Steps to a Healthier Soul
I am challenged by something Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend write in their book, How People Grow: “Ultimately, we are only as healthy as our ability to relate as God relates. He is honest, loving, and forgiving, communicates well, is able to be vulnerable, and so on. This is health. This is righteousness. Good relating equals good health. So if I can be drawn into sick patterns or sick relatedness by someone else’s sick patterns, then I am not healthy at all. I am dependent and at the mercy of whatever treatment I am receiving at the moment” (p. 226).
This challenges me because I am beginning to see how easily I get drawn into unhealthy ways of relating to others. When my feelings are hurt I pout or withdraw or respond defensively. When I feel threatened or insecure I shut down and lose empathy; misunderstanding takes the place of understanding. When I am tired, I lose patience. When others reach out to me, I fear the vulnerability; I fear it might turn around to rejection which could hurt too much, so I retreat into patterns of self-sufficiency and independence. Sometimes my obsessive-compulsive personality disorder flares up, and I get picky about things that don’t matter, or I get stuck in ruts.
Since I am only as healthy as my “ability to relate as God relates,” I need to pay attention to what Scripture reveals about how God relates. One brief passage that provides practical insights into how God relates is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15.
In verses 12 and 13, Paul speaks of the importance of respecting persons and holding others “in highest regard in love.” I can think of many times when I have treated persons in a disrespectful manner and have not held persons in highest regard, but I cannot think of a time when Jesus disrespected a person or failed to hold a person in high regard. If I want to learn to relate as God relates, this is a good place for me to begin, by asking God to help me to treat others with respect.
In verse 13, Paul counsels me to “live in peace with each other.” How often have my words or attitude or actions broken down peace with others? Without descending into a co-dependent effort to make everyone happy, what can I do to build peace with others in my life?
In verse 14, Paul urges us to “warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” It seems to me that this verse addresses at least three things that I need to be careful about if I want to relate in healthy ways: I need to be responsible about the things that are, indeed, my responsibility; I need to seek to encourage those who are discouraged; and I need to practice patience in my dealings with all people.
Verse 15 challenges me to make sure that I do not pay back wrong for wrong to anyone. In my experience, though, I find that when I am hurt or wronged, it is easy for me to justify myself in being mean right back! However, paying back wrong with wrong is the exact thing Cloud and Townsend warn me about when they advise me not to get “drawn into sick patterns or sick relatedness by someone else’s sick patterns.”
Verse 15 also counsels me “to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” Consistently Jesus exhibited kindness in His dealings with people, if I want to imitate His way of relating, kindness would be a great habit for me to learn. God, help me to live out Your kindness in my dealings with others.