Today, we return to one of our most foundational issues, and one that bears heavily on each and every one of us, every day. The idea is this: every issue of your life is a relationship issue.
Now, I have to immediately qualify that just a little. If you are being chased by a bear, or if the car in front of you slams its brakes at 70 mph, those are survival problems, not relational problems—but that actually goes to show my point. The are the only two types of problems we have to deal with. They are nothing alike, and we get them confused all the time.
No doubt, some of you are questioning whether these are really the only types of problems. “What about my career?” You might say. “Those are practical, impersonal problems. They’re not life-or-death, but they’re not emotional either.” First of all, when I say “problem,” I’m not speaking in the sense of a mathematical equation, but in the sense of a specific internal issue that can negatively define your experience of life, causing fear, stress, frustration, discontent, etc.
Okay, so you have a problem in your career—there’s no need to get more specific than that right now. The question is, what are you really afraid of? Maybe you’re worried about your career taking a nosedive. Maybe you’re worried about money. Maybe you’re worried about getting stuck doing work that you hate. These are all common concerns. So let’s ask a seemingly stupid follow-up: why do those things matter? Are you genuinely worried that you’ll end up dead in a ditch somewhere? Well, no. Probably not.
More likely, you’re worried about being seen as a failure (or feeling like one), about the humiliation of possibly having to take a step down in lifestyle or ask someone else for help. You might worry about the strain it would put on your family. You’ll notice that all of these really come down to relationships.
So our problems are predominantly relational. Okay, where do we go from there? Well, I think the big mistake we make is in treating relational problems like survival problems. Think of it this way: acting out of fear is logical in situations where your life is in immediate danger. If I got chased down the street by a bear, or was nearly in a devastating car collision, I would be terrified—and in retelling the story, I would admit to being terrified without a shred of embarrassment. Of course I was! Anyone would be! Now imagine that my relationship with my wife is under stress, and I admitted to acting selfishly because I was afraid. Hits a little differently, doesn’t it?
I think just about everyone is able to intuit that fear is not an appropriate motivator nor an appropriate weathervane in a loving relationship. We come back to it over and over because it is our instinctual response to danger and to pain. But it is up to us to distinguish the type of pain and learn to react in love and compassion—which in any case, are about the only things worth surviving for.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!
Dr. Alex Loyd