What defines a loving relationship?
Let's try one of those quick association tests. What comes to mind when I say, "loving relationships"?
Maybe something like this?
Sunset, beaches, white teeth, flawless skin, romance, laughter, happy children...
Those are two of the many photos that came up when I did an image search for "loving relationships," but maybe your picture was more like a Norman Rockwell painting.
Food, prosperity, tradition, gratitude and conviviality around the table.
My guess is the first picture that came to mind didn't involve conflict, anger, tears, envy, wrestling matches, teasing gone too far, discipline, apologizing, forgiving, fear of rejection, disappointment, loneliness, fighting over space in the bathroom, laundry, dirty dishes (piles of which had to result from the feast above), whining, trips to the ER, bills, budgets and hurt feelings.
But you know as well as I do that real loving relationships involve most - if not all - of those things.
The perfect lives of social media
I read a tweet recently that went something like this: "Nobody posts their low IQ scores."
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter provide us with opportunities to shape and re-shape our public image as never before. We can take 10 to 20 selfies until we get one where we look thin or muscular or whimsical or whatever...and then post them as if they were off the cuff.
We want to look good.
That's natural. And dangerous.
Especially when it comes to relationships.
Making it personal
This is all easy enough for me to talk about in some theoretical sense, but relationships aren't theoretical. That's the point. So here goes...I'm about to make this personal.
I've been married for 31 years as of August 20, 2014. I have four beautiful children and one beautiful daughter-in-law. I just copied all the pictures above off of my personal Facebook account. This is how I would like you to see my life. This is what I want to believe loving relationships look like. But if I've learned anything over the last - oh, let's say 5 years - it's that loving relationships only look like this for the time it takes to snap the picture. That isn't to say they don't look good, but they don't look perfect.
I believe with everything in me that if we are to truly help each other, truly bear one another's burdens, truly walk alongside each other on this crazy, painful, joyous journey of life (which is what relationships are all about) we have got to be honest with each other.
These photographs do not convey a holistic view of my family. Let me fill in a few of the cracks:
1) I am about 40 pounds heavier than the picture on the left that was taken at my oldest son's wedding two years ago. My hair is actually almost completely white.
2) Before we had these 4 beautiful children, my husband and I went through seven years of infertility and a devastating miscarriage. I used to sob at the baptisms of other people's children. I was jealous. And I was angry at God for not giving me what I so desperately wanted.
3) My husband and I almost got divorced at year four. Some excellent marriage counseling and a dramatic shift of perspective on both our parts saved us.
4) I have been hit in the eye with a line-drive baseball, thrown up on countless times (once with bright red Jello), pooped on, peed on and drooled on. And I have cleaned up all of the above substances (as well as scary things growing in the refrigerator) even more times. Believe it or not, my children did not immediately respond by rising up and calling me blessed.
5) In the 1990s, my husband changed jobs 7 times. As a chef, his hours are long and strictly anti-family. I do not always handle this well.
6) I am a bad housekeeper. When I ask my children to clean, they inevitably respond, "Who's coming over?"
7) We have only 2 bathrooms at my house - the boys' bathroom and the girls' bathroom - and that means multiple people in there at once, performing multiple functions. When my daughters were both home, I used to say I was grateful for the forced intimacy, and I was. It wasn't always pleasant, but we could not help but interact with each other.
8) I am a low-energy introvert, and when I give everything I have at work, I don't have much leftover to give my family.
Obviously, there's more. Much more.
This is just a glimpse of the messiness of my life.
And here's the bottom line: Loving relationships are messy. Good. Very good. Essential. Life-giving. And messy.
When Jesus is asked for the most important commandment, he replies, "Love God." And a close second, "Love your neighbor."
So I feel completely confident of this: The value outweighs the mess.
If your loving relationships (like mine) involve conflict, you might be interested in this short video segment from the Counselor's Couch. Pull up a comfy seat and listen to what Dave Edwards has to say about managing conflict in your relationships.