Relationships--a test of faith! Love training--the only anecdote.

"Love covers a multitude of sin."  "Love is a perfect bond of unity." "A gentle answer turns away wrath." "They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another." "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging symbol."

What a motley crew we are! Some introverts, some extroverts, some moody, some more prone to anger--and all a wonderful mix of personality, love, dreams, passion and messy and uncontainable. Yet, all held together, by God's grace, through love, loyalty and a commitment to be there for each other no matter what.

I am a harmony-oriented person. I do not like arguing, harshness, anger, or critical attitudes (unless of course it is my critical attitude, because of course I am perfectly just in my opinions!) But raising a family of sinful, immature people is most often a challenge. My boys are so different that I thought they never would grow up to be friends. There is so much natural tension between a couple of my children that I wondered if they would ever get along. 

When the boys would fuss, I used to read them the story of Cain and Abel and tell them that all boys are tempted to fight and be jealous and that it results in terrible consequences, (with Cain and Abel as my models!)  Then I would read them the Psalms where it said, "How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity." 

"That is the standard that pleases God. Unity. Peace. How could you have said that more graciously to your brother? You boys need to stay in this room until you have settled your differences. I don't care if it takes two months! You cannot come out until you have made peace and have prayed together and  can behave in a civilized way."

Often, the issues would be  and still are so petty. "He sat on my side of the cushion!" as I was reading out loud to them. Or, "Why do I have to clean up the dishes, I didn't even eat lunch here today." 

Or some combination of these types of words. The constant dripping of fussing and complaints over the years, always followed by correction, instruction, saying words of forgiveness and prayers. I didn't know if they were listening to Clay and me as we trained and disciplined and corrected. 

Now, with the girls, correcting those disrespectful or condescending attitudes or looks--especially in the teen years. No one got away with an "attitude" toward me or Clay for too long. Heart correction was our focus.

This kind of training and instruction can be wearying. Not to mention the stresses in marriage--finances, values, neglect, work loads, all sorts of issues that could be damaging. 

But we sought over and over again to love, correct, forgive and give grace. We always said, "It is natural to fuss and disagree and hold grudges. It is supernatural to love and be humble and give grace. When we live in the power of the Holy Spirit, He calls us to love and give grace--period--no excuses--it is the standard of God's love and ways for us."

Many words of kindness were given in notes, appreciation and life-giving words were modeled and practiced, and even though our home would shake the roof with issues and disagreements, and petty arguments, the standard was always getting back to loving, giving grace, and staying committed and adjusting to each other's differences.
Yet, how important this "love training" is. The reason there are so many divorces, child abuse, feelings of abandonment in the hearts of children and adults, is because loving and serving one another takes a lot of work and sacrifice and humility--not natural to us. Our lives have been rocked to the core with criticism, and the harshness of unloving comments from others. 
But if we are to please Christ, there is not other option--we are commanded to love. If we want our children to know the Lord and commit their lives to Him, love, unconditional, grace-giving love--must be our commitment, standard and model every day. It is not that any of us are mature or strong in these areas--many times I have felt disqualified in this role as a mom when I become angry or irritated or say unkind words. But it is the ideal I get back to--to ask for forgiveness and to give grace to verbalize love. It is the striving towards God's ideals and practicing them, that will give our children a foundation of emotional security. 

However, if we harbor bitterness towards someone else, if our families are critical of others, we do not forgive those who have offended us, we are leaving our children a wrong image of God, for we are their picture of His love and lovingkindness.  Our words might say, "Love one another." But our actions may not. I have seen many children rebel in their teen years because of the hypocrisy in their homes--critical, pharisee sort of attitudes were the norm--not love--and it produced children who did not know God--because the reality of His love was not the predominant character quality in the home. 

Is there someone with whom you have had a disagreement or harsh words or a misunderstanding? God says, that if He has forgiven us, we need to forgive others--period!

Remember the story of the wealthy man who forgave a debt of a man to whom he had loaned money. The man whose debt had been erased, went out immediately and showed no mercy to a man who owed him money. When the wealthy man found out about his deeds, he went back to the man who had been released from the debt and threw him in prison to be tortured until he had personally repaid all the debt. "My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart." (Matthew 18:21-35)

This story is about our relationship with the Lord. If He has forgiven us and humbled himself to the point of death to bring about our debt being paid, then we owe everyone we meet the grace, love, mercy and forgiveness that we have received. If we do not forgive others, no matter how unjust, our hearts will be damaged and we will feel far from God.

I was talking with a godly, older, wiser friend of mine the other day, and she said, "You know, I have lost so many friends over the years because of issues with my children."

She was referring to a situation in which one of her children had been immature and had offended one of her friends and the friend held it against her personally. What a travesty! To lose a friendship over a silly incident--is a waste of a good friendship. If we expect our friends and their children to always be mature, we will surely become disappointed and disillusioned. Yet I see it happen all the time--no wonder so many people are suspicious of Christians--they act like normal, self-centered people not like those who have been redeemed.

There is so much potential for broken relationships--hurt feelings, different values, different philosophies, immaturity, insensitivity, harsh or careless words, bitterness, irritation. 

The reason for broken relationships  today is because there was no glue--no commitment--that no matter what, I will be loyal to you. I will commit to loving you, not with feelings, but with my heart, because God has loved me.  Now, I have so many friends who themselves have been victims of  broken relationships. I am not talking about the terrible times when others have been unloving to you. We all have baggage of some sort of broken relationships in this broken world. 

But our hearts don't have to stay broken. We can always choose to love, even when we are not loved by people--because God is absolutely, forever committed to loving us.

"I will never leave you or forsake you." (Hebrews 13)
"Nothing can separate us from the love of God." (Romans 8 )  
"I pray that you may know the Father's love, with which he has loved me from the foundations of the world." (John 17)

The Role of Humility

I have found that I have had to humble myself so many times in relationships--sometimes when I was wrong, but many tines when I thought the other person was wrong--but the more you practice humility, the easier it becomes. We are the most like God when we love and "cover a multitude of sin" with our words and compassion than at any other time. He has not called us to judge, but to love. 

Does it hurt to be ignored or mistreated? Of course, but if we love Jesus, we are called to love and forgive, not because the person deserves it, but because He wants us to! We love out of our commitment to Him. Loyal love, humble love, "I don't care what you have done--I will always be your friend" sort of love is what makes us, as Christians, a picture of His reality in this world. 

But sowing love, will produce a wonderful crop of love--eventually! I was talking with Nathan the other day and he said, "You know, Joel is one of the people in the world I most admire. He is a great big brother to follow. I think he is one of my favorite people in all the world." 

Victory! Amazement! They love each other and prefer each other! And it only took 20 years! 

Are you a committed believer? Then choose to love! It is your spiritual service of worship.

We love because He first loved us. May God give us the grace today to love. 

"But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men." Luke 6:35