I’m no longer on Facebook. While you can keep in touch with many “friends” on Facebook, the reality is that the social media platform is not built to sustain real relationships. It mostly allows us to share selective information about ourselves to people we don’t really know. I can learn a whole lot more about someone by knowing them in a personal relationship. So, when can you say you actually know someone? Moreover, since we’re all constantly changing, can we ever truly know another person?
Perhaps a better question would be: “When do we know someone well enough to say we’re in relationship with them?” Books have been written about the psychology of relationships, many of which reflect the self-absorbed approach to relationships that result from a secular culture. And while I’m no expert on the subject, I can say that as believers the basis of meaningful relationships is grace—and there are three marks of relationships rooted in the grace of God.
1. Hearts are Revealed.
If I sit down with a person I’ve read about on Facebook, maybe over coffee, and we begin to open up and honestly share our hearts with one another, the door to relationship opens. It’s when we deliberately choose to know and be known. As we discover what’s important to each other—what our motivations are, our deepest desires, the burdens we carry—at that point, I would say a relationship has begun.
As we discover what’s important to each other, at that point, I would say a relationship has begun.
It usually takes time for relationships to grow because we’re processing information about the individual and deciding how far we’re going to allow them into our own personal space. However, as Christians, we are to operate on the basis of grace, which means we put others before ourselves. When we grasp the grace God has extended to us in Jesus Christ, we will offer it freely to others.
2. Knowledge Shapes our Behavior.
I know a lot about my wife, and after 46 years of marriage I’m still learning. She knows me so well it’s scary. I seldom finish a question these days before she’s answering it. She even answers some of my questions before I ask them. It’s like she knows. Yet, our relationship doesn’t rest on accumulated knowledge, but on how well that knowledge affects the way we interact. For example, if I know she doesn’t like Chinese food, I’m not taking her to the Golden Dragon for her birthday.
Healthy relationships are those which respect the other person’s needs and preferences, even their strengths and weaknesses. The better we know what those are, the better friend we can be, and as Christians, appropriating that knowledge should be a primary goal in the relationship.
3. Shared Life Experiences.
One of the best ways relationships develop is through shared experiences. This is particularly true with men and requires a willingness to invest time in the relationship. Here again, we need grace to help us because time is a precious commodity and one that we’re often reluctant to give away. But giving time to develop relationships is a worthy investment that can pay relational dividends down the road.
Building relationships with others can be risky since transparency brings with it a certain vulnerability. The more we know one another, the more meaningful the relationship becomes, the greater the potential for hurt and disappointment. This is where a lot of people have struggled. Their painful past hinders future friendships by creating a reluctance to make themselves vulnerable again. But as our Lord Jesus taught his disciples, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)
Are you willing to know others and make yourself known to them? And is that willingness motivated by grace? Are you willing to be vulnerable, to sacrifice, and to shape your behavior for the good of others? This is the essence of gracious relationships. We lose our lives to find them again in relationships that minister God’s grace to others.