Last week in Chicago we set records for cold weather, and the hero of my week was my new gas furnace. Despite having -50° wind-chill, our family stayed warm during the 48 hours straight that we stayed inside. One of life’s realities is that relationships, like a heater in the brutal cold, take work to stay warm.
If we ignore relationship health for too long or don’t work to maintain it, our relationships will often fail us in times of trial. It takes work to maintain relational warmth and this work is detailed in the many biblical principles that address healthy relationships.
John Gottman, a secular psychologist who has studied marriage dynamics describes it this way –“Like the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says that in closed energy systems things tend to run down and get less orderly, the same seems to be true of closed relationships like marriages. My guess is that if you do nothing to make things get better in your marriage but do not do anything wrong, the marriage will still tend to get worse over time. To maintain a balanced emotional ecology you need to make an effort—think about your spouse during the day, think about how to make a good thing even better, and act.” – John M. Gottman, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last
I think this is true for all relationships, not just marriage. As Christians, our actions should reflect the heart that God reveals to us in scripture. In Romans 12:9-10, three words jump out to us that describe the relationships that have warmth. “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (ESV)
A Relational Warmth Checkup from Romans 12
It doesn’t take long for a relationship to degenerate into conflict when the participants view it in terms of a contract instead of covenant. Both in marriage, family, and friendship, we can put expectations on others. “I expect you to make me feel secure or happy.” “I expect that you would hang out with me more.”
Genuine love seeks to give more to the relationship than you expect to receive. When we expect equal treatment, we devolve into contract love and too often seek to renegotiate a better deal. Genuine love is about grace when it is undeserved. It’s hard and it often hurts. It takes wisdom and work to mange the many relational dynamics, but it can be accomplished with the Spirit’s help and leading.
I have spent my fair share of time waiting outside the doors of the International Terminal at O’Hare airport, and you can’t help but smile at the joyous reunions of families separated by the seas. You see wide smiles, long embraces, and antsy children as grandparents, soldiers, missionaries and exchange students walk through the doors and greet their loved ones.
Affection is a desire to spend time with someone and a tenderness of heart. Do those in your family know you to be tender? The opposites are quarrelsome, conflict-driven, self-centered or detached. Affection is something that grows or wanes but it reflects our thoughts and the condition of our heart. Kids need affection too. Many kids grow up in a world doubting their parent’s love. Make the effort to show affection in your relationships.
There is something unique about State Funerals and I was fascinated by the recent funeral of President Bush and John McCain. Regardless of the many disagreements that those in the room had with these accomplished leaders over many years, our country paused to give honor that was due. Careful planning and detailed work went into these pageants of honor.
Do those around you feel that you are honoring them? Maybe it’s difficult because you don’t feel like it or they don’t feel like they “deserve” it. However, we can see by Christ’s example that He sought out the undeserving. We honor others when we encourage, compliment, or serve intentionally. The opposite is to tear down, criticize, or disrespect. If you want to have relationships that are warm, choose to find ways to honor.
If you work to outdo others in genuinely showing honor and affection, your relationships with improve!