God is a relational being who created us in His image. It is why we are made for relationships. They are what give our life joy and meaning. Listen in to learn how.
I’m a big fan of Ken Burns and the documentaries he produces. His most recent one, which aired on PBS, was about the life of Benjamin Franklin. This founding father of the United States is remembered for a number of things. He helped write the Declaration of Independence and is credited with inventing the Franklin stove, bifocal eyeglasses, and the rocking chair.
When I saw the Ken Burns documentary, it reminded me of an episode I did several years ago, episode 32, that among other things talked about what Ben Franklin did to deal with the loneliness he was experiencing in his 20s. It fascinated me because loneliness is certainly a relationship concern here in the 21st century.
Franklin’s solution to his loneliness was part of a larger discussion in that episode about what our purpose is here on earth. What are we made for? I suggested and still believe strongly, that we are made for relationships.
Because this is such an important topic I thought it would be helpful to rewind parts of that earlier episode for today’s show. We’ll start by looking at the biblical basis for the importance of relationships.
Why relationships are important
- In the 1st chapter of the 1st book of the Bible, Genesis, we learn that all of mankind is made in the image of God.
- We also learn that God is a relational God, with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of the Trinity interacting with each other.
- So since we are created in the image of God, and since God is relational, we are to be relational as well. As people of faith, we are to reflect God’s image in all our relationships. We were made for this.
- In living as an image-bearer of God we can make a contribution and difference in the world through our relationships. We were made for this.
- It gives glory to God as we imitate this relational quality of his, especially when we do it well. We were made for this.
- When Jesus was asked by the religious leaders of the day what the greatest commandment was, what was the most important thing anyone could do, he responded with “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.” He said everything we are to do in life is summed up in these two commandments. That is what we are made for. We are made for relationships (Matthew 22:36-39).
Relationships are what our podcast is all about
If you’ve been around here for a while and ever wondered about our podcast name, You Were Made for This, I hope by you realize that Relationships are the THIS we are made for. We were all made for relationships.
This podcast is designed to equip people to make their relationships the best they can possibly be. The 31 episodes from season one were created to give people tools and ways of thinking they can use to enhance their relationships because on so many levels, it’s our relationships that give our life meaning and purpose.
So for today let’s consider relationships in terms of the THIS we were made for. We’ll use T.H.I.S as an acronym to describe four important qualities that will transform our relationships into the best they can be. I’ll be making some comments and observations about each of them.
T – Transcendence
- To be transcendent in our relationships means to exceed our natural inclination as a human being to be self-centered, where our inherent goal is to do whatever we have to do to meet our needs and desires. To be transcendent is to move past our focus on self, to focus on others instead. It’s to go beyond “conforming to the pattern of this world” that the Apostle Paul talks about in Romans 12: 2.
- When we see our life as a relational one, it acknowledges our need for something outside of ourselves. It’s to admit vulnerability, which can be scary for some. It’s to admit we have needs we cannot meet ourselves.
- Maintaining good relationships is a means of worship for any person of faith. Romans 12 tells us we are to present our entire personhood to God as an act of worship. And this includes our relationships.
- Three relationships are discussed in the 17 verses of this chapter. Our relationship with God. Our relationship with ourselves. And our relationship with each other; with other people.
- We can influence the world and make it a better place through our relationships. People are watching. We model for them what good relationships look like and the rewards that come with relating well.
- To transform relationship requires change on our part. We cannot change others, but we can change ourselves. Don’t expect any transformation my reacting. Expect Transformations when WE change.
H – Honor
- One of the most relational verses of the Bible is found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 12, verse 10: “Take delight in honoring each other.” (NLT) Notice the “delight!”
- We honor someone when we listen to them, which is sorely lacking in today’s culture
- We honor people when we try to bring out the best in them. For when we bring out the best in others we bring out the best in ourselves. It’s one way we experience joyful, life-giving relationships.
- We honor our relationship with another person when we humbly acknowledge our weaknesses and relational skills, and work to hone those skills for the sake of the relationship.
- We honor the difficult relationships in our lives when we allow people to experience the consequences of their choices, even when we see how those choices are so harmful to the person making them.
I – Initiate
- Because of the fall, relationships are not as life-giving as they could be. But these relationships can be transformed.
- Relationships by and large are transformed when we take action, when we take initiative, rather than waiting for someone to initiate with us
- We were made to take the initiative in our relationships, regardless of how other parties in that relationship may or may not respond.
- Cal Newport, in his latest book, Digital Minimalism, tells an interesting story about taking initiative in relationships. You’ll find a link to the book at the end of the show notes. Apparently relationships were important to one of the founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin. In 1727 he returned from London, to live in his newly adopted home of Philadelphia. He was from Boston and had no social connections in the City of Brotherly Love. Only 21 at the time, Franklin soon discovered he wasn’t feeling the love in Philadelphia.
- But rather than waiting for relationships to come to him, he created his own network of relationships he called the Junto Social Club. It had 12 members, from various walks of life, who met every Friday evening for 38 years to discuss the social issues of the day.
What is important in this story is that Franklin initiated. He stepped out. What if all lonely people did this? What if we all initiated like this?
There are elements of our culture, however, that run counter to the notion of taking initiative in relationships. One of them is the online world of digital technology.
In Digital Minimalism, Newport quotes MIT professor Shirley Turkle who makes the distinction between connection (online interactions) and conversation (real-world encounters between human beings).
“Face-to-face conversation is the most human-and humanizing-thing we do. Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy. It’s where we experience the joy of being heard, of being understood.”
Newport and Turtle argue that it is only analog interactions that move the needle in relationship development. “Digital interactions miss the nuances of face-to-face interactions or voice-to-voice communication Absent are the tone of voice, facial expressions. Conversation is what counts.” page 154
S – Self-less Service
[re: Junto society of Benjamin Franklin’s] Franklin structured their meetings around 24 questions. Here are 3 of them:
13. Do you know of any deserving young beginner lately set up, whom it lies in the power of the Junto any way to encourage?
14. Is there any man whose friendship you want, and which the Junto, or any of them, can procure for you?
21. Have you any weighty affair in hand, in which you think the advice of the Junto may be of service?
Noticed how other-centered and service-oriented these questions are.
Franklin’s initiative in starting the Junto Club also comes out of his self-awareness of his need for relationships.
Results a listener could expect if they implemented my solution
Imagine what our life would be like a year from now if we implemented the T.H.I.S principles (transcendence, honoring others, taking the initiative, and self-less service)? Imagine the fulfillment you would find in your transformed relationships.
Also, imagine if we did nothing. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.
If we were to engage in our relationships in terms of these 4 qualities, (transcendence, honoring others, taking the initiative, and selfless service). The more we exhibit these qualities in our relationships, the more life-giving and fulfilling they will be.
Here’s the main takeaway I hope you remember from today’s episode
You were made for T.H.I.S. – Relationships that: transcend our natural inclination to focus on self, that honor others as we strive to bring out the best in people, where we initiate by reaching out beyond ourselves, and where we selflessly serve other people.
So what does all this mean for YOU?
I hope by now you appreciate the importance of relationships. And if that’s the case for you, shouldn’t we then make every effort to make them the best they can be?
I suggest starting with looking at the transcendent quality of just one of your relationships. How can you relate more in a way that bears the image of God well? What are some ways you can relate that give people a picture of part of the character of God?
You can do this. I know you can.
In closing, I hope you’re convinced by now that we are made for relationships. The T.H.I.S. model we talked about back several years ago in episode 32 is still true today. It’s a useful tool for helping us find more joy in our relationships as we reflect the character of God.
Well, that’s it for today. Please consider telling others about this podcast if you think it would be interesting and helpful to them. And don’t forget to create a little joy for the people you meet this week. Spread around some relational sunshine. And I’ll see you again next time.
Resources related to this episode
139: Why Should I Listen to This Podcast?
Digital Minimalism – Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, by Cal Newport
You Were Made for This is sponsored by Caring for Others, a missionary care ministry. We are supported by the generosity of people like you to continue this weekly podcast and other services we provide to missionaries around the world.
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