Relationship is your link with your spouse and your children. Just belonging to the same family and living in the same household does not guarantee good relationships. When one gets married, bringing together two different backgrounds, values, family traditions, personalities, priorities, and many more to establish a new home and family is not easy. It is seemingly full of joys and heartaches as well. This is probably why in Deuteronomy 24:5, it says, “If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.” How we wish that would be true in our society! But it does point out that relationships do need time, effort, energy, and forging of efforts and hearts together to strengthen it.
For many of us, building good relationships is a skill to be learned and practiced and does not come automatically. One father said: “When my first child came along, I didn’t suddenly and automatically change my priorities and make time for play. I had to work at it. I had to change some of my habits and learn to live by some new rules.” That is true for when you get married or when you become a parent. One is overwhelmed with good emotions at the beginning, but could grow distant over time when we do not work at it.
Good relationships are established and deepened with spending time together, excellent communication, and intentional expressions of love. God himself communicates to humanity with both the incarnate Word (John 1: 1–4, 14) and the written word (2 Tim. 3:16) and in various ways (Ps. 19:1–6; Heb. 1:1–3). We will just deal with one aspect today, and tackle the others this love month of February.
The bidirectional aspect of communication and relationship requires not just sharing one’s thoughts and opinions, which we tend to do, but also in encouraging others to share their thoughts and feelings without judgment or criticism. Spouses need to bring talks to not just mundane happenings but every once in a while bring talks to deeper levels of dreams, hurts, disappointments, desires, and especially conflict resolution. Parents need to learn to expand our repertoire of communication with our children, instead of being limited to school or to correct behavior but allow little disclosure of our children’s personal problems and feelings.
Jesus provides the example of communication that probes into thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, values, and he does it not so much as giving sermons but more often through asking questions. Martin Copenhaver’s book entitled Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered (2014) highlights Jesus’ model of asking questions. In the foreword, Lauren F. Winner enumerates the functions of questions: to elicit information, to inspire people to discover something new, to persuade, to stimulate thought, to forge intimacy, and to disarm as Jesus did. Spouses and parents could discuss the kind of questions to ask that would elicit necessary information or get the other to think and process essential lessons instead of the one-sided instructions, sermons, and reminders we often give.
I grew up at a time when children were seen but not heard. Respect for elders were shown by not answering back and staying silent when rebuked or exhorted. My strong-willed grandmother was dominant in our family in order to raise her many children when her husband died and continued on to our family with six boys. Becoming the youngest when my little brother died at five, I grew up to be timid and kept things to myself, escaped into books and my music when not in school.
I started to come out of my shell when I went to college and eventually got involved in an international faith-based organization. I gained confidence and friends became like family. There was one particular friend that made an impact in my life on how relationships ought to be. I learned from her to commit to friendship, to go deeper into probing thoughts and feelings and not settle with superficialities, and show creative ways to care. Because I was a recipient of her pursuit in friendship, I learned to do the same to others. This helped me well when I got married and started my family. I learned to go deeper in my relationship with my husband by not allowing conflicts to remain unsettled, or discussing things that fester our hearts or minds. I applied the same pursuit with my children when they became quiet and secretive in their teens.
At a time when gadgets and virtual friends dominate our consciousness and time, it is good to resolve this year to intentionally work at strengthening your family relationships by spending time, connecting hearts, and deepening interaction.
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