Ever wonder how an authentic loving relationship looks? Have you asked yourself lately, "Am I in a genuine loving relationship or not?" While endless descriptions of exhilarating romantic passion abound, authentic love encompasses contrasting features.
Simply stated, authentic loving relationships develop accountability for each person involved without anyone feeling the need to punish or be punished for making mistakes. As we develop accountability, we discover our need to acquire insight into ourselves and our behavior, taking time to reflect, growing increasingly aware of our relationship's needs. We willingly play fair, engage in honesty, and obey one another's ground rules. Yet, because of our feeble human nature, we sometimes fall short by not taking necessary time to acquire insight and awareness, and we quit playing fair, begin acting self-servingly and deceptively, and disobey the ground rules. Luckily we know that we can openly confess our failure to our beloved without fear of reprisal in hopes of pardon and reconciliation, re-embracing accountability, thus restoring our love.
This is to say, every loving relationship demands effort. It takes effort to find time and then to spend that time reflecting on our loving relationship to increase our insight and awareness. Playing fair can try us at times, requiring more exertion than we expected; yet, through reflection we can recognize our behavior, saying to ourselves, "I can see how wanting to play by my rules torpedoes fair play." Staying honest can sap our patience, and we say, "Oh, come on. Give me a break tonight. I don't want to explain everything." Yet, spending time assessing our impatience promotes healthier future responses. And obeying ground rules might oblige us to annoyingly suppress our sense of urgency, like when we come home from work, we might want to blurt out, "Dear, I have something really important to say." However, our ground rules stipulate that before blurting out what we want to say, we agreed to greet one another with something like, "Hello. How are you, my love?" Taking time to ponder the ground rules can assuage our annoyance, making for more loving communication the next time. Frankly speaking, however, our efforts to maintain a loving relationship over time can eventually overwhelm us, weakening our tender bond with one another.
Such an ever weakening bond, caused by lack of reflection, undermines tenderness. Kisses deteriorate into pecks. Holding hands becomes passé. Welcoming eyes dim. Criticism flourishes. Eventually, love plummets from the relationship; and, plummeting with that love also goes accountability, fair play, and obedience to ground rules. Before long we find ourselves left with two choices: we either put forth effort to reflect, repent, pardon, and renegotiate, or we quit one another's presence.
So goes the history of Judeo-Christianity. As far back as the Book of Genesis, biblical literature recounts one episode after another, illustrating how both God and our ancestors put forth enormous effort to sustain their loving relationship with one another. From the beginning of time, when the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of chaos, to the end of time, with its contests between good and evil described in John's Book of Revelation, biblical authors churned out countless accounts portraying how God and humanity struggled, still struggle, and will continue to struggle with each other to keep love alive, sacrificing gallons of blood, sweat, and tears to develop strength of character and patient endurance to find time and to spend that precious time reflecting upon the value of love between Creator and Creation.
Can the pastor offer any wisdom about how to keep loving relationships alive and healthy?
When it comes to loving relationships between one person and another, "A stitch in time saves nine."
Put another way, in order for human beings to sustain loving relationships with one another, best sew one stitch early to keep each other together today than face undesirable consequences later - consequences requiring multiple stitches to repair your torn relationship if possible. A few minutes daily, engaging in reflection to gain insight and awareness concerning your relationship's needs, prevents hours, days, weeks, months, or even years of seemingly endless agony. When it comes to humanity, if reflection and dialogue with one another suggests that your loving relationship can survive, so be it. Renegotiate, repent, forgive, pardon, and collaborate. On the other hand, if love fails resuscitation after exhausting every hopeful possibility, each partner can lament love lost; and, so be it. As you part, truly wish each other well before moving on, averting melodramatics, heartbreak, or punishment prevalent when love cannot be resurrected between two people.
In contrast (and happily so), because God always loved us first, then forgiveness, pardon, and reconciliation abound ceaselessly, forever able to renew our love for one another, even when we frail beings feel too weak to continue our efforts and fail to keep strong. (See 1 John 4:19 "We love because [God] first loved us." [English Standard Version]). Living in a loving relationship with a God who always takes time to consider loving relationships with Creation and Its inhabitants and who fervently loves us regardless of our limitations, forever proffers hope in resurrecting seemingly lost love - an optimism always expectant of tenderness resurfacing. Even when we stray from God's love, as far as God sees it, Prodigal Sons and Daughters always merit welcome home parties.
So. Does this help you decide if you find yourself in an authentic loving relationship? I hope so, because loving relationships between people and loving relationships between people and their God do the most to make living life worth the effort.
Pastor Tom came from Christ United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City, Utah to Cortez, where he pastors First United Methodist Church. He's a graduate of Eden Theological Seminary and Johns Hopkins University.