.
Example: My wife and I were battling just this week about something. And it had to come to this point because we’re both so stubborn. We said, “OK, I hate what I’m hearing from you.” “And I hate what I’m hearing from you.” “So, let’s at least turn our hearts to God in prayer here and acknowledge that we want to hear from him.” And when we did that, the whole attitude changed.
I just can’t see a relationship lasting, and still maintaining depth, if both parties aren’t agreed to submit to the authority of God as he works through that other person. We both have to realize, “My struggle isn’t with you. Actually, my struggle is with God, and how he is using you in my life to change me.”