We are all, fundamentally, relational beings. It’s a fact we may have heard plenty of times before, but it’s one we simply can’t ignore. Our relational need is a core truth of Christianity and a key part of who God has made us as humans. We were made in the image of a God who had existed eternally as a part of the Trinity, and He designed us with this same need for togetherness, for community, and for perfect unity. God didn’t fashion us to be alone.
In light of this truth, we see that the relationships we have graciously been given are meant to be life-giving and nourishing for our thirsty, lonely souls. Our earthly companions should point us back to the Trinity as the perfect model of fellowship and point us always back to God as the provider of good things. God has gifted us with friends, siblings, spouses, parents, children, mentors, and colleagues because the life He designed is more fully lived alongside one another.
Though we’re not meant to live out our lives and our spiritual walks in isolation, we must admit that our relationships too often fall so short of what God intended. And if you’re anything like me, relationships—when they’re genuine, healthy, uplifting—are one of the greatest sources of joy in this life. However, that means that these same relationships—when they’re distant, fractured, or hurtful—can become one of our greatest sources of sadness.
During the times in my life when I’ve been most hurt in relationships, my heart has been burdened with a kind of emotion that I can only describe as grief. It’s the kind of pain and sadness that carries with it the longing for something that has been lost. Growing apart from old friends, disagreements with my husband or peers, and conflict among family all result in this same grief-like feeling. Over time, it’s become stronger, and more recognizable.
So why is it that our earthly relationships so often go wrong, and why is it that they cause us so much pain?
Our relationships grieve us when we have falsely looked to them to offer us the ultimate fulfillment only God can provide.
Our relationships with our friends, our family, and our spouses are immediate, physical, and tangible. And even though our relationship with the Lord is just as immediate—He is even closer than our next breath—this is something that we often forget. God feels distant because we can’t see Him or touch Him. We can’t sit across from God at a coffee shop. We can’t hold His hand at the dinner table.
Our earthly companions satisfy our very physical need for relationship, for touch, for company, for affection. They listen to us, and they become our remedy for loneliness.
It is for this reason that it eventually becomes all too easy to let them usurp more of our hearts than they were ever meant to have.
When we begin to look to our friends, our spouses, or our families as our ultimate source of relational fulfillment, we are, in essence, trying to make them our savior—someone they were never supposed to be, and someone they never will be. Only the Lord can meet our relational needs perfectly, and only He can comfort our lonely souls. Until we grasp this, our earthly relationships will continue to grieve us, for they will never be ultimately satisfying.
Our relationships grieve us because sin infiltrates every aspect of our hearts, leading to hurt, unmet expectations, and neglected needs.
Not only do we place too much weight on our spouses and friends, but our relationships also suffer under the effects of sin. As a result of the fall, we are selfish beings, so we cannot fully love one another with pure hearts and pure motivation. We are self-righteous, so we struggle to admit when we’ve been wrong or done wrong to a friend. We are impatient, so we speak harsh, mean-spirited things toward those we love. We are judgmental, so we will always have unkind thoughts rolling through our minds that we would never dare to speak out loud.
Because of our selfishness, our self-righteousness, our impatience, and our judgmental hearts, our relationships will continue to be sources of heartache. We may often feel that our relational expectations and needs are unmet by those we love, and we will fail to meet theirs in return.
In the wake of these realities of sin, our earthly relationships will always pose the risk of hurt, blame, silence, and even collapse. Because of sin, they will continue to feel like something has been lost—the hope of a perfect, pure friendship or marriage as it was first designed to be, a possibility that was forfeited at the fall.
Our Relational Hope
Of course, none of these things are what the Lord intended when He fashioned us for life-giving community. When He gave to Adam the gift of Eve, and soon after the gifts of children, families, friendships, and communities, He knew that it was not good for man to be alone.
So what are we to do when we feel stuck grieving over our broken relationships? What about when we recognize that they will never be what we long for?
First, we are to remember that our grief and our sadness are holy emotions. When our hearts hurt, what a sweet reminder this is that we won’t find the perfect people, the wholeness, or the security that we’re longing for in this life.
Second, we must look to the Lord as our only source of relational hope and forgiveness, knowing that our God is bigger than broken relationships, strife, unmet needs, heartache, and loneliness. We must remember that the people He’s given us on this earth won’t ultimately satisfy us or save us. And we must seek to conduct our relationships with Christ at the center—overflowing with honesty, repentance, forgiveness, and mercy—rejoicing in the moments when we catch glimpses of the uplifting and pure kind of friendship that He intended.
Finally, when things feel broken, we must continue to look toward the God who accepts, loves, and heals all broken things. We must continue to hope and long and pray for the day when He will piece all of the broken things back together—into a picture that is even more glorious than we could ask or think.