“Relationships are everything…” This was a mantra repeated continually by the teacher-characters on my little brother’s favorite preschool computer game growing up. It’s funny; it was so seemingly out-of-place in the kooky, little alien-world program. But it’s true that relationships really matter. I’m glad this message was one of many lessons my brother picked up early in his life. Fortunately, like anything else that’s truly important, we have choices. We may not be able to pick our family but almost every other relationship comes about as a result of our decisions.
Let’s do something conceptually crazy and separate the people we know into two categories: relationships and relationtrips. Yes, this is really simplifying (and coming up with cheesy illustrations for) vast complexities we experience relationally -I don’t have a psychology Ph.D. but I’m working on a mastery of the obvious. After some questions I got from a friend this week, I felt like a post might do a better job of concisely outlining primary issues and solutions I often see in my own life as well as others. So for discussion and clarity-sake, with you’re permission, I’d like to try to boil down the basics and un-complicate common relationship concerns. Feel free to comment and add your thoughts. They’d be much appreciated.
Relationships versus Relationtrips
As Henry Ford once said, “My best friend brings out the best in me.” Good relationships take you someplace profitable. If he or she doesn’t bring out the best in you, we’ve got another category to put this person in. It might not be as flattering to them but it’ll help us get our heads clear about relational priorities.
I love the word “trip,” don’t you? We’ve all used it often enough and done it often enough to have a thorough understanding of our own clumsiness as human beings. There are two meanings – or rather, two and a half- according to Webster: the word trip means either a journey or a slip-up/mistake. The other half-meaning combines the first two; it’s slang for a drug-induced experience. All the meanings of this word help us get an idea of what we don’t want in an emotional, relational ride.
In case you’re beginning to get concerned that this post is about to present a consequentialist or an “ends justify the means” view of relationships, let me reassure you. A profound respect and deep love for the teachings of Jesus Christ have taught me that “utilitarians” who only see people as means to an end are not only likely to have the same treatment pushed on them but will endure a lonely existence devoid of any rewarding relationships. An innocent approach is the goal. This requires pure motives, whether we have them already or make a conscious effort to employ them. We are told to be “wise as serpents but harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
Although they’re not all ridiculously awful, there is something to be said about avoiding relationtrips. Without having a utilitarian view of people and their feelings, there are some associations that clearly go nowhere, accomplish nothing, and are generally unprofitable for one or both people. While my life’s motto is “It’s never wrong to give,” we’ve got to be aware that a bleeding heart can unconsciously let a leech suck their life’s blood dry. And we’re all about making the most of abundant LIFE so we’ve got choices to make.
Not all relationships are equal – much as we wish they might be. We’ve all had unforeseen fumbles in an unfamiliar field that gave us scraped up knees and elbows or left us feeling like we’d just been tackled by an invisible linebacker. The best we can do is identify the pitfalls as early as possible and rise above them as quickly as we can.
How do we identify relationships versus relationtrips? Asking questions helps. Knowing how to get the answers we’re looking for – reading the signs. What does this person do, think, and value? Does he/she make me better? If the response is ever “they make me worse” or “they leave me confused and disoriented” we can praise God the trip is so obvious and scramble out of the hole. As George Washington said, “Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation, for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company.”
Does the person I’m hanging out with ask about me, my feelings and values, and then really listen and care about the response? If someone loves me, they’ll want to know what’s in my head and heart – my values, my hopeful destinations in life. When they’re running me over in conversation, even if they’re telling me about something truly painful, their motivation is purely self-centered. Listening to the sordid details, even to appease a victim, doesn’t help anyone. If you’re like me and have “tell me everything” somehow written across your forehead, you know how hard this can be. Chances are, whether the person is conscious of it or not, they’re using the situation and their relationship with you or me to insulate them from facing their own issues and insecurities. Getting between a person in-conflict with him or herself is asking for drama.
Am I being given a chance to breathe and grow? If I’m getting 20 to 200 texts and one or two phone calls a day when I’m not hanging out with a person, they are sucking my life away because (and I don’t usually like this expression but…) THEIR LIFE “SUCKS” – e.g. they’re desperately needy. A true friendship feeds life like fertilizer feeds a garden. You’re both going to grow from loving communication – not neediness.
What does the other person value? This is an important cog in the workings of every enduring friendship. Chances are if we don’t have the same values, one or the other of us is going to be an influencer. As a rule, with peers, it’s always better not to assume it’s going to be you and move to a safe distance. If I want to be the one doing the influencing, it helps if I’m the more physically and spiritually mature and if I’m the one in control of what activities we do together, what we talk about, and how much time we spend. If I find, after an extended period of time, that no positive impact and change in direction is being made, it’s okay to leave the lines open but still keep some distance. That is… if I still want this person in the relationship category and not the trip category.
I’m aware that the signs aren’t always fool-proof. Just like driving, there’s a lot of discernment involved in navigating but the fun in functional relationships ultimately depends on us. Knowing what questions to ask and how to prioritize our time helps maintain a balanced life. Without it, we’re just riding the trippin’ relational rollercoasters with everyone else, going nowhere. High school and college can be the most difficult times to put these principles into practice because we see certain people daily and can’t always be in perfect control of who we see when. The key to consider is “bad company corrupts good character” – be aware of who’s impacting us (I Corinthians 15:33). Or as Switchfoot’s lyrics so perfectly put it, “This is your life, are you who you want to be?” It’s all about our choices.
Balance aligns every decision when a relationship with Jesus Christ comes first. We need him. We’re pretty fuzzy when it come to reading signs and navigating relationtrips – why not ask the guy who’s walked around the potholes already to give us a hand? He’s had “friends” who hung out with him for years that cheated him, didn’t believe him, pretended not to know him, gave him up to murdering thugs for money, etc. We’ve all been hurt but it’s what we do with the pain that makes us better or worse for the future.
Bottom line, we can expect to trip up every now and then. But knowing how to ask the right questions, staying alert, and keeping focused on positive, LIFE goals will give us the edge to stay upright. Because falling hurts… put Jesus “at your right hand and you won’t be shaken” (Psalm 16:8).