Research confirms what common sense tells us about the key to living longer, being healthier, and being happy -- it’s having quality relationships in life. There are two habits we might want to reconsider if we hope to improve our relationships. These two habits can either enhance or harm every relationship we value. And, these two habits will make or break the way we are remembered and accepted by those around us.
The first habit to consider, is the way we respond to others around us when we are confronted. How defensive are you, when someone brings something up that you don’t want to hear?
I know, I do know, it’s not easy to accept “constructive criticism” without reacting. In fact, I’d venture to say the term “constructive criticism” rarely ever feels constructive at the time; when we are on the receiving end of constructive criticism, it feels rather destructive. What I’m recommending instead, when people offer an assessment on our performance or attitude or behavior or they simply make a suggestion, let’s pause and be more open to what they have to say.
Several years ago, I was terribly wounded in spirit by a manipulative, abusive, antagonist in a church where I served. To this day I lead “with a limp” from that experience. As the years go by, like miles adding up on an odometer, I realize that the methods/intentions of my antagonist were wicked and malicious, but, many of their observations about me were nearly spot on. Also, some of their unsolicited suggestions would’ve helped me. This acknowledgment is both scary and liberating for me all at the same time.
We really have nothing to lose by listening to people who seem to be attacking us. We can grow from these interactions one way or the other. At times we do need to establish healthy boundaries to guard our hearts, which means a limited interaction with harmful people. If in the end you still think the other person is way off track, you can always end the conversation with, “Well, you’ve given me a lot to think about. Thank you.”
The truth is not our enemy, and in life people who bring the truth to light are not our enemies because of the truth. Realistically, most of the reasons we become defensive can be based in our insecurities, and our insecurities are based in lies not truth. We feel less confident than we ought to many times in life, and when someone raises a touchy subject or calls our character into account, we build a protective wall emotionally around our heart, and sadly we seal our ears to whatever truth might be being revealed to us.
A true measure of maturity is the ability to hear what someone says, and like a prospector panning for gold, to be able to separate reality from fantasy. Just because someone says something about you, that doesn’t make it true, and just because you don’t like it, that doesn’t make it false. Filter what you hear through the lens of truth, but do so cautiously since the easiest person you will ever lie to is yourself. For example, Jer 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
Now, to the harder habit. This second habit is perhaps what ruins or saves more relationships than any other single factor. What I’m focusing on now is whether or not you try to control other people. I’m not dealing with how to cope with controlling people, what I’m addressing here is corralling the control freak within us.
Why should you try to tame the control freak within yourself? Nothing wounds those you love more than when you try to suppress them. And, being a controlling person is often times intergenerational, meaning, when we are controlling we unintentionally pass this trait onto the next generation, thus hurting our future family members.
Often times, a control freak is really a person who feels weak inside. I don’t know if you’ve thought about it or not, but when we make “demands” of others, we are really exposing our own weaknesses. And, people who can’t control themselves are typically the ones who try the hardest to control everyone else around them.
At its core, the ultimate danger in being a control freak is we take a stance not even Almighty God will take. God Himself never removes or withholds your freewill. God, who could take away everyone’s freedom, does not do so. God could completely control people, but He doesn’t. Therefore, when you control others, you do what God could do -- but refuses to do. That should get our attention.
So, to grow healthier relationships in 2016 and beyond, let’s tune our ears to hear the truth from others and let’s give the people around us more freedom. Yes, we are talking about choices here, so may we make the best possible choices as we reflect God’s influence on our lives. “ Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (II Cor 3:17-18 ESV)