I felt God gently ask me at the beginning of the year: How can you steward your relationships better in 2018?
How can you be a more present daughter, sibling, friend and partner? How can you learn to handle moments of disappointment better, to respond with kindness rather than reacting out of hurt?
I’ve read articles like Top 5 regrets of the Dying without really putting into practice the wisdom that I glean from them. For example, it’s true that our quality of life is correlated to the quality of our closest relationships. It’s a good balance of both reaching out to connect with people who matter, and forgiving easily in order to strengthen our relationships after a trial.
All the achievements and money in the world can’t substitute our closest relationships, and the only currency that we can invest in them is time.
Recently, my relationship with my boyfriend came to a standstill and was tested. On my part, I felt that I have invested a lot of time and effort, but I wasn’t sure if I was with someone who was equally committed to the relationship.
For half a year, I’d been silently frustrated, wanting to be a supportive girlfriend – I was truly proud of his achievements – while dealing with the inner resentment that was brewing.
I felt taken for granted, not cherished and unimportant. It was as if he was a completely different person from when he was pursuing me. He frequently rescheduled our time together to suit his schedule for his other projects and commitments, and I was tired of always giving in and bending over backwards.
In addition, couples who met each other later than we did were getting engaged, which fuelled the inner turmoil of “Should I stay or should I go?” He didn’t seem sure of our relationship. I questioned if he truly loved me and was genuinely in this for the long haul.
Maybe I’d find someone else who would love and treasure me more.
I realised that even though I am in a relationship, my true source of joy is from God, not man.
At that point, I certainly didn’t feel any strong sense of commitment from him. As this became a recurring issue each month, my anger and sadness multiplied – and before long, the vicious cycle pushed us to the edge of the cliff.
In this difficult time, one of my close friends, a wise lady in her 40s, graciously offered to journey with me in advice and prayer. God used her to help me realise that He wanted my security to be in Him alone. Also, that I needed to learn to be more patient and to hold my tongue even when I was frustrated or when we were in disagreement.
“Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves.” (1 Peter 3:5)
More importantly, I realised that even though I am in a relationship, my true source of joy is from God, not man. I was reminded to turn my eyes away from the situation and myself, and to turn my heart back to Him. I made a conscious effort to spend more time in prayer and in the Word, asking that His will be done in all circumstances.
Through this experience, God reminded me that we can’t change others, but we can change ourselves. We can also pray – for ourselves and others.
It’s not easy to love like God at all, especially those closest to us, as loving demands selflessness and sacrifice. It takes effort to message or call a loved one to ask, “How are you doing?” when we are occupied with the demands of life. It takes initiative to help out with housework even if we are tired or just don’t feel like it. Or even to care for our aging parents, even if it means taking leave for multiple hospital visits.
But these gestures reveal our heart and tell our loved ones that we care, that we’re a team and together in this. At the end of the day, our actions speak louder than words.
It’s not easy to love, but there is hope. Jesus is our guide and example and we can look to Him for strength. May our prayer be this: Lord, show us whom to stop for in the midst of our busy lives. Teach us to love You with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.