22 Oct 2017
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger

15 Oct 2017
This Too Shall Pass

8 Oct 2017
The Simple Truth: Head, Heart and Hands

1 Oct 2017
Humility – Staying close to the ground

2 Jul 2017
Welcoming the Silence

25 Jun 2017
Always Uniting…

18 Jun 2017
Are you ready for harvest?

11 Jun 2017
Don’t Blame it on the Snake

4 Jun 2017
Words Beyond Words: Breath Beyond Breath

28 May 2017
Seeing with new eyes

14 May 2017
Grace, Gracious and Graceful

30 Apr 2017
A Time for war and a time for peace

23 Apr 2017
Faithful Doubting

16 Apr 2017
God became human so that we could become divine!

12 Mar 2017
Wind of the Spirit

12 Feb 2017
From the Mountainside: The Impossible Dream?

22 Jan 2017
Grounding our Life and Faith

25 Dec 2016
That Humanity should become Divine

11 Dec 2016
Joy is for Everyone

4 Dec 2016
The Mingling of Water and Spirit

27 Nov 2016
Living Fully in the Present Moment

16 Oct 2016
Persistence and Justice

9 Oct 2016
Gratitude and Thankfulness

2 Oct 2016
Standing in the Tragic Gap

25 Sep 2016
Rich Man, Poor Man

4 Sep 2016
The Gift of Freedom

21 Aug 2016
A Hidden Wholeness

14 Aug 2016
We all need wise words to live by

31 Jul 2016
When Less is More

24 Jul 2016
Developing Healthy Relationships

17 Jul 2016
Died Wise

10 Jul 2016
Meeting Strangers on the Road

3 Jul 2016
On the Road Again

29 May 2016
Faith is the Answer

22 May 2016
The Way of Wisdom

15 May 2016
Icons and Stained Glass Windows – Inner light

8 May 2016
Unity and Oneness

1 May 2016
A Hidden Wholeness

24 Apr 2016
Lest we forget: What?

17 Apr 2016
God became human so that we could become divine!

3 Apr 2016
Thank God for St Thomas!

27 Mar 2016
Living life’s great contradictions

20 Mar 2016
Message of Peace

13 Mar 2016
Living Fully, Loving Wastefully

6 Mar 2016
Come Home, all is forgiven

28 Feb 2016
Simply, leave it alone

21 Feb 2016
Why do we “kill” our prophets?

7 Feb 2016
Keeping your Head in the Clouds


Developing Healthy Relationships

24 July, 2016 Pentecost 10 By Rev Dr Christopher Page


This morning I would like to talk about the relationships we have with each other in a general sense.  Those relationships are many and varied.  They can be intense, intimate or casual.  We know of course that the more intimate and intense a relationship is, the more possibility there is for great joy and happiness but also for awful pain and suffering.  I think that often we don’t choose our relationships; they in fact choose us.  The most obvious example of this are our families.  I didn’t choose to be born into my family.  In fact, if I had had a choice there are probably a dozen other families that would have got my preference.  

But perhaps that is one of the great truths about relationships.  That is that many, and even our more intimate relationships, choose us.  Yet we can often live under an illusion that we are in control of our relationships. That we can make them what we want them to be.  Well, there is some truth in that.  We can destroy a close relationship through neglect, betrayal, disloyalty and a range of other malevolent acts.  And we can of course enhance our relationships through care, compassion, love, fidelity and a range of other positive acts.

Relationships begin with me
The author writing to the community at Colossae, a small city near Laodicea, 160 km from Ephesus, wanted them to develop healthy relationships within this small ecclesia (ἐκκλησία) in Asia Minor.  So he gives them a metaphor:

From now on put on the garment of compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength and discipline. Be even-tempered, and at times be content with second place and quick to forgive an offence.

“Be content with second place.” That reminds me of Ogden Nash’s short poem which I have often used at weddings:

To keep your marriage brimming,/With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you're wrong, admit it;/Whenever you're right, just shut up.

But I don’t want to speak only about married relationships this morning.  Partly because I think all relationships draw from the same source of wisdom.
It may sound self-centred, but the most important person in a relationship is you! A healthy relationship is an inside job.  It requires each of us to be self-reflective and emotionally responsible.

The opposite of this is suggested by the author Dr Margaret Paul who writes:

When people do not take responsibility for their own feelings, they tend to try making their partner responsible for their own happiness, emotional safety and self-worth. As adults, happiness, emotional safety and self-worth come from how we treat ourselves and others, rather than from how others treat us. 1

That almost seems counter-intuitive because I think in our culture we have out-sourced our happiness and contentment to those around us.  It may sound harsh, but it seems easier to blame others for the way I feel, rather than reflect upon my own reactions and take responsibility for my own feelings.

So one of the keys to developing healthy relationships is to know yourself.  Primarily we don’t look at the inner life or the actions of another, we look at our own inner life and actions.  But that’s not to say that the other has no responsibility in a relationship.  Relationships are a two-way street.  It’s just that I can only drive my own car, not the other person’s car as well.

Doing some inner work
In recent years research has suggested that Emotional Intelligence is as important as Intellectual Intelligence.  And in some situations it is more important. Again Margaret Paul gives us a lead:

The main things that cause relationship problems… are ignoring your feelings by staying in your head, judging yourself, turning to various compulsions to avoid your feelings, and finally making others responsible for your feelings. 2

We in the Christian faith have for centuries placed our emphasis on loving others.  And I have absolutely no problem with that.  But it can be at the expense of developing my own inner life.  I am encouraged in the gospels to be kind to others, but do I show kindness toward myself?  Compassion and forgiveness are virtues in our religion.  But can I forgive myself when I have failed or can I show compassion to myself in times of disappointment and pain?  It is suggested that if you can’t show love, forgiveness and compassion to yourself there is a good chance you won’t be showing it to others.

Again to quote the letter to the Colossians:

Because God has chosen you for this new life of love, dress in the garments God has given you.  And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

I think that is about us, about me.  I’m the one in a relationship who is to wear those life-giving qualities. And, trying not to mix my metaphors, I think the only way I can do that is to practise what I would call “cultivating the inner life.”  The psychotherapist Richard Harvey sees these spiritual qualities as arising from a sense of God’s presence, or the sacred and the divine.  He writes:

….practise an attitude of respect, honour and reverence. You are a sacred life form, a shard of the divine. No one like you has ever been or ever will be again…Your inner work practice is devoted to eroding the ego until all that is left is the divine…Your life journey is a sacred task, a unique opportunity and a blessing. 3

That’s what we bring to the best of our relationships - our deeper selves.

Relationships are about us – you and me
OK, so while we may start with ourselves, it is quite obvious that there is more than me in any relationship. And perhaps one of the most significant and difficult aspects of any relationship is conflict.  I can put all the energy I like into my way of being in the world, but that does not mean I will live a conflict-free life.  And strangely, that is a good thing.  In life and relationships conflict, disagreements, quarrels and discord are the stuff of life.  In fact, without them it is difficult to see how life could move forward.  We only have to watch a baby grow into a two-year-old monster who wants his or her own way all the time!  Or a child transformed into a moody, temperamental, irritable adolescent. Some skill is needed to navigate that terrain.

All relationships, other than the most casual, have to discover ways of negotiating conflict. It is interesting that many of the letters in the New Testament written by St Paul or other writers were often a response to conflict within the community.  Again from the author Margaret Paul; and here she is writing primarily about conflict between couples, but it is relevant for all relationships:

Healthy relationships have a system for learning from their conflicts and resolving their conflicts in ways that work for each person. Healthy partners are able to listen attentively to each other’s points of view and do not get stuck in having to be right or having to win. A healthy relationship is an evolving relationship: each person is learning and growing through the relationship, and often through the conflicts. Conflict can provide fertile ground for learning when each person’s intent is to learn, rather than to control or avoid being controlled. 4

It was the French philosopher Simone Weil who said, “One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is your undivided attention...”  I also like Robert Heinlein’s quote, “One of the sanest, surest, and most generous joys of life comes from being happy over the good fortune of others.”

The fertile ground of conflict is that when we pay attention to it we are then open to learning the art of humility, forgiveness, encouragement, tolerance and of course compassion.  But I am still a believer that these human qualities draw their source and sense from surrendering to the Spirit of God.  Yes, there is human responsibility, but there is also a source within us and beyond us that nurtures and nourishes our relationships. To finish with the words from Colossians:

Let the peace that Christ brings keep you in harmony and in step with each other.  Don’t go off and just do your own thing. But cultivate a spirit of thankfulness and gratitude. Let the teachings and the message of Christ have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Encourage one another using good common sense. Let every detail in your lives - your words, your actions, or whatever - be shaped by the teachings of Jesus while you thank God every step of the way.




1 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margaret-paul-phd/relationship-advice_b_2270527.html

2 ibid

3 http://www.therapyandspirituality.com/articles/spiritual-inner-work-practice.html

4 Op. cit. Margaret Paul

Keep up to date with the latest Toorak Uniting news