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Acceptance - Key to Relationships

 

7Acceptance

by Dennis Pollock

Anyone who studies the Scriptures even slightly will surely conclude that God is very, very big on relationships. First and foremost, of course, is our relationship with Him. We find that shockingly we are not born in an automatic relationship with God as our Father. From birth to death we live out our lives rebelling against God, breaking His holy laws, and running from intimacy with Him – that is, if something doesn’t happen to change that situation. That “something” is called the new birth, and is realized through a faith experience with His Son Jesus Christ. By receiving Christ as our Lord and Savior by faith, we lay our arms down; we hold up the white flag of surrender, and most importantly we enter into a trusting relationship with the One who made all things, and who loves us more than anyone ever has or ever will. We become children of God: “As many as received Him (Jesus), to them He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

But as we read further we realize that simply coming into a healthy and loving relationship with God is not enough. We are expected, even demanded to enter into healthy relationships with people: spouses, children, parents, friends, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. This often becomes a much more difficult proposition. God is perfect, for starters. We know that if there is any cloud between us, it will always be our fault and not His. In addition, if we are smart we recognize that we are entirely dependent upon Him for virtually everything. He holds our lives, our breath, our ways, our success, and everything about us in His hands. If He ever withholds His sustaining grace, we are toast. Recognizing this, most of us don’t find ourselves getting too contentious with the One we so desperately and continually need.

The Problem with People

People are another story. We often suppose that breaking relationships is a normal part of life. If our spouses don’t live up to our expectations, we can simply walk away. If our friends don’t please us we can drop them. If our parents don’t treat us the way we think we deserve to be treated, well, we probably won’t disown them, but we can distance ourselves from them and limit our visits to a couple of times a year.

One of the major sources of broken relationships has to do with expectations. Whether we think about it or not, nearly all of us have definite ideas of how we should be treated – by our parents, by our spouses, by our children, and by our friends. We love the ideal: the ideal marriage, the ideal relationship with mom and dad, ideal children, and ideal friends. Sadly, our friends, parents, spouses, children, and fellow believers don’t live up to the ideal: “I could really appreciate my wife if only she wouldn’t…” “My husband has some good qualities, but he drives me crazy when he…” “My dad is so into his career that he doesn’t spend as much time with me as he should…” The list goes on and on.

We know that no one is perfect, and we can tolerate small, minor deviations from the ideal, but when we find that our relationships are not only less than ideal, but in fact not even close to ideal, we often become disgusted and ready to end or severely limit the relationship. We draw back.

God’s word does not give us such latitude in severing relationships. Perhaps nowhere is it put any stronger and more succinctly than in the apostle Paul’s admonition to the Roman believers. After asking the Heavenly Father to make them likeminded toward one another, that they “may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he then encourages them:

Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God (Romans 15:7).

Here lies the secret to relationships that do not break. We are to receive each other, just as Christ has received us. Some Bible versions use the word accept: “Accept one another just as Christ has accepted us.” Let us explore just how Christ has accepted us, and the relationship which we have with Him. Is the relationship perfect? From our point of view, it surely is! Jesus is the perfect Savior, the perfect Friend, the perfect Shepherd, and the perfect Keeper of our souls. He never fails us, never ceases to care, always acts in love and tenderness toward us, and loves us unconditionally as no one else ever has.

Less than Ideal

But looking at the relationship from Jesus’ point of view, it is not quite so ideal. We sometimes disappoint Him, sometimes ignore Him, sometimes grieve Him, sometimes neglect Him, and no doubt sometimes frustrate Him. And this is equally the case in our relationship with the Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit. We are far from the ideal children to our perfect God. And yet we are accepted, not placed on probation, not made partial children, not labeled “Christian – second class” (or third or fourth or fifth class). No, we are justified, declared to be children of God, and given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that we shall live eternally in our Father’s home. At the new birth Christ has accepted us absolutely and completely, despite our immaturity, our flaws and warts, our ignorance and spiritual dullness, and our tendency to sometimes make terrible choices.

When we are told to accept one another in the precise manner in which Christ has accepted us, we can see that this must surely mean accepting one another’s faults, flaws, disagreeable mannerisms, and immaturity. Nowhere is this more necessary than in the marriage relationship. The saying goes, “Love is blind,” but perhaps it would be more accurate to say that first love is blind. In the early stages of romantic love, flaws and personality issues may be noticed, but just barely. The rush of emotions, the delight of being delighted in, and the sexual passions that arise are so immense and all-encompassing that any negatives are counted as of little consequence.

But when ardor cools and passing time brings husband and wife back to reality, the negatives become magnified. At some point most men and women come to recognize that their marriage is not ideal, their love is not ideal, and their spouse is not ideal. And no matter how hard they may try to fix things, it seems possible and even probable that at least some of the issues that bother them so much will never be fixed. They will have to live with a less than ideal spouse and a less than ideal marriage for perhaps the next fifty or sixty years. Yes, the relationship may be good, but it could be so much better if only…

argumentSome begin to look elsewhere. Some stoically bear with the situation but lose all delight in their relationship. Neither is the right response. God calls us to accept a less than perfect relationship and still continue to love, continue to honor, and continue to show affection. But this is no grim and distasteful duty which must be performed with our teeth clenched. God’s Spirit lives within us and as we dare to obey God and abide in Jesus, we find that love and affection spring up even in the midst of those annoying habits and deficiencies. We learn to love and accept each other just as Christ loves and accepts us. The difference is, when we are learning to bear and forbear with our spouses’ warts, they are being forced to deal with our own blemishes and unpleasant ways. Jesus has no flaws, no warts, no annoying ways. He is absolute perfection. But when we look at our spouse and suppose that we are going to receive a reward in heaven for having to bear with them, it is highly likely that they may be thinking the same about us – and rightfully so!

Enjoy What is Available

Rather than bemoan the annoying habits and faults of our spouse, and constantly trying to “fix” them, we would do better to enjoy the positive facets of our relationship. And in nearly every marriage there are wonderful and positive aspects for which we ought to thank God. Rather than eating an apple with a frown and a groan because of its two dark spots, we would find it far more pleasant to recognize the 85 percent of the fruit which is sweet and delicious. And when it comes to marriage partners, you will find no spotless “apples.” It is easy to observe some attractive person from a distance and suppose that if they were your partner, there would be no issues and you would have nothing but bliss every day. Wrong!!!

Every man or woman comes with his or her own baggage and issues, and it would only take a little season of living together before they began to surface. Rather than leaving your husband or your wife for some other person and taking a chance that your new spouse will have fewer issues, we need to obey God and be thankful for our spouse’s many good qualities, and the joys and pleasures of married life. Get as much sweetness as is possible from your marriage, and in those areas where sweetness is unavailable, don’t be overly distressed – and stop trying desperately to fix your spouse’s every flaw! Baggage is the reality behind every marriage, even in those couples who seem to be nearly perfectly matched. Two imperfect, flawed people are never, never, never going to live together for fifty years and not experience disappointments in each other. It simply is not possible.

Kids and Parents

When we were children we gave no thought to our parents’ imperfections. What they said must be right; what they demanded we assumed to be for our good. We may not always have obeyed them, but in our hearts we figured they knew what they were talking about. They were, after all, Mom and Dad. Then we grew into our teens. We started looking at Mom and Dad differently. They seemed so behind the times, so ancient. Or perhaps we figured they didn’t care as much for us as they should. They did not always give us everything we wanted. And sometimes we noticed that they lost their temper, something no adult should do. That was OK for us young people, but they should know better!

In a sense we were correct, at least about them being imperfect. The truth was, they were human, and were imperfect parents, just as we were when we married and had children, and just as our children will be when they marry and have children of their own. But sometimes, rather than cutting them a little slack (or to use a more Biblical term, showing mercy) we became judgmental and hypercritical. Mom nagged me way too much. Dad wasn’t as interested in me as he should have been, he didn’t tell me he loved me every day, he never played catch with me in the front yard. Then we think about some other parent who seemed to be far stronger in the areas of our parents’ weaknesses, and we became still more critical. If only Dad had more of a sense of humor like my friend’s Dad. If only Mom had asked me to bake cookies with her like my aunt did with my cousins!

Again, we see the need of Paul’s admonition to “accept one another just as Christ has accepted us.” No, Mom and Dad were not perfect. They made their mistakes and in their busy lives may not have shown us as much love as we wish they would have. But we cannot allow this to keep us from showing them the proper respect and affection. Where in the Bible does it say that relationships have to be 100 percent perfect before we can value and appreciate them? If that is the standard, we will never be satisfied with any relationship. And if that were the way God treated us, we would all be in big trouble.

Forbearance

Over and over the Bible tells us to bear with one another. In Colossians we read:

Bearing with one another and forgiving one another, even as Christ has forgiven you… (Colossians 3:13).

When we decide to bear with our spouses, our parents, our children, our friends, and our fellow believers, our decision not only makes their lives more pleasant, but in doing so, we also make our own lives immensely happier. We can start enjoying relationships when we take a kindlier view of flawed people, appreciating their virtues and the pleasure of their company, and not being constantly upset with their flaws and immaturity. This kind of tolerant, accepting love does for relationships what oil does for car engines. It removes much of the friction and makes for a long-lasting relationship which can endure mile after mile, year after year, and crisis after crisis.


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