REVIEW: Self-examination key to improving relationships
Whether you are learning to love your neighbor, practice self-control around others or helping your children become more independent, three recent books reach the same conclusion — you first need to learn more about yourself.
In “The Best Idea in the World: How Putting Relationships First Transforms Everything,” Mark Greene takes up the age-old dilemma: How can I love my neighbor? Greene bases our relationships with each other on God’s relationship with us. Since God came to earth to build a relationship with us, that allows us to transform our relationships with each other.
While we are globally wired, we are relationally disconnected, Greene explains. He says we are electronically linked, but “losing the art of conversation.” We substitute objects for relationships. As a computer-savvy person, I regularly use technology as a means to stay in touch, yet as I text and tweet, I am increasingly aware of the distance technology creates.
Greene draws in the reader with his lively anecdotal style. I read it slowly and then reread portions that called out to me. I especially appreciated the emphasis that “All people are created in the image of God and are worthy of respect and dignity and entitled to a voice.” Being made in God’s image is enough to prompt us to treat people with that same dignity and respect. This concept begins with self, then in our interaction with others and finally in our relationship with our Creator.
Greene outlines five factors of relational proximity that define the closeness of relationships. For example, relationships get deeper when we speak directly and when we have continuous contact. While these five factors were helpful, I wished for more depth.
I was fascinated by Greene’s examination of whether it is possible to love your neighbor without loving God. He concludes that “history seems to show that the further a society — whether nominally Christian or not — moves away from an understanding of a loving personal Creator … the more likely that society is to treat people inhumanely or to create conditions in which people feel more anxious and alienated.”
After examining relational qualities, I was able to further the journey with Harold Sala’s “Making Your Emotions Work for You.” Sala examines our emotions and shows us how to tame the wayward ones. He echoes Greene: With God’s blessings we can overcome. The journey begins by loving self. We then learn to tame our emotions by embracing them and accepting who we are.
Sala takes an almost-clinical approach. He describes common emotions and then explains how they work. For example, if you are easily angered, you must understand where the emotion originates, avoid circumstances that will allow it to be easily ignited and learn to contain it but also seek an outlet so that it doesn’t consume you. He illustrates the systematic method of subduing each negative emotion to help the reader imagine the successful outcome.
“Making Your Emotions Work for You” is meant to be shared in a setting such as a group discussion or small class. It would lend itself well to a weekly study in which the lessons are used workbook- style and the questions asked in group discussions.
The third book, “The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children” by Stormie Omartian, encouraged me a great deal. As a parent of two adult children and through the experiences of some of my friends, I recognize that parenting does not end when your child is grown. Omartian confirmed my personal outlook on the need for parental involvement throughout life and convicted me to hold up my two children in prayer even more regularly.
Omartian begins by gently unfolding the truth that our children remain our children forever. At some level they continue to need us.
Critical to this ongoing relationship is learning to forgive at several different levels. First forgive the child, then the child’s other parent and after that yourself for any wrongdoing or lack of proper guidance. Finally, forgive others who may have influenced your child in an improper way.
Omartian outlines helpful ways to pray for your children, including asking God to help them develop a heart for him, to grow in wisdom and discernment and to find freedom and wholeness. Some prayers are specific to each of their own needs: to understand God’s purpose for their lives, to work successfully and to be financially stable. Omartian calls us to ask God to teach them how to resist evil and destructive behavior and to avoid temptations of various kinds.
This book will encourage any parent whose children are approaching adulthood, but it would also be appropriate for any parent who wishes to help their child begin learning early how to put on the whole armor of God.
These three books outline the need and the way to grow closer to God, to learn who we are in his sight and to begin to see each other as his offspring. Only then can we keep the first and second greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your strength, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
AMY SMITH serves in office ministry and benevolence at the Nashua Church of Christ in New Hampshire. She has been married for 24 years and is the mother of two adult children.