The Basis of Life
The basis of life is people and how they relate to each other. Our success, fulfillment, and happiness depend upon our ability to relate effectively. The best way to become a person that others are drawn to is to develop qualities that we are attracted to in others. Just as I was preparing this chapter, I received an anonymous card from a member of my congregation. It was especially meaningful because it reflected the importance of warm, rewarding relationships:
When special people touch our lives then suddenly we see how beautiful and wonderful our world can really be. They show us that our special hopes and dreams can take us far by helping us look inward and believe in who we are. They bless us with their love and joy through everything they give. When special people touch our lives they teach us how to live.
Does that reflect the kind of person you are to others?
The Difference between a Contract and a Covenant
A contract is a transaction. A covenant is a relationship. Or to put it slightly differently: a contract is about interests. A covenant is about identity. It is about you and me coming together to form an ‘us.’ That is why contracts benefit, but covenants transform.
Jonathan Sacks, Address by the Chief Rabbi to The Lambeth Conference, July 28, 2008.
Hardwired for Relationship
In his book, The DNA of Relationships, counselor Gary Smalley argues from countless hours of research and observation alongside the wisdom of the Bible that we are hardwired for relationship. This is one of the three main points of the book, Relationship DNA. He shares an anecdote to describe this reality:
The other day, I received a letter from a young man who had gotten back together with his girlfriend after a difficult conflict and a terrible fight. Eric had been working through some things at our counseling center, and it apparently had helped him and his girlfriend, and they got back together. Eric’s closing sentence was, “Sometimes I feel that I can’t live with her, and yet I know I can’t live without her.” How often do we hear that said?
Well, there’s a reason for that. It’s in our DNA: We are made to need relationships. Even when they are hard, difficult, or just plain frustrating, we need relationships. It’s the way we are wired. We have a longing to belong to someone, to be wanted and cherished for the valued people we are.
Dr. Allan Schore of the UCLA Medical School has found that our basic genetic structure within the brain is hardwired to form emotionally based connected relationships right from birth.
Relationships are not optional. From the moment we’re born, we’re in relationship with parents, siblings, and other relatives. Soon we’re in relationship with other children. Later we have relationships at school and in the workplace, and we develop relationships with close friends. Eventually, most people develop a relationship with someone they deeply love. When a relationship becomes difficult or painful, we tend to dismiss the relationship and may for a while try to abandon all relationships. But inevitably we come back and seek connection again.
Though we can choose how we will participate in relationships, we have no choice about whether we will participate in them. This is a critical point. Our only real choice is whether we will work to make our relationships healthy; whether we will do things that hinder or enhance them. Dr. Dean Ornish has found in his research that “loneliness and isolation . . . increase the likelihood of disease and premature death from all causes by 200 to 500 percent or more. . . . In short, anything that promotes a sense of isolation often leads to illness and suffering. Anything that promotes a sense of love and intimacy, connection and community, is healing.”
It All Starts with Relationships
Everything significant starts with relationship. At the end of the day, your faith, your family, your work, and your leadership are all based on who you relate to and how you relate. Your life is motivated by love for others, being part of a family, a desire for intimacy and vulnerability, choosing to work on a great team, and creating a product or service that helps others. We are happiest when we know our lives revolve around people. Conversely, we are not ourselves, not our best selves, when we are isolated and alone.
Relationships as Commodities
A recent book, The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times, says that private family life is no longer, as historian and cultural critic Christopher Lasch named it, “a haven in a heartless world.” The book description summarizes a point that many have been making for a generation:
The family has long been a haven in a heartless world, the one place immune to market forces and economic calculations, where the personal, the private, and the emotional hold sway. Yet . . . that is no longer the case: everything that was once part of private life—love, friendship, child rearing—is being transformed into packaged expertise to be sold back to confused, harried Americans. . . .
“Association breeds assimilation.” In other words, there is no such thing as a casual relationship. All relationships are consequential. They are catalytic. They push us forward or hold us back. They propel us into purpose or push us into pain. They bring joy or bring sorrow. They are incredibly impactful, even when we are unaware of their impact.
Paul told the people of Corinth in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” I’d like to pose a question. Why would Paul warn the audience of this epistle to not be misled? Could it be because he understands that it is possible for us to be oblivious to the impact that our relationships have on our lives?
Relationships with God and Each Other
Everything we’ve talked about so far—everything that applies to our relationships with each other—applies to our relationship with God. It’s messy, sometimes seasonal, requires time and attention to flourish, is reciprocal by nature, fueled by love, and—here’s the big one—it is possible for everyone. // Likewise, the same obstacles that get in the way of our achieving intimacy with other people tend to get in the way of our relationship with God: not spending enough time with him, not being fully present with him, not getting to know him, taking out our frustrations on him, not paying attention to him, and not seeking his will.
Relationships Touch Almost Everything
Almost everything we do touches a relationship in some way. Just think about your day. Whether you’re at home or at work, driving your car, playing, exercising, shopping, vacationing, worshipping at church, or doing any one of the many activities you and I do every day, we are constantly involved with people. We even interact with people in our sleep. There is no escaping relationships.
Searching for a Sanctuary that Does Not Exist
One of the most influential myths nourished by the culture of authenticity is that we will be “saved” or made complete when we meet the right-shaped soul, that perfectly complementary person who can fulfill all of our needs and desires. Like Morpheus in The Matrix we find ourselves asking, Is he or she “the one”?
Within the church we have tended to supercharge this fantasy by spiritualizing it, so that “the one” becomes the single human being that God has fashioned into perfect compatibility with all of our needs and longings. God is just waiting for the perfect moment to release this person into our lives, along with an associated relational epiphany just to make sure we don’t miss the moment.
The problem is that we are likely to experience a keen sense of frustration and despair as this paragon fails to materialize. Some personality trait or quirk always mars our idealized image. Despite this reality, modern authenticity encourages us to search for Dante’s Beatrice: the perfect soul who can lead us into the beatific vision of the heavenly realm. This search…locks us into a quest for a sanctuary that does not exist. Rather than focusing on the potential relationships standing in front of us, we keep our eyes focused on the elusive possibilities on the road ahead.
The Secret to Sardinia’s Healthy Centenarians
Susan Pinker, the social science columnist for the Wall Street Journal, gave a TED talk in 2017 titled, “The Secret to Living Longer May Be Your Social Life.” In her research she discovered that the Italian island of Sardinia had ten times as many centenarians as North America. Why? It wasn’t the olive oil. It wasn’t the sunny climate. It wasn’t the gluten-free diet or personality types. It was the quality of close personal relationships and face-to-face interactions. She concluded her talk this way:
Building in-person interaction into our cities, into our workplaces, into our agendas . . . sends feel-good hormones surging through the bloodstream and brain and helps us live longer. I call this building your village, and building it and sustaining it is a matter of life and death. It’s good for your health, it turns out, to be in rich communal relations with others.
Shocked and Overwhelmed
Jimmy Carter, the 39thPresident of the United States, was frequently questioned on a variety of topics based on his Southern Baptist faith. One question stood out, “How would you feel if you were told that your daughter was having an affair?” a reporter once asked him. “Shocked and overwhelmed,” Carter responded, adding, “but then, she’s only seven years old.”
Stuart Strachan Jr.
True Relating is Born of Solitude
I sit in a bright-lit June meadow at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery in Kentucky. It is early afternoon, and I have been here since morning in what can only be described as an uneasy solitude. Time is measured here in the chant of crickets and frogs, in the syncopated litany of songbirds, in the silence of tattered wildflowers.
Even though I yearn for this acre of solitude, some other part of me hungers for the larger world of “relevance,” as if my solitude were a rarefied form of loitering. By most standards, X am not being productive, efficient, or the slightest bit useful. And I can’t help feeling … what? Extraneous? Indolent?
It seems I should be writing something, cleaning something, fixing something. And I still have this tiny but stubborn repository of conditioning inside that tells me I should focus only on others, that sitting around in a monastic meadow is withdrawn. Navel-gazing self-indulgence.
Shouldn’t I be back home working in a soup kitchen or something?…
Being alone in order to find the world again sounds ridiculously paradoxical. It seems so even now that I’m here. But somewhere along my spiritual journey, I’d stumbled upon a difficult and enigmatic truth: True relating is born in solitude.
The Two Hats
A man started a company and built it into a very large enterprise, and was planning to hand over the reins to his son at retirement. One day, he was walking through the factory and observed his son angrily berating an employee in front of other employees. He looked at his son and motioned for him to come to his office. “David,” he began. “I wear two hats around here. I am the boss and I am your father. Right now, I am going to put my boss hat on. You’re fired.
You are done here. I will not have that kind of behavior in my company and will not ever tolerate employees being treated that way. I have warned you about this kind of thing before, and you are still doing it. So, I have to let you go.” Then he said, “Now, I am going to put on my father hat.” After a moment’s pause, he continued. “Son, I heard you just lost your job. How can I help you?”
Henry Cloud, “How to Add Climate Control to Your Life,” MariaShriver.com, February 6, 2014,, accessed May 16, 2016.
The Two Worlds of Relationships
Many of us live in two worlds when it comes to relationships. In one world we have friendly conversations in which we avoid all disagreements; in the other we have major conflict-type conversations that tear everybody and everything up. In the first world we have connection without truth, and in the second we have truth without connection.
God did not design us to live in these two worlds, having these two types of relationships. He wants us to live in the one world, where he lives and where truth and love coexist as allies, not adversaries. Our connections are best when they are truthful, and our truth is best when we are connected.
The Bible calls this truth in love: “Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Conversations work best when people both care for each other and tell the truth to each other. Good things happen. People get along, resolve issues, and still maintain the connection they need.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Relationships. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!