3. Healthy Relationships

HR Outcome 1: Love Intimately and Unselfishly

Growth Suggestion A:

Some people tend to be very ‘guarded’ in their relationships with others. If you are the type of person who has very few close relationships, perhaps there are reasons why you don’t or can’t allow others to know you deeply and intimately. Have you been hurt in past relationships? Perhaps your childhood didn’t include deep, personal relationships and doing so now feels uncomfortable. Do some soul-searching to try to understand yourself and why you hold others at an arm’s length. Don’t be afraid to enlist the help of a professional Christian counselor who will confidentially work through this with you, helping you to be more open and intimate with those you’re closest to.

Growth Suggestion B:

Learning to love intimately can be difficult if you’ve been wounded in the past. It’s always harder to trust people when you’ve experienced broken trust. Learning to love intimately is to trust others with really knowing who you are. Whether it be your spouse, your closest friends, or your mentors, work on trusting these people and sharing your innermost thoughts, feelings, hurts, joys, goals, and fears. This won’t happen all at once (nor should it). But begin by sharing one very personal detail with someone you trust. This is the start of an authentic, intimate relationship.

Growth Suggestion C:

Evaluate your closest relationships. Are they mutually edifying? Or are they one-sided and selfish? If you tend to take more from your friends or spouse than you give, your relationship is not mutually edifying and you are approaching that relationship selfishly. Intimate, healthy relationships can’t be one-sided. Pay close attention to the give and take in your closest relationships and make sure the balance is even. Intimate relationships will be drained if they are one-sided and selfish. Take concrete steps to ensure you feed the relationship and not just drain it.

Suggested Growth Resources:

Conflict Free Living: How to Build Healthy Relationships for Life (Joyce Meyer)
Hidden Dangers: Combatting Threats to Healthy Relationships (Kim Beckham)
Scary Close: Dropping the Act & Finding True Intimacy

by Donald Miller
Love as a Way of Life: Seven Keys to Transforming Every Aspect of Your Life (Gary Chapman)
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life (Henry Cloud)

HR Outcome 2: Forgiveness

Growth Suggestion A:

Romans 12:19 instructs believers not to take revenge but to leave it to God. It’s easy if you’ve been hurt to want to ‘get even.’ God doesn’t want you to live with that kind of negative emotion hanging over your head. If you find yourself hanging on to these types of emotions, make a conscious decision to let it go. God is just and one day he’ll settle the score. You need to relax in God’s care and deny the impulse to ‘get even’ with those who’ve caused us pain. You know when you’ve succeeded at doing this when you can think of the person or situation that has caused you grief without feeling negative, angry, or sad.

Growth Suggestion B:

Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” When you’ve been wronged, it is tempting to surround yourself with people who support your right to be angry. It is easy to let negative conversation and thoughts consume you, but that’s not going to help you develop spiritually; in fact, the opposite is true. When you’re confronted with the choice between forgiving someone or holding a grudge, recall the words, “overcome evil with good.” Dwell on it. Meditate on it. This will help you forgive even when it’s difficult.

Growth Suggestion C:

If you’ve forgiven someone, but still hang onto the pain of the past, take it a step further by doing good for them. That person who gossiped about you last year? Drop off a coffee and muffin at work next time you’re in his area. The one who damaged your property and won’t admit it? Invite her over for dinner. Those estranged family members who treated you poorly?Send them cards in the mail. In doing these things, God will convict them of their wrongdoing and you’ll be the ‘bigger person’ (Proverbs 20:21-22). In doing good for others, be sure to go about your tasks with a humble spirit and a loving heart.

While Christians need to be forgiving as a general rule, they must also establish healthy boundaries in their relationships. If you struggle with this end of the spectrum, perhaps by allowing yourself to be walked over or abused by another person, please find a trusted friend, pastor, presbyter, or counselor to speak with in confidence.

Suggested Growth Resources:

Overcoming Emotions that Destroy: Practical Help for those Angry Feelings that Ruin Relationships
(Chip Ingram and Becca Johnson)
Total Forgiveness (R.T. Kendall)
Bait of Satan (John Bevere)

HR Outcome 3: Live in Harmony and Peace

Growth Suggestion A:

Does it seem like whenever there is a disagreement or when other people don’t meet your expectations that the problem is always someone else? It’s funny how that works. You need to start evaluating the situations and people that really irritate or upset you a little more objectively. Is there a chance that you may be part of the problem? Are your expectations too high?Are you not gracious enough with others? Are you easily angered? If you find that others are always in the wrong, perhaps a trusted friend or mentor (or your spouse) can help you see things more clearly. Ask for their opinion and don’t get angry when they give it to you. In order to live the life of peace that Christ has called you to, you must do your part.

Growth Suggestion B:

When you are faced with a personal injustice or attack, how do you typically respond or react? Do you typically lash out or seek revenge? For many people, there is a natural desire to “get even” with their offender(s). We tend to think things like, “If she can talk about me behind my back, then I’ll do the same” or “If he disrespects me like that again in public, I’m going to put him in his place.” However, Jesus instructed his followers not to get drawn into petty arguments and drama. Rather, we should “turn the other cheek” (Mt. 5:39; Lk. 6:29). Do you turn the other cheek when others treat you poorly? The next time you are in a situation where you feel the need to retaliate, put the instruction of Jesus into practice and make an honest effort at living in harmony and peace with others. Christians should be better at this than the rest of the world – it starts with us!

Growth Suggestion C:

There can be situations where you’ve done absolutely everything possible to live at peace but a toxic person in your life won’t allow it. There are some people in the world who are so unhappy with themselves and their own lives that they like to make things miserable for others too. Sometimes this is intentional; sometimes it is subconscious. If you’re dealing with a toxic person, they won’t change if they don’t want to. If you’ve sought the advice of a trusted friend, fellow mentor, and your spouse who can also agree that you’ve done everything possible to live in peace, you must let it go if a peaceful resolution cannot be found. Romans 12:18 says that we should make every effort to live at peace “as far as it depends on you.” If you’ve done your part, you can release trust the situation to God with a clear conscience.

Suggested Growth Resources:

Peace: Overcoming Anxiety and Conflict (Jack Kuhatschek)
Finding Peace: God’s Promise of A Life Free from Conflict, Anxiety & Fear (Charles Stanley)

HR Outcome 4: Marital Intimacy and Unity

Growth Suggestion A:

If you’re single, this phase of your life is an important one. Use this time to discover yourself, your gifts, and your calling. The more time you invest in developing as a person and as a disciple, the better prepared you will be for a life-long commitment if you decide to marry. If you are married and the relationship isn’t working, it’s highly likely that nothing else is either. If your marital life is tense and strained, that stress will carry over into your work, parenting, leisure, and other key areas of your life. If you’re finding that your time with your spouse is characterized by tension and strife, you should both agree to ‘get away’ and spend some quality time together, away from the regular stress and pressure of everyday life and work. If your time and budget allows, plan a relaxing vacation away from home. If that’s not possible, look into a day trip or an evening out. Even an evening stroll or casual night out can be just the respite you need to reset the tone in your marriage. The key is that both you and your spouse need to agree that this is necessary and work towards lowering stress and tension in the home.

Growth Suggestion B:

If you’ve been married for a while, it’s easy to fall into familiar patterns. However, these patterns aren’t always healthy, nor do they always fulfill both partners equally. Take some time to evaluate your marriage, what you’re putting in, and what you’re taking out. Be sure that you intentionally look for ways to demonstrate your love to your spouse in ways that are meaningful for him/her.

Growth Suggestion C:

Every marriage experiences hurdles and difficulties. For some, there are major hurdles early in marriage in just learning to live together. It’s difficult going from being single and concerned primarily for your own interests to being married and having to consider an-other person in everything you say and do! For other people, hurdles are experienced in the empty nest stage, as you have to readjust to living together again, now that your lives aren’t completely wrapped up in the children anymore. Still for others, there are other difficulties that come; some even wonder if they’ve fallen ‘out of love.’ In any of these situations, know that you’re not alone. Other couples have endured similar and perhaps even worse trials than these. You may want to consider seeking the help of a marriage counselor, attending a marriage enrichment event, or watching a marriage enrichment DVD series together. Even couples that are experiencing ‘smooth sailing’ in their marriage could benefit from these helps. If you’re struggling in your marriage, don’t wait until it’s too late or the problems escalate beyond repair before seeking help. A word to the wise: If you are newly married or in a good place in your marriage, now would be a good time to talk to your spouse about your marriage and the ‘what ifs.’ Agree that you would see a counselor or trusted mentor if either spouse felt it was necessary. If you do this, when a difficult time comes, it will be much less of an issue taking that step – or even having the conversation.

Suggested Growth Resources:

Embracing God’s Design for Marital Intimacy (Focus on the Family)
Moving From Loneliness to Intimacy in your Marriage

(Focus on the Family)
The 5 Love Languages (Gary Chapman)

HR Outcome 5: Manage Sexuality

Growth Suggestion A:

Perhaps one of the biggest problems in our society is the pervasive issue of pornography. Do you struggle with viewing questionable media content? This isn’t a problem that is easily tackled solo. Talk to a trusted friend, pastor, mentor, or Christian counselor about the problem. You’ll need to let go of your pride here. The vast majority of people have struggled with this at some point, but far less will actually admit it. Getting the support of another person will be the first step to making a change. You also need accountability to break free of a problematic habit. Have your support person keep you accountable in ways that are helpful and suited to you personally.

Growth Suggestion B:

In order to effectively manage your sexuality, you need to identify areas of temptation. Upon identifying your temptations, you need to create a plan to help you from falling. If you struggle with inappropriate Internet usage, you need to limit or remove yourself completely until you have gained better control. Deactivating social media will help you limit your time online. Removing data from your smart phone or tablet and only using your computer in a public/common area will also help keep you from accessing inappropriate media. You may think that you have the willpower to avoid temptation without taking these steps, but if you’ve been struggling you need to make some obvious changes if you value living with purity and Christlike-ness.

Growth Suggestion C:

Scripture tells believers that they should entirely remove things from their lives that cause them to stumble (Mt. 5: 29-30; 18:8; Mk. 9:43). If with both accountability and a plan in place you are still unable to avoid stumbling into sexual sin you must remove every trace of temptation from your life. People have lost everything they cared about because their sexual struggles became so deep and pervasive. If this means giving up your computer entirely, disabling data usage on your cell phone, and disconnecting cable television, then this is the price you must pay to be sexually pure. After a period of time and with the advice of your counselor and mentor, you can begin to reinstate technology on a trial basis. Your discipleship is more important than your connectedness. Spend this period of time investing in prayer and your relationship with God. Ask God to replace your sinful desires with passion for his Kingdom and use your free time to invest in his work.

Suggested Growth Resources:

Beyond the Scandals: A Guide for Healthy Sexuality for Clergy (G. Lloyd Rediger)
The Purity Code: God’s Plan For Sex and Your Body (Jim Burns)
The Pornography Trap: Setting Pastors and Laypersons Free from Sexual Addiction (Ralph Earle)
Sexuality and Spirituality, Pursuing Integration
(William F. Kraft)
5 Steps to Breaking Free From Porn (Joe Dallas) www.xxxchurch.com

HR Outcome 6: Sensitive to the Marginalized

Growth Suggestion A:

If we look around our churches, we often see mirror images of ourselves. Most of our members come from similar economic backgrounds, dress similarly, and maintain a certain amount of ‘normal’ in their appearance. What happens when a person unexpectedly arrives at church, looking like they’ve been wearing the same clothes for a week and maybe they smell badly? What of the person who snuffs a cigarette just outside the church doors and then walks in?What of the young man covered in piercings and tattoos? What of the young lady who is dressed to attract the wrong kind of attention? How do we treat these people? It’s not good enough to offer a mere smile and a perfunctory, “Hello! How are you?” Take time to have a genuine conversation with the person. Find out a little of their story and make an effort to get to know them. When you surround yourself for too long only with people who are just like you, it’s easy to forget how to interact with people who are different. This needs to change if you are to grow as Christ’s disciples and be more sensitive to the marginalized.

Growth Suggestion B:

Do you regularly and systematically care for marginalized people in your daily life? As an affluent society, we can easily become absorbed in our own lives and activities. However, God desires that we would reach out to those around us who are suffering. We easily talk about going into “all the world” with our evangelistic efforts, yet we haven’t effectively mastered reaching into our own communities. There is no shortage of ways to get involved or ways to offer help to those around us who need it. It could be as simple as visiting lonely senior citizens, providing support for single moms, helping an unemployed person develop skills to get a job, be-coming involved with a soup kitchen, participating in Christmas hamper deliveries – the list is endless. The needs in each geographical area are unique. Find out what those needs are – who those people are – and look for creative ways to make a difference. It’s what Christ would have us do.

Growth Suggestion C:

Some of us are very good at welcoming the marginalized into our churches, support groups, and programs. But are we as welcoming of these individuals into our personal lives? Some of these individuals need more than the phone number to another office or the name of another program to attend. Sometimes what is needed is someone who is willing to actually become a part of the messy life of another person. This isn’t easy and will come at a cost. However, you may find that by investing in the life of a person who genuinely needs guidance and support from a more mature Christian, that you will also grow in the process.

Suggested Growth Resources:

Side Door: How to Open Your Church to Reach More People (Charles Arn and Kwasi Kena)
Community Ministry (Carl S. Dudley)
Intentional Ministry in a Not-So-Mega Church: Becoming a Missional Community (Dennis Bickers) The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led By the Spirit (Craig Van Gelder)Deepening the Soul for Justice (Bethany H. Hoang) Servolution: Starting a Church Revolution Through Serving (Dino Rizzo)

HR Outcome 7: Teachable Spirit

Growth Suggestion A:

If you are unable or unwilling to listen to the advice or input of others, then you are basically asserting an unhealthy pride in yourself. It’s as if you feel that you know better than anyone else. God’s design for His people is that they live in community with one another. We need each other and we need the input, advice, and encouragement of other believers on a regular basis. No person will grow to reach Christian maturity without being teachable. Begin to think about times when other people have tried to offer advice or guidance. How have you re-sponded? Did you always think that their input was irrelevant or unnecessary? Has no one offered you worthwhile advice or guidance? If this is your attitude, then perhaps you don’t have a teachable spirit. On the other hand, if you are always open to constructive criticism and looking for feedback and advice, you are likely open to growth through the contribution of other believers. If you aren’t sure if you have a teachable spirit, ask someone you trust to tell you what they feel your weaknesses are. Your reaction to such constructive criticism will determine whether or not you are a teachable person.

Growth Suggestion B:

It’s easy to find a groove in leadership or ministry. Once you find what you’re good at, you do it and most likely you do it well. However, is there still room for improve-ment? Also, what about the things you avoid doing or do poorly? Having a system of personal evaluation is highly beneficial for any leader. While this is incredibly difficult for some, it is nec-essary for anyone who desires to grow and improve. If your workplace includes a periodic evaluation, ask for personal copies so that you can continually work on growth areas. If your workplace does not offer evaluations, ask for one. You could also do a personal self-evaluation several times per year to determine where you feel your strengths and weaknesses are and which areas require im-mediate attention. The most important element of evaluation, whether done by an outside party or done personally, is being open to constructive criticism. When weaknesses are identified, you should then develop target areas for growth. No one is perfect, but you’ll continually do better if you identify your growth areas and proceed to work on them.

Growth Suggestion C:

Have you ever known a person who loved to ‘pick apart’ everyone else’s weaknesses? Some people simply cannot be pleased and will always make negative comments and try to tear others down. The easiest response to this behavior is to ignore it. In many cases, ignoring the dissenting voice is entirely justified. However, there are some cases whereby someone is voicing a legitimate problem in the wrong voice/tone. Be careful not to dismiss your own flaws simply because it was brought to your attention in the wrong way. You need a greater level of ma-turity than that. This is part of having a teachable spirit. Perhaps you don’t need to address the person who nitpicks your every move. However, if there is an element of truth in those complaints, you should be ready to accept the criticism and address the issue at hand. Here’s an example: if someone in your sphere of interest complains loudly and publicly that you play favourites and ignore certain people, you should consider why they feel that way. Is there any truth to it? If not, dismiss it entirely. If you can see how one might think you spend too much time with a particular group of people at the expense of others, without any justifiable reason, perhaps you should redistribute the time you spend with people. Being teachable involves how you respond to uninvited criticism as well as invited critique.

Suggested Growth Resources:

A Teachable Spirit (Marie Humphrey)

HR Outcome 8: Hospitable

Growth Suggestion A:

For some, hospitality comes easy. Some people are naturally inclined to share their homes and lives (and likely food!) with others. If this comes naturally to you, then you are already poised to share the Gospel with unbelievers and mentor younger Christians in your home. However, for some people, this is very difficult. If you are even remotely introverted, you are likely to find that hospitality doesn’t come easily to you. While you shouldn’t beat yourself up over this, you should try to push yourself to take steps in this direction. Introverts can actually function very well in small group settings, so focus on inviting one or two people at a time, rather than a group of people, and in this environment you can thrive.

Growth Suggestion B:

Our lives are often so busy and so scheduled, that we feel like there’s no time left for hospitality or entertaining. If you feel this way, you’re not alone! Challenge yourself to carve our time in your family’s schedule to make sure there’s time for hospitality in the midst of the chaos of day-to-day life. Some people may be able to do this weekly; for others, once per month is a reasonable goal. In either case, make it a priority to connect on a personal level with other people in your life.

Growth Suggestion C:

Hospitality is a natural inclination – a gift – for some people. For others, it comes with great difficulty and stress. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that hospitality means inviting company over to your immaculate home for an elaborate meal. Hospitality means the friendly or generous welcoming of another person. It indicates warmth and kindness. This can be as simple as toast and tea with a great conversation. Generally, people will remember the at-mosphere and ethos of your home and welcome, rather than the food you served or the décor on your walls. Sharing life doesn’t have a price tag and your hospitality isn’t measured by how much you spend on entertaining; it’s measured by your welcome and warmth in opening your home and life to others. Challenge yourself to welcome people into your life and home on unplanned occasions as well – it’s not about what your home looks like or what you are providing, it is about sharing life together!

Suggested Growth Resources:

Come on in: Taking the Hassle Out of Hospitality (Lisa Bogart)
Table Grace: The Role of Hospitality in the Christian Life (Douglas D. Webster)