I had just gone through several stressful days at work, and I wasn’t feeling well physically. I’d helped counsel someone through a crisis in his life, and I was mentally exhausted. On top of these challenges, someone with good intentions had given me some “constructive criticism.” Though this normally wouldn’t have bothered me, for some reason, this time it caused me to spiral emotionally. Under normal circumstances, not one of these things alone would have drained me emotionally; but, since they all happened together, it created a perfect storm. In years past, this spiral could have negatively affected me for two or three days. Perhaps you can relate to this sort of experience.
This was actually only a few months ago, but this scenario was much different from experiences I’ve had in the past. This time, I had exactly what I needed to quickly make it through this situation and still remain emotionally healthy. One thing that helped me make it through this negative experience was the healthy relational connections I have in my life. I’ve invested the time needed to create those healthy attachments with people I can trust, people I can be vulnerable with and bond to during critical times.
Learning how to have healthy relational connections is an enormous part of growing your character. In this blog post, I’ll give insight on how to have those healthy relational connections.
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A few years ago, I was doing leadership coaching for a pastor with a congregation of about 150 members. From the outside, it seemed like he had a thriving and growing church; but on the inside, he was on the edge of burnout. He was even on the verge of resigning his church and looking for a secular job.
As I began asking him questions to determine the root of his problem, I quickly realized that his work-life balance was out of sync. There was something more to his issues than that, though. He shouldn’t have been experiencing such severe dissatisfaction simply because he was working too much. I dug a little deeper and found the real issue. He was a pastor surrounded by relationships: a pastoral team, many volunteers, and a good-sized congregation; but he wouldn’t allow anyone too close to his inner circle before he turned them away. He was a dynamic, people-person on the outside, but on the inside, he was isolated and lonely. The only person who ever saw a glimpse of vulnerability was his wife. I'm not going to give all of the details, but over the next few months, we worked hard to uncover the things that were causing him to resist need-based relationships.
As I mentioned in my last post, healthy relational connection is the ability to trust, be vulnerable, and bond to important people in your life. Many times, pastors and leaders are really good at helping others with their emotional baggage, but they themselves do not open up and trust others with their own issues, leaving them feeling empty and alone. These are the same type of people who often say, “It’s lonely at the top.” I’m here to tell you today that it doesn’t have to be lonely at the top. That’s a choice. If a leader wants to be healthy and thrive, he or she must realize that vulnerable bonding is one of humanity’s greatest needs. Relationships are vital for every one of us, not just relationships that we give to, but also relationships that we receive from.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.” This is a warning from Solomon for those who want to isolate themselves when things are difficult instead of drawing into healthy, need-based relationships.
Paul said in Galatians 5:14, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The Lord created us for bonding; He created us for relationships. However, in order to truly share a bond, we must have mutual engagements. We can’t simply give to a person and consider it bonding. We have to receive from our relationships as well. We must be aware of our needs and experiences and be able to ask for those needs to be met.
How do you know if you struggle with this part of your character? How do you know if you need more healthy relational connections in your life? Scripture says, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34). So,I ask you, where is your heart? What do you give your greatest energy and resources to? If it’s something other than relationships, that’s where your heart is. Those are the things replacing the key relationships in your life. It may be work, money, or something much worse. God designed us with two natural voids. One is a void that can only be filled by the Spirit of God, and the other is a void that can only be filled by healthy, human relationships. If you’re experiencing a void in your life, I encourage you to practice two steps.
1. Find at least two safe people who you think will love you unconditionally, without judgment, no matter what you tell them. Choose people other than your spouse. I say choose two people, if possible, because having two confidants helps spread the load of your burdens. No one person, including your spouse, should feel the weight of all of your emotional needs.
2. Take a risk, and be transparent and vulnerable with these people. Talk about some of the difficult emotional things that may be challenging to you. Sharing your heart with a safe person will undoubtedly help lift the load of whatever you’re carrying. Those individuals will have the opportunity to feel a closeness to you that truly draws them in and bonds you to them in a way that’s needed for healthy relational connection.
It’s amazing how hard-hearted people have the ability to melt in the presence of empathy. When you allow someone to empathize with you, you receive healing as well. Your hurt and loneliness is impacted, and their hurt and loneliness is impacted.
Vulnerability opens the heart and allows us to exchange love between one another. When you admit that you have needs and ask for those needs to be met, your life will be transformed and the chains that have held you back from experiencing that healthy attachment will break.
If you’re struggling to bring people in close, I encourage you to ask the Lord to change this area of your life. Revelation 3:20 tells us, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Take a risk, and ask God to soften those defenses that have likely plagued you most of your life. Ask Him for the courage to take these steps toward healthy relational connections that will ultimately lead to a huge growth in your character.
The difficulty with making these relational connections is that if you take the risk to make them once, you have to take this risk again and again because you can’t do life alone. You need Jesus, but you also need human relationships in your life. Push past your desire to detach from people and eliminate whatever you’re using to push people away. I challenge you to engage with healthy relational connections. You will see your character grow like never before.
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