Practices, Reflections

John Townsend on Relationships (1 of 3)

Secrets of Great Relationships February 22, 2004 – by Dr. John Townsend

Welcome
to our series on GREAT RELATIONSHIPS and how you can have them! We all
desire the good things a thriving, healthy relationship provides-things
like love, tenderness, intimacy, companionship, security, protection,
help and more. God wants you to have all these things, and He provides
a way for you to experience these good things: through connection. God
created you for connection, both with Himself and other people, and He
has designed ways to help you grow into the relationships you need and
long for. We are excited about your own prospects to create great
relationships, whether you want to improve a struggling one, or make a
good one great.

In this first article of three, we wanted to start with the foundation and beginning of any great relationship. That foundation is grace. This
is a word that you often hear describing our spiritual relationship
with God, and that is the origin of it. Grace is, briefly defined, unmerited favor,
and is the basis of how God relates to us, by favoring us through love
and not through performance: "For it is by grace you have been saved,
through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph.
2:8)." It is favors that God provides to us that we could never provide
for ourselves.

But grace is not just about you and God. It is also about you and
others. Any relationship that grows in intimacy, respect and freedom
must also be based on grace. Let’s break this down into its main themes.

Its basis. The love and care of any healthy relationship is
freely given, rather than earned. That is, two people connect from the
heart because they want to be together and be good to each other. And,
though it’s important to have standards and requirements of conduct and
love, no one is keeping a scorecard! Think how sometimes little kids
will say, "You aren’t nice to me so I’m not your friend anymore." Well,
there is nothing wrong with telling someone you don’t like their
behavior. But to stop caring about that person is a different matter.
Give grace and love freely and generously. When both people extend
unconditional grace, it warms the heart and brings people closer.

Its benefits. Not only is grace something that is unearned,
it conveys "favors," or benefits. That is, grace gives something good
to the receiver of grace. There are many elements of love and growth
that grace provides in a relationship. Here are a few:

  • Compassion and empathy
  • Comfort
  • Encouragement
  • Understanding
  • Safety
  • Acceptance
  • Wisdom and guidance

The list could go on and on. The point is, all of these aspects of agreat relationship are based on grace. Look at grace as the fuel of a relationship. When
the connection has problems, or is running dry, it is often because
grace is not flowing freely between two people. Open up the pipeline!

Its effects. When two people provide grace for each other as
the Bible describes it, there is nothing like it. People become
vulnerable, emotionally accessible and intimate with each other. Grace
tends to bring about more grace. I have seen couples who have been
together for many years find that, when they established a grace
relationship, things transformed between them into closeness, safety
and intimacy that they had never had before. Grace truly brings life to
a connection.

Its sources. The best grace-filled relationships are those in
which the individuals are receiving their "fuel" not only from each
other, but also from God and safe people who are "for" you and the
relationship. Life and relationship are demanding and require much of
us. You need to make sure that you are actively involved in taking in
and using the love and favor that the Lord and good people have for
you. You are not enough for each other. Learn to connect outside the
relationship, as well as inside it.

We were created for grace-based relationships, and you cannot go
wrong when you extend it to others. Learn both ends: how to receive it,
and how to provide it. As you do, your relationship can take on the
handprints of the One who made all relationships: "Grace and peace to
you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:2)."