Relationships we pursue, that we choose, can be fulfilling because they meet a need we have. We have a measure of control in these relationships. They are the low-hanging fruit of the relational world.

But relationships we didn’t choose can be just as fulfilling and life-giving. Keep listening to hear how. 

Breakfast with our grandsons

The other day Janet and I took our twin grandsons out for breakfast. It was a send-off for Grant who will be taking a leave of absence from his barista job at Starbucks. He’s going to work as a counselor at a youth camp in northern Wisconsin for the summer. George is staying behind to work at Target.

The boys told us how their recently completed first year of college went, and we just marveled at how they’ve grown in so many ways. We love getting together with them, for they make us feel young.

They make us laugh, both when we’re with them, and 12 hours later without them. That’s when the humor of what they said earlier in the day unexpectedly pops out of our memory bank, like a cork from a wine bottle. And we laugh all over again.

When I was their age

Our breakfast get-together got me thinking of what life was like for me when I was their age. They’re both 19 years old. When I was 19, rather than working at a summer youth camp, or an air-conditioned department store, I worked during the summer in a hot, sweaty factory with few windows (can you hear the violins playing in the background?)

The person I was at age 19 was largely the product of relationships I didn’t choose. Relationships I didn’t seek out. Relationships initiated by someone else. I know you have relationships you didn’t choose either. For example, none of us chose our parents or other family members.

In my situation, my mother was single when I was born, living with two female roommates. Because of how unwed mothers were viewed at that time, she placed me with a foster family. She would visit me most Tuesday evenings, as I was told by one of her roommates after Mom died in 2003.

These weekly visits continued for the first 15 months of my life until my mother married my step-father and I got to move back with her and my new dad.

The kindness I received from relationships I didn't choose

When I think of these early relationships I didn’t choose, I think of how blessed I was to be the recipient of the kindness of others. The kindness of my mother not to abort me, in spite of the shame she must have experienced. There was the kindness of her roommate, Kay, who helped my mother keep my existence a secret from their landlord, and otherwise helped her be the best mother she could be – from a distance.

I learned much of my very early life from Kay after Mom died. Once when I was asking her what she knew about my birth father, she stopped at one point and said, “You need to know, John, your mother was NOT THAT kind of girl.”

The firmness in her voice told me she cared deeply for her former roommate’s reputation.

Kay accompanied my mother on her Tuesday evening visits to me. She told me I was cared for well by the foster family I lived with.

“They were a very nice couple,” Kay said.

I’ve wondered about them from time to time. I thought of trying to track them down like I did my birth father, but I imagine they are deceased by now. But I imagine they too, must have been kind to me. I trust Kay’s impression of them.

Kay herself was a kind woman, and though she never said so, I suspect she helped my mother financially before Mom married Dad.

Family relationships

Then there was my Dad. Kay knew him before my mother did, and she introduced them to each other. When he married Mom it got her out of the shameful jam she was in with me. He was a kind man to her and others.

My dad’s mom, my grandmother, was another relationship I didn’t choose. Yet she was the kindest adult I experienced in my childhood. Up to the time I was in first grade or so, she lived with us, and there always seemed to be a conflict between her and my mother. Yet she never said an unkind word about my mom. Never any hint of disdain for her son marrying an unwed mother with a small boy at her hip.

A relationship I didn't choose in high school

In high school, the guidance counselor assigned to me was a relationship neither one of us chose. Yet her out-of-the-ordinary kindness had a profound impact on my life. Mrs. Roller pulled some strings to get financial aid for me so I could leave home to go away to college. A college where I first heard about Jesus, who chose to have a relationship with me. She also found a job for me that I worked during summers in college, and Christmas break in December, to pay for my schooling.  This is the factory job I mentioned earlier.

Since I was 19, there have been more people who have been in a relationship with me that wasn’t their choice. But I’ll stop with the ones I’ve mentioned.

It occurred to me that the younger we are the more relationships we have with people who didn’t choose us. But as 19-year-old college students, our grandsons are entering a stage of life where more of their relationships will be of their own choosing.

I pray they will choose well by calling up Jesus to give them the discernment and wisdom they’ll need to reflect the character of God in extending the same type of kindness to others that they’ve received. May the same be true of all of us.

So what does all this mean for YOU?

How can you use what you’ve heard today to improve the relationships in YOUR life? Here are a few ideas:

We all have relationships with people who didn’t choose us. I wonder who those people are for you.

Neighbors? In-laws? Colleagues at work? Your children? Other relatives? Be kind to them. They didn’t choose you. Pay it forward. Think of the kindness you received in the relationships from people who didn’t choose you. Pass that same kind of kindness on to others.

Certainly, pick the low-hanging fruit of relationships with people you easily connect with. With people you choose. At the same time, consider the possibility there might be a richness found in relationships you didn’t choose – if you worked just a little harder at that relationship.

If you happen to be in a relationship that is a difficult one, May God give you the strength and power to reflect his character well in that hard situation. Even if the favor is never returned.

In closing, I’ll leave you with this thought

Be kind to people who didn’t choose to have a relationship with you, but who have one with you anyway. It will bring out the best in you.

I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode. Just send them to me in an email to john [at]caring for others [dot] org. You can also share your thoughts in the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of the show notes.

I really would appreciate any insights you have. I feel drawn to this topic and would like to explore it further.


In closing, if you found the podcast helpful, please subscribe if you haven’t already done so.

I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to both reflect and to act on the relationships you have that you didn’t choose. In doing so, you will find the joy God intends for you through your relationships. Because after all, You Were Made for This.

Well, that’s all for today. I look forward to connecting with you again next week. Goodbye for now.

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