How do I manage messy relationships?

Such is a question I'm often asked as a pastor and especially when I'm in conversations with young adults.

Life can be so complicated as all our humanness bumps up against each other producing resentments, disappointment even grief.

Do I manage messy relationships well? I know the folks closest to me would say I do have a lot to learn.

Recently I read the book, Love, Henri a collection of letters written by the great modern spiritual teacher, Henri Nouwen. He died in 1996, but on the 20th anniversary of this death this book was published to give readers even deeper insights into his spiritual wisdom.

Love, Henri is a volume of his letters written over his lifetime to friends, colleagues and strangers alike.

In one letter toward the end of his life, Henri is asked is it possible to love unconditionally?

Henri's answer was simple: yes. It is possible because that is how God has loved us.

He then goes as far to offer a list of the implications of unconditional love in our daily lives.

Henri shares how it is that we balance self and others in the messiest situations.

  1. Keep in touch with your own belovedness. Prayer, good friends and nature can help you a lot with this.
  2. Never react impulsively to those who hurt you. Respond from the heart where you know that you are loved. Always take time and ask yourself, "What is the best and most honest response I can make?
  3. Do not compromise your own integrity. Simply trying to please the person who hurts you is a way of compromising yourself. Always stand straight.
  4. Be consistent in your relationships. Sudden outbursts of anger or sudden gestures of intimacy make you lose solid ground and only make real healing and reconciliation more difficult.
  5. Always be kind, open to listen, willing to talk and generous in forgiving, but never at the cost of losing your freedom as a child of God.
  6. Be very patient. What seems impossible one year might be quite possible the next!
  7. In everything keep a sense of humor and deep gratitude for the gifts of life and love.
  8. Always trust, trust and trust. 

What I love about this list is that it speaks to the yin and yang of relationships.

No, we never lose ourselves completely in any friendship-- being in a place where our words, feelings or needs don't matter.

But at the same time, we also hold a lot of space for grace around us.

We give others permission to make mistakes, to be wrong, and hurt us from time to time, but to react in such a way that we push people out completely.

There's grace for their becoming as much as there is for ours.

Which point on this list speaks most to you?