An updated edition of my best-selling book Focus of Failure was recently released. I have a great deal more to say about relationships in Chapter 8 of the book. I hope you find this helpful as you seek to live and lead well.
All of us need help. All of us need friends in times of testing. Unless we feel needed by someone, life is meaningless. We are responsible for one another. Yet, the world is like a gigantic hospital where people suffer alone while the greatest healing therapy, love and friendship, goes wanting. Loneliness has become the predominant attitude of our culture.
With 7 billion people in the world, online communities, and easy access to neighbors, why is loneliness so endemic?
Relationships begin with giving and receiving in a world where there are no guarantees. What we appear to want, however, is a risk-free guaranteed environment, even in our relationships. But love and friendship and relationships that are guaranteed are not real. If all we surround ourselves with are like-minded people who share our particular senses of indignity and our particular senses of righteousness, then we don’t really have friends — we have mutual flatterers boosting each other’s egos. Thanks to the internet, it’s become easier than ever to form groups that prop up the ego while making few demands of sacrifice or action. It’s become so easy to cultivate a list of like-minded “Friends” and “Followers” that you no longer need to be rich or powerful to be surrounded by sycophants. You just need a social media account.
Love and friendship comes from listening to others and serving others, even when they are different than us, and even when the service is hard.
Georgia Army National Guardsman Lt. Col. Ed Granados and 878th Engineer Battalion Commander hugs a fellow Soldier at the unit Armory Saturday night after nearly a year long deployment to Afghanistan with the 878th Engineer Battalion. (Georgia Army National Guard photo by Maj. Will Cox)
Morality forms the bedrock for relationships to flourish
Life offers four basic relationships; God, other people, ourselves and things. I would submit this order is appropriate. More importantly, we are born relational human beings. We grow desiring relationships and then wonder if they are worth the effort. Most people seem to be struggling to live effectively as relational human beings. Relationship is at the heart of all of our problems.
It is here in the heart of relationship that we first glimpse the final cure. It is also here that we find the hard questions largely unasked. I find it interesting that the Bible has very little to say about organizational building or structure but a great deal to say about relationships. Yet the church is inhabited by people who in unspoken conspiracy deny the loneliness and emptiness and void that plague humanity.
Many of the ways we isolate ourselves from one another come from a failure to follow Biblical teaching, and thus eschew societal fads in favor of moral law, which spells out how we are to treat one another, and to what and whom we should concern ourselves.
Honor God. Do not steal. Do not kill. You should help those who need help. Even more, you should respect those who need help, and see them as equals before God. If this combination of mercy and respect is etched upon your heart, you will gravitate toward service and toward relationships.
Building relationships requires a decision that is based on our inconvenience not the inconvenience of other people.
Don’t allow your ego to cut you off from what you need
Christ’s instruction to forgive and to “love they neighbor as self” isn’t merely a call to forgive others and treat them the way you’d like to be treated — it’s also a call to be forgiving of your own shortcomings, and humble enough to ask for help. Many people who strive to live moral lives are much more comfortable giving help than they are asking for it.
A person simply cannot fight the world and find acceptance and achievement within it. Absolutely everyone has dependency needs. Yet, when we feel inadequate, we feel it is degrading to reach out for help. As children we are dependent. As teens, we are independent. As mature adults we should become interdependent. Interdependency requires caring. It takes courage to care. It takes courage to trust. We know that love is the deepest human craving. That people will trade their time, money and virtue for it. True love is sustained by people who can sustain themselves independently, but who choose to open themselves up to relationships and stay in them.
Move beyond self-interest
If you stop and think about it, the very words of new age thinking emphasizing the I, the me and the my, preclude the we, the us and the our, implicitly rejecting family and relationship. One of the consequences of loneliness is immorality. People are smothered and threatened by lousy relationships and loneliness that accompanies them so that they can’t stand to be alone. They can’t walk into an empty house without switching on the T.V. or the radio or anything that would assist in avoiding being reminded of the desolation in their lives. There is just no one to say “Hi” to, or “I love you” or “I missed you” or “here is lunch” or “I have been thinking about you.” There is just nobody there.
The only thing that could possibly be worse would be not to have a relationship with God. How much more does the lonely person suffer without God in the heart? People want someone else to care but someone else is too absorbed with their own lives to even listen. Too often, they have had their beer and gone to bed. When we reject one another, we violate the very purpose for which we were born. Do you know what it means not to be wanted?
Why are there so many people who experience a loneliness that divides the mind and burdens the heart? Why do hundreds of thousands of kids get into trouble? Why are so many families being rent asunder, leaving aching expanses in the debris of shattered relationships? Why are so many people who are suffering discouragement and tragedy and loss faced with no one to whom they can open their hearts?
The unfortunate truth is: because few people really care. The world nods its head in recognition at best. The Church boasts of souls brought to Christ while often brushing aside lonely people in its path. People need friends. They need someone to listen. They need someone to care. They need someone to love. So do you. So do I. So does the person right next to you. Right now.
What we need is a fundamental relationship based on old values. What we need are proper priorities and trust as the basis for all real relationships. Free to be hopeful, joyful, compassionate and forgiving, we recognize our own need and are able to translate that into the needs of others. Recognizing that we are far from being the type of person we would like to be, we are able to tolerate the inconsistencies of others. Trust at its basis, forgiveness at its heart, relationship then knows the towering freedom of love and forgiveness.