Choose the Relationship

It’s so easy from my vantage point to evaluate the surrounding world and then to hold a mirror up to the church and simply compare the two as natural opposites. There is so much throughout the cultural movements of history that we can clearly diagnose as being antithetical to the advancement of God’s church. Increasingly however, I am working to understand the gray area that exists between the two. This distinction is so important to me. I’m not merely looking at the overlap between the Body of Christ and culture, but the areas that cannot be characterized as “obviously one or the other.”

Let me add some shading to an admittedly rough outline thus far. My wife has introduced into our home arguably the most important phrase we use when dealing with people. She very lovingly, never judgmentally, encourages two people living in a binary world to wade into the murky waters of nuance and “choose the relationship.” It’s a beautiful expression that so thoroughly captures what it is for people to love well.

It usually goes something like this. My son and I will get into a heated discussion on our recollection of a given situation. Let us imagine for our purposes that I am quite certain that I told him to clean his room so that we might leave on time. He claims I never gave such a direction and now we are at what I would call a binary impasse. Given the way I tend to look at the world, we will get stuck on who was correct in their recollection. I convince myself that surely one of us must be right and, for the sake of my sanity (read: selfishness, pride, ego and sin), I must know who. As that spirals downward, suddenly we are yelling and digging our heels in, and a loving relationship between father and son is nowhere to be found. In that moment, my wife will pop her lovely face in and gently encourage both of us to “choose the relationship.” Often cooler heads will resurface. I will realize that my son is better served in that moment by love and grace and he is reminded that he better serves me with obedience—each of us understanding that gray area of nuance between one person being right and one person being wrong. On a good day, we will approach the tidying of the room together and all will be right in the world. Praise God.

I convince myself that surely one of us must be right and, for the sake of my sanity, I must know who.

Now, if my illustration is a bit too vanilla for your liking, let me increase the stakes. Let us imagine that I am confronted with an atheist who is abusing drugs, and let’s place him in my vicinity by saying he lives next door to me (in reality, I have lovely neighbors, but in order to walk this out, just go with me). As conflict might naturally arise in the forms that addiction often takes, how does my wife’s brilliant choose the relationship come into play? My son is easy. He’s my son. How do I go about loving a person whose worldview flies in the face of my own? How do I make this choice when I don’t have to? I could easily go back into my house and just become the neighbor who nods a casual greeting rather than doing the hard work of relationship building. His humanity might be abstract to me in that moment. Where do I start?

How do I go about loving a person whose worldview flies in the face of my own? 

Let me say here and now that I so resonate with Paul when he writes to Timothy that, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” It’s the of whom I am the foremost that really sticks with me. There are two entities who fully understand the depths of my sin—me and my God. While I can assure you, my reader and friend, that there is nothing in my life that would disqualify me from ministry, my heart is still an ugly place, eagerly awaiting its redemption in eternity. On my best days, it’s not necessarily that I feel a particular present sense of having overcome the sins of the day. Instead, I embrace the idea that I am broken, fallen, wicked and full of sin—just like every other person on this side of heaven.

Going back to my imagined conflict with my neighbor, at my best and by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I remember that in God’s eyes, my neighbor and I are one and the same. We’re both in the category of foremost sinner and both desperately in need of a Savior. To choose the relationship is to forget about the right and the wrong for a second and see between the lines of his life. To approach with compassion and empathy and ask where unkindness and conflict comes from. To ask at what point and why his worldview was established, recognizing that my own worldview is flawed and fallen. In that place, on equal footing, we are potentially poised to make a nuanced and relational choice that points to Jesus instead of the binary choice of who’s right and who’s wrong.

To choose the relationship is to forget about the right and the wrong for a second and see between the lines of someone’s life. 

If I sound practiced in this, I am not. This is as much a journey (maybe more so) for me than it probably is for many of you reading this. I often like to think about a world where believers regularly practice nuance—not for the purpose of creating heaven on earth. We can’t do that. But instead, to shine bright with the love of Christ. To be that city on a hill that spells out rest and comfort and hope for what’s to come. To venture into the waters of a nuanced view, informed by the grace of God, in order to choose the relationship.

If, at the end of this reading, you have fashioned a pair of evaluative spectacles you intend to point toward the world around and look on in judgement, I believe there’s a strong chance we’ve missed one another. My hope is that you can look inward and ask the question, “which part of myself am I maybe too sure about?” Where am I living in the binary instead of choosing the relationship? While I believe supremely in the unmoving truth of God’s holy Scripture and I aim to build the foundations of my very life upon the cornerstone of my Savior, Jesus, I also bring an understanding that my humanity will always stand in the way of my doing that absolutely until I join Him in glory.

Which part of myself am I maybe too sure about? Where am I living in the binary instead of choosing the relationship? 

Today, I would encourage you to join me in this prayer. In conflict, in agreement, and even just in relationship with others, unfold your heart and invite God to search it. I am praying for you just like I’m praying for myself that we might all get a little better at asking these questions and that Christ, through His Holy Spirit, would find ample space to move in His Church as we embrace that nuance. God bless you—go and love.

Lord, do I have room to be wrong? Have I considered myself as Foremost Sinner and approached the interaction accordingly? Have I looked at the person across from me and recognized the image they bear of their Creator? Have I seen in them the intelligence and value and humanity that You have instilled in them? Have I opened my heart to the possibility that You are calling me to choose the relationship over my binary understanding of the situation? Decrease me and increase You. Help me, in Jesus’ name, to go forth and do Your will. Amen.