I believe that everything in life is a learning and growing experience. I also believe that God has placed certain people in our lives for a reason. Some relationships are only for a season and some are for a lifetime. Whether the union is supposed to last for a year or a decade, there are some Biblical principles to keep in mind when sharing the same emotional space as someone. The thing about relationship is that God created it. God joined Adam with Eve. Jesus communed with His disciples. We are born into families. No matter how much we try to distance ourselves, there will always be people that we need to lean on and learn from. We can never be truly isolated. What happens when we enter into a romantic relationship is that we take a risk--knowing that we are joining ourselves to someone who is imperfect, flawed and most likely scarred from their previous relationship. We tend to ignore that information on the onset and look forward with joy to the prospects of a new beginning and new memories.
But then, something happens. We get deeper into the relationship and no longer extend that same grace on them that we were abounding with when we embarked on the journey. Arguments start happening, resentment starts building up, walls start forming. We find ourselves focusing on the negative attributes of our friend instead of affirming them in everything they're doing well. We start comparing our relationship to our friends' relationships that look so perfect on social media. Everyone seems to be doing great except for us. Sound familiar?
Although I'm not currently in a romantic relationship, I was in one long enough to know that this is a typical pattern of human nature. I found this quote by Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, that says, "People tend to criticize their spouse most loudly in the area where themselves have the deepest emotional need." That makes a lot of sense. The scary part about that is, all of that criticism gets reflected back to yourself when you're in a relationship with Jesus. Jesus will never criticize or condemn you. When you're in a relationship with a perfect Man, you tend to see your lack. For me, I may respond to a situation in a negative way, judge someone in my thoughts or condemn myself for being selfish. I fall short of His glory several times a day, and several times He's right there to pick me back up. This has taught me a lesson that I never thought I would have to learn: extending grace upon myself.
Witnessing God's grace in my life must cause me to extend that same grace upon myself and upon others. There is no striving in Christ. There's no trying to be perfect because Jesus finished the perfecting work on the cross. We are COVERED, we are FREE. Free to make mistakes. Free to mess up. Free to come running back to Him and fall on our knees and ask for forgiveness each time. His mercies renew every morning. Do you know how liberating that is?! Maybe this is just big for me because I used to be a perfectionist. I wanted to please everyone and perform to win people's approval. I set high standards morally, academically, relationally. But guess what that did? It bound me, restricted me, suffocated me. I never practiced extending grace upon myself.
If you are anything similar to the way I used to be, you may fall prey to self-condemnation. Try saying this: "God will still love me if I fail this test. God will still love me if I get fired from my job. God will still love me if I get a divorce. God will still love me if I get an abortion. Nothing I do will blot out Christ's love for me." A scripture that speaks to this is in Romans 8. Paul writes, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)
As I learn to extend grace upon myself, I can't help but see how much more I need to do the same for the other people I'm in relationship with. That's the way we can truly love our neighbors as we love ourselves. It must first start with us. We must know how deep, how far, how wide God's love is for us, feel it for ourselves, and then take it to the relationships in which we are currently serving.