Read Matthew 7:1-6; Hebrews 13:1-2; James 1:19-25; 5:13-16
Another thing to be aware of in relationships is that they are a life form that grows, evolves, and changes. Just as children grow and develop, we too are always in a state of change, as are our relationships. Two people may start at a particular level, then that level changes as they mature, endure experiences, experience growth, and so forth. The relationship evolves and either grows closer or further apart. So, realize that where you are now is not where you will be a few months from now, and certainly not in a few years from now. We all go through various seasons of life affected by our environment, temperament, and spiritual growth. We need to know when to create space and boundaries and when to be there. The situation and temperament will be the clue, and listening will give you the direction. Life is about growth and change. You know this if you work with children or in a garden, as all life from plants, animals, and even humans are constantly in a state of change. So, expect, anticipate, and prepare yourself. Build roots that will stay and wings to take you around, as we need both roots and wings in life. The roots are your virtue and character and the wings are your ability to move and grow.
Even the best of relationships will become strained and may even end. Sometimes, that is the cycle because it was just meant for a season and then is over; other times it was ended too soon. There is a lot that we can do to keep relationships. The key is your willingness to forgive, even if you are not at fault. The other big issue is relinquishing your pride and honoring the relationship as more important than your self-importance. Forgiveness and eliminating pride are crucial in sustaining relationships!
If you see your relationships becoming stagnant, this may be the time to check on how you are coming across to others. How is your character and friendship factor? Are you evolving with the other person and his/her needs? Are you listening? Then, see how others are with you in these areas. Be open and willing to discuss this with the other person in a loving, understanding, and tactful way. In my counseling experiences, most relationships end because one did not keep up or listen closely to the other's needs. One allowed pride to get the best of him/her, taking pride as the trophy and not the relationship. Thus, the relationship killers of withdrawal, defensiveness, criticism, anger, and contempt took over. Relationships are far more important than pride. This does not mean that we are to be doormats or allow ourselves to be taken advantage of, but most of the time it is the little things that build up and eventually destroy relationships like tiny termites taking down a large house. The termites do not eat the house all at once; it happens over a long period of time during which you have ample time to get rid of the bugs and fix the problem. If not, your house will eventually be eaten to near nothing and will become inhabitable. In the same way, your relationship house will fall down if neglected.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:10-12
Another aspect in making good and lasting friendships is loyalty. Loyalty means putting into practice listening, character, and the ability to keep a confidence. Confidence is not just for professionals such as doctors, lawyers, or pastors; I believe it is for everyone. Counselors and pastors must keep it even more rigidly, but the average Christian must keep his/her relationships important. You show your loyalty by not gossiping. This earns respect and trust from others so they will share, and feel comfortable in doing so because they know they can trust you. Even though we discussed the importance of a growing and evolving relationship, your loyalty and consistency must remain as part of the root. This creates the stability and longevity factors of your relationships, especially in a marriage! Others admire your commitment to stay with it for the long run. That is something that can be held on to. If you are the one who gives up too easily, then that trust cannot be built. However, loyalty is not always 100 per cent. You cannot expect the other person to be 100 per cent loyal to you because, as a fallen creature, you will fail; others will disappoint you and you will disappoint them. We will all make mistakes; we are not perfect. This is where forgiveness comes into play. When you go through these tough times, reach out and experience forgiveness; your relationship will actually become stronger! And, like I said, the only way this will happen is for you to remove your pride.
We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. 1 John 4:13-16
What else can I do to make friends? Listen! Someone told me a few years ago why he does not listen. He said, "I do not have the spiritual gift of listening, so I do not have to listen." I wish I had been able to respond to him, but I just stood there with my mouth open, dumbfounded. Listening is not a spiritual gift that some people have and some people do not have. Listening is something we all can do and are called to do, even if we are deaf. Listening is a natural ability and a skill that can be improved on; all it takes is the will to turn it on and let it work. We can also learn techniques to improve our abilities. To be an effectual friend, you must know how to listen.
I like to joke with my wife Mary. When she tells me that I'm not listening, I respond by saying, "I'm listening; I just don't remember what you said!" From birth to death, we have the need for someone to listen to us. One of the main problems facing youth today is that no one cares for or listens to them; that is a major reason why events like school shootings (such as the one at Columbine) happen. It can be a casual conversation or a deep therapy session; if you feel that the other person is not listening, then you feel they do not care. Being listened to is a lot like being loved; so, we must take this matter seriously and grow in this skill. And, as I have learned, listening is not just hearing, it is actively participating in the conversation with your full attention?putting your response on hold.
I can do several things at once, naturally. I can watch TV, read a newspaper, and carry on a conversation simultaneously. My grandfather had a leg up on me; he could do all this and listen to the radio, too. Then, he could recite everything that was going on?and he did not even finish the ninth grade! That is too much for me. However, both of us learned that our spouses feel much better when those distractions are not present. They like to be the only recipient of our attention, even though both of us could repeat every word verbatim. The other person needs to feel your presence, see your eyes, and know you care. They have to be the most important thing/one in the room or in the world at that moment in time. This is what makes a magnificent counselor and one who is sought after in his job; it is also what causes a marriage to succeed.
There is an old story about a student who came to the great philosopher Socrates to be discipled by him. When this young student came to Socrates, he kept talking and talking and talking, so that Socrates could not get a word in edgewise. Socrates had to put his hand over the student's mouth and say "I'm going to have to charge you twice." The student asked "why?" Socrates said, "In order to make you a great leader, I will have to teach you two disciplines. First, you need to learn how to hold your tongue before you can learn the second discipline. And secondly, you will need to learn how to use your tongue correctly."
Greek philosophers put a very high premium on elegant speech, and Socrates was the best of them all. But, he knew very well you could not speak until you could listen. The early Christian community, as it was facing persecution, knew that to be a support and a leader, it must listen and progress in spiritual growth. The Christian, especially the leader, must be willing to listen. As followers of the Lord and relationship builders, we have to listen to His Word and to the people in our world. How we listen shows where our interests are and what our capabilities are as a friend. Are we mirroring Christ's character and grace or just seeing to our personal needs? The fruit that flows from listening is growth and spiritual maturity that leads to godly actions and creates friendships and real fellowship.
Listening is the quintessence of effective relationships. Combined with love, kindness, and character, listening will be the synergy to your being a winner in relationships, being real and effectual, and being better used by God. Listening people are the girders that connect and strengthen the pillars of relationship building. If I have not made my point yet, here it is: listening is the key integral aspect of being a friend; you cannot be a good friend unless you listen. You can look upon it as a support structure on the foundation of the Lord, where all the friendship aspects are part of the building. Listening makes up the frame that the whole structure is built on. Without the frame?without a skeleton?our bodies and houses would become limp and fall to destruction. Without the support of listening and caring, a friend will fade and a leader will fail.
Relationships are built on listening, both to God's Word and to one another. The relationship between a husband and wife is as good as each one's ability to listen. The leader in the church is as good as his or her ability to listen. The words that we hear are not as important as the care and effort put into them; the effect of listening is that the words are not the only interpreter of the message. The primary focus in communication is the hearer, the receiver of the communication; in relationship to each other, it means that the care is usually more important than the words, especially for the Christian. The words are the wrapper and the listening is the chocolate.
Humpty Dumpty once said, "I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I'm not sure you are aware that what you heard is what I meant." (Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll)
There are many good books on how to listen, so I will not take too much time here other than to say, LISTENING IS ESSENTIAL! Good friend-makers are good listeners. Be the person who listens (John 8:47; James 1:19-25)!
1. Have you ever wondered, ?if others knew the real me, they would not be interested in me?? Why is this thinking unbiblical and destructive?
2. What does "real" mean? Who is the real you? How does vulnerability show the real you? How does this improve relationships?
3. How are relationships like a life form that grows, evolves, and changes?
4. How have you seen your relationships grow or evolve through the various seasons of your life, environment, temperament, and spiritual growth?
5. One of the keys to making friends is being open, honest, respectful of the other person, and letting people know the real you. God made you special and unique, so do not be afraid of who you are! So, what are you going to do about these wonderful facts?
6. How do you use warmth and affection in relating to others?
7. Listening is the quintessence of effective relationships. How important is it to you that others listen to you? How well do you listen to others? How good of a listener are you?
8. How are you at being accepting of others? What can you do to be better at this?
9. What does loyalty mean to you? How do you show it to others? How should you show it?
10. What would your friendships be like if forgiveness were practiced more? How can you practice it more?
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 1 John 4:7-9
© 2005 R. J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org/