But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:9. (ESV).
Human relationships can be complicated. Whether they be spousal, family, social or employment relationships, they can be fraught with obstacles, pitfalls and pressures.
As part of the greatest commandment, Jesus asks us to love our neighbour as ourselves. Why is such a simple request so hard to fulfill? We may find ourselves insisting the fault is not with us, but with our neighbour. If only he or she or they would behave differently, then we could love them. They are the source of the complications, not us.
It might be said that our entire life-span is one long learning experience with respect to relationships. It is a brave person, therefore, who claims to have the keys to understanding and improving relationships in general.
Dr. Gary Smalley is such a person. One of the ideas that he puts forth is called "the power of one." This means that whatever happens, you can choose how you react. He states:
Just pause for a moment and ponder this statement: you can choose your reaction, and your reaction is based on your thoughts. But from all your thoughts will come your actions and emotions, either negative or positive. The DNA of Relationships (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers Inc.) 2004. Page 65.
Through example and discussion, Smalley makes a very persuasive case for this principle.
How often do we think, "if only that other person would change their behaviour, the relationship would be so much better"? It is far less likely that we will think "this relationship will improve if I control the way I react when that other person behaves in a certain way." In the first instance, we are helpless, weak, at the mercy of our emotions. In the second instance, we are taking control, we are strong, and allowing our better emotions to flourish. Smalley asks:
Do you see how this empowers you? You control how you think and react. You can't control whether anyone pushes your button, but you can control how you think and react to its getting pushed. (Page 66)
It is exciting to think that we can free ourselves from the destructive and bitter emotions which sometimes well up within us. We are not in control of the external world; neither are we at the mercy of it. We can choose how we react.
Up to a point, it must be said. Smalley is expressing the importance of personal responsibility in a dynamic and vibrant way, and this is certainly consistent with Christian ethics. Spontaneous emotions, however, are powerful and we humans are imperfect (to put it mildly). There will be limits to how far we can go.
Smalley takes the matter to a new level when he discusses a personal issue, his struggle with writing part of his book:
But I also felt stuck and couldn't figure out how to improve it. Then the thought came, God's power is made perfect within me through my weaknesses. The truth of that promise changed my thinking, and my thinking changed my feelings. Instead of feeling discouraged, I felt grateful for the weak areas of my life that remind me of my dependence on God. (Page 69).
This idea, contained in 2 Corinthians 12:9, is worthy of the most thoughtful reflection.
Many of our non-Christian friends place a great deal of trust in the discipline of psychology, thinking it is the only rational way of understanding human behaviour. What a blessing it is that some psychologists are also Christians, finding ways to infuse biblical insights into secular studies and challenges. The Lord surely delights in seeing his servants act out their faith in all walks of life.
In faith and fellowship,