In The Complete Charlie Brown (Vol. 5, 1959-1960) cartoonist Charles Schulz illustrated the paradox of dealing with people. The cartoon depicts poor old Charlie Brown screaming at the world, "I love mankind. It's people I can't stand." Even in the kinder, gentler times of happy days relationships were a test for most humans. They still are. If you're carrying a specific burden into the New Year it's most likely a relational situation that grieves your heart, people in your life circle with whom you're at odds. Throughout the holidays I've talked to so many people whose celebration was hindered by a broken relationship---parents who haven't spoken to children in many years, friends who have clashed, tensions with a colleague, church squabbles, and other relational messes. Checking the year-end pulse of our relationships may be a way to insure there's no repeat when 2017 is winding down.
Relational platforms have been elevated in the digital world. Social media has certainly altered the dynamics of personal interaction. Split-second communication and availability have expanded our friend bases far beyond the limits that used to define us. Just several years ago we were talking about being able to have around 300 acquaintances and 75 up-close friends. Today those numbers are irrelevant as we have the ability to reach so far so fast. Factor the vagaries of human nature into the people equations and we have an entire new language to define relationships----toxic, fragile, lethal, intolerant, brittle, abusive, controlling, dysfunctional----to name a few.
Of course, Scripture is about humankind's relational problems. The Bible explains in great detail how Christians should interact, at least seventeen specific New Testament "one another" passages identifying our responsibilities to one another. Jesus taught us about loving and praying for our enemies. And, yes, there's a good bit about being examples to those not living in the community of faith. You can Google "how Christians relate to other people" and soon have umpteen Scripture references about every category of interpersonal connection. Please do it before Sunday.
But, I'd like to go in another direction. Years ago I became convicted about taking responsibility for the relationships with those people entrusted to me as friends or relations. As a pastor for thirty-five years there were always differences with others, along with the usual family and intimate circle relations that make life interesting. In most of those situations I was the pastor in the group, the spiritual elder, the senior member of the relationship. It was not an age or life circumstance priority system but one of spiritual placement. In that role, as his chief servant, God convicted me of my responsibility to keep those precious relationships spiritually functional. So, my pulse check is always intensely personal. These questions guide me when there are relational stresses----
RQ1: Have I spoken to the person with whom there is relational tension?
RQ2: Did I ask that person what I did to create this particular tension?
RQ3: Did I confess that failure to the person and seek forgiveness?
RQ4: Have I followed biblical guidelines for restoration of the relationship?
RQ5: Are we reconciled?
Pride is often the root of broken personal relationships. Years ago God convicted me to take my pride off the table when I am at odds with another person and to approach that person with humility and brokenness regardless of the circumstances that created the tension. Whether or not I was the offended or the offender, I would usually approach the other person with a humble spirit and say, "I sense some tension between us. Have I done something to create this stress in our relationship?". Ninety-nine percent of the time the threat of that moment would be eased in the twinkling of an eye. In most instances they would confess a personal failure or misunderstanding. But, when approached, reconciliation could begin.
There are many Bible verses about loving one another, exhibiting the character of Christ to those in the body and those without, the Gospel way to relate to those who oppose us, and the special care that should direct us to people with unique needs. We must be aware of them all. But, on a larger scale, one verse in the Epistle to the Hebrews is most important as I check my year end relational pulse---
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see
the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of
bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.
Hebrews 12: 14-15, ESV
Now, go make peace with everyone.