Here is the manuscript of week one of Emotionally Healthy Relationships. You can also view the sermon at the bottom of this blog post!
We’re going to start off this year spending 8 weeks talking about relationships. If you have been thinking this year would be a good time to work on your marriage or spend more time with your kids or be a better friend, this is a great place to start. Each week in the sermon we will look at one specific Biblical principle about relationships and then we’ll offer a simple, practical thing you can try during the week. We’ll talk about things like expectations and the family you grew up in and how to fight well.
Then at 10:00 each Sunday Dr. Bev Snyder will be teaching a class to go deeper into this material. Even if you can’t make it every week you should join her for a session or two in the Gathering Place right over there. We’ll also be inviting you to read this daily devotional with us. It has a couple of short readings each day with a Bible verse and reflection on relationships and your faith.
We’re spending a lot of time with this series because relationships are important to us. Even if you didn’t start this year thinking about making yours better, you at least notice when they aren’t working. If you’re honest, there is probably a relationship in your life that could be better and you could feel closer to God. So we are going to spend eight weeks taking small steps to make your relationship with God and with other people better. We want them to not just be better, but emotionally healthy. Let’s jump right in today with one foundational idea.
Healthy relationships are learned.
It’s not something you are born knowing how to do. We know this from watching kids. Kids are taught how to be in relationships. They don’t do this naturally. We have to teach them to share. We teach them to speak kindly. We teach them to respect other people.
I remember one time when our younger son Andrew was a toddler. He was such a sweet kid. One morning, I sat there on the couch, clutching my cup of coffee. As someone who had a toddler, you don’t casually hold your coffee, you clutch it, like a life preserver. He was quietly playing, and I saw him find a little bouncy ball. It was one of those rubber ones, so everything stuck to it - dirt, dust, dog fur. He came walking over to me, and I thought he was going to show it to me, maybe share it. He came really close, then he looked me right in the eyes, and plopped the ball into my cup of coffee. Then, without saying a word, he just casually walked away. It doesn’t matter how good your kids are, they have to be taught to be in healthy relationships.
Some of you are naturally pretty good at loving other people. Some of you know it doesn't come as easily to you. Each of us learned things about relationships growing up. Some of what you learned was helpful, some of it was not. All of us can learn how to have healthy relationships now. It’s not something you are either good at or bad at naturally.
Healthy relationships are learned.
If healthy relationships are learned, wouldn’t it make sense to learn from someone who is a lot better at relationships than anyone else? To read about them, learn from them, spend time with them so the way they love is the way you start to love? Sure it would. This is why you should spend time with God.
We don’t always think about it this way, but God is great at relationships. God is definitely better at relationships than you are. From start to finish in the Bible, God shows us what love really looks like, starting in Adam and Eve in the garden and all the way through the letters to the early Christians. God loves us when we run away. God builds a relationship with us even when it seems impossible. Right at the center of this story of God is Jesus. God sought a relationship with us by coming here, as one of us, and doing for us what we could never have done for ourselves out of God’s love for us.
We’re never going to be as good as God. But if you believe that healthy relationships are learned, and if you believe, or can at least trust me, that God has a lot to teach us about good relationships, then:
Your relationships with others are better when you are closer to God.
When you spend more time with God and grow closer to God, you’ll learn how to have healthy relationships. In the gospel of John 15:4-12, Jesus talks about what it means to be close to Him. He uses an image of a plant. Jesus says:
Abide in me as I abide in you.
This word abide isn’t something we use a lot anymore. It’s an older word, that in the Greek has this sense of stick with me, or even live with me. Stick with me, Jesus says, as I have stuck with you. Now notice Jesus doesn’t say abide in me and then I will abide in you. He says “as I abide in you.” Even before you have decided to get close to God, God’s already decided to be close to you.
Jesus goes on:
Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
Jesus is the vine, and you are the branch. Those who are connected to God as a branch is to a vine, they bear fruit. We don’t always think of ourselves as connected to God like that. We think of ourselves as these self-sufficient, individual plants. But just because you can’t see the vine, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Early in quarantine, we all did things to keep ourselves busy. Maybe you made homemade bread, or watched Tiger King. Dave and I decided to work on this one section of our backyard. Years ago we had planted one, regular sized plant. But over time it had sprouted up one new plant after another, and it now covered about 30 feet, one plant after another, all about 10 feet tall. At first we just cut them all down to the ground, but in no time at all, they all came back. So we started digging, and what we found was that it wasn't a bunch of plants. It was actually one, gigantic vine running under the ground, and each branch was coming up from that one vine, making what looked like a new plant. The branches were easy to cut down, and would quickly die on their own. But the vine was really strong. Those plants weren’t growing to be so huge on their own. They were getting their strength from the vine we couldn’t see. Jesus said He is the vine, and we are the branches. Then he goes on:
6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
These are strong words. We can’t know for sure exactly what Jesus means here, because he doesn’t tell us. We should be careful to not jump to our own conclusions on what he means. Anytime Jesus talks about things going into the fire, we think “aha! He is talking about hell! But the truth is we don’t know. But what we do know is He wants us to take this teaching seriously. When a branch isn’t connected to the vine, it doesn’t survive. He goes on:
7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
Again we have to be careful in how we read this one. We know that we can’t ask for anything at all and guarantee God will give it to us. God is not a vending machine for our prayers, where we push a certain number and out comes the blessing. But again, Jesus wants us to take it seriously. When we abide with Jesus, and Jesus’ teaching abides in us, we can ask God for what we need, and we should ask.
Then he says:
8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
When you are connected to Jesus, you bear fruit. Fruit in the Bible is used to describe things like the fruit of the spirit. Some of you might remember those are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control. (Those are all things you are doing in your relationships already, right? Probably not all of them). But the more you are connected to God, the more you will see this fruit in your life, the more you will be patient and kind and good and faithful and Jesus says then you become His disciple.
The passage continues:
9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
As the Father loves the Son, so the Son, Jesus Christ, has loved us. That’s powerful. Sometimes you will forget just how much Jesus loves you but He does. And that love doesn’t stop with you.
Let’s keep reading:
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Love one another as I have loved you. The “as” in this verse has a sense of a source, as in “love others out of the love that I have poured into you.” When you are close to God, the way Jesus loves you will overflow into how you love other people. How did Jesus love? He loved people with forgiveness and grace. He loved them without expecting something in return. He loved consistently, when the people around him weren’t being very lovable. Jesus even loved his enemies. When you learn from someone like that, it’s going to change how you love other people. Your relationships with others are better when you are closer to God.
If they aren’t, something’s wrong. One word of caution before we go on.
If you are already spending a lot of time with God and feeling like your faith is really strong but you still aren’t loving people well, there is a problem. If you are coming to church every week but you are still mean or unforgiving or selfish, it’s time to take stock and see if you are really letting Jesus change your life, or if you are just going through the motions.
In Matthew 22 it says:
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
For Jesus, loving God and loving others were not only the most important things, they were inseparable. If you love God, you will love other people. Healthy relationships, relationships where you love others the way Jesus has loved you, they are learned.
For now, some homework. Over these next few weeks, we are going to learn some practical ways we can learn to love a little more like Jesus. Each week we promise to provide some take home ideas to try to improve your relationships. For this week, you have two.
First, make time for God. Spend time reading the Bible. Pray about your relationships. If you aren’t already doing this, start with just a few minutes, at a specific time of day, to be with God. Again, we’d really recommend this devotional as a great way to try this for the next 40 days. Then throughout the day, come back to prayer. Notice the way God is present in your kitchen, or at work, or at your appointments. Sometimes the best prayers happen not only when you are sitting quietly but when you look for God in the middle of the chaos of your day.
Then, take the first step to communicate with the people in your life in a new way. When we watch the way Jesus talks to people, he isn’t just giving and receiving information. He is building a relationship. When he asks the disciples “who do you say that I am?” it’s not that he doesn’t know, he is building his relationship with them. When he says I am the way and the truth and the life he isn’t just teaching, he is inviting those around him to be in a relationship with him.
Healthy relationships start by learning to do this with the people in your life. Communication, which we will look at a lot over the course of this series, isn’t just about information. It’s about connection. We tend to talk at each other, or over each other, or we put each other on the defensive. But small simple changes in the way we talk can bring big results.
So your practical tip for this week is to try to use more “I language” in your conversations with the people close to you. There’s a few examples of what this looks like in your bulletin. For example, instead of “When’s dinner?” you might start with “I appreciate ….” then share something you appreciate about them, like the fact that they are making dinner. Or, if something hasn’t gone the way you hoped, instead of saying “Why on earth did you do that?” try "I notice and I prefer." I notice that this happened but I would prefer this instead. Instead of “you did this thing that made me angry” try "I feel" and then share what you are feeling. Instead of the regular “how was your day” conversation, try digging a little deeper. Start with "I hope" and then share your hopes for the future.
This is one small building block to start communication in a healthy way. You can invite the person you are talking to try it too. Next week, we are going to dig in and talk about expectations.