Relationship is the essence of human existence-God created us to have fellowship with each other, and also with Him. This implies harmonious co-existence between a couple, family members, friends and associates, neighbors, and all those we are directly or indirectly in contact, ourselves, and above all with God.
With complexities surrounding human existence-different culture, family background, values, striving for survival, urge for recognition, our egotism, ignorance of the importance of self-love, etc; the achievement of harmonious co-existence, which our survival both here on earth, and having eternal life hereafter depends, is a Herculean huddle-one that we should strive to overcome.
How could this be achieved? You may ask. Jesus answered your question when he gave the “Golden rule" in the Gospel of Luke 10:27, which states, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind. And you must love your neighbor just as you love yourself" (The Living Bible version).
The just-mentioned rule portrays three types of relationships: with God, neighbours (all other men and women), and ourselves.
Quite often, many people believe that their relationships with God is the starting point to getting their relationships right. What do you think? Personally, I believe that inevitably, we have to begin from ourselves, because first, as we cannot give what we do not have, we cannot love others if we do not love ourselves-a principle that most Christians ignore (because of the doctrine of self-denial), and others misunderstand; yet, it is very important to our relation with both God, and other men and women. Second, it is not possible to love whom we have never seen-we have never seen God; our basic knowledge of God starts from ourselves, because he created us in His own image.
Before loving ourselves, it is imperative to know our identity. If somebody asks you who you are, what would be your answer? I guess that you will identify yourself with your profession, family, birthplace, nationality, and even personality, to mention but a few. While these characterise identity; none relates to our subject, or our real identity, which is embedded in our Creator and his purpose for our lives.
Our ultimate identity is who we are in God. We are the beloved children of God whom he created in his own image, and whom he loves infinitely. He demonstrated his love for us by sacrificing his only Son Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins, so that we might have an intimate relationship with Him. On the cross, Jesus died a very shameful and humiliating death on our behalf, just to pay the price for all our misdemeanours. This is just our limited knowledge of God's love for us-limited knowledge because we are finite beings. It is only God that is infinite.
God loves and cares for all areas of our lives: spiritual, emotional, material, physical, relational; the list is endless. This is the reason he invites all those with heavy burden to come to him; that he will liberate them. Heavy laden here embraces all spheres of our daily lives.
When we become conscious of the infinity and unconditional love of God for us, and then accept that love with humility, we will find it easier to open up to him, and entrust our lives, career, family, future, etc. to Him
On discovering who we are in God, we will appreciate our person-every aspect of our lives: personality, strength and weaknesses, physique, and so on. Whomever God has made us to be, and whatever abilities he has given to us; is to be used for the accomplishment of his Will for us in particular, and that of the humanity in general.
How is your relationship with God? Is it cool, warm, or hot? God expects only a very warm relationship with him. Warm relationship with God radiates automatically to that with ourselves, and others.
When we understand the facts mentioned above, we will accept ourselves as we are; thus, loving ourselves profoundly. Our relationship with ourselves is the determinant of that with God, and others, because it is the root of our values; hence, it affects all other relationships, including even the inanimate ones.
With the discovery of our identity in God, and our love and openness to him, it would be much easier to love others, as we know that God has commanded us to do so, and that he created them in his image. When we love our neighbours as ourselves, opening up to them becomes quite easy. It is important to point out that; opening-up to others is risk-taking, because as William Shakespeare says in Julius Caesar, “There is no art to tell the mind's construction in the face, he was a gentleman in whom I built an absolute trust", sometimes, many people may not actually be who they may seem. Nevertheless, the ultimate solution is asking God for Divine guidance.
However, to foster an intimate relationship with God, others, and ourselves there are four questions we need to ask ourselves:
- When we retire to the solitude of our bedroom, what are our dominant thoughts?
- How do we communicate with ourselves?
- Can we easily forgive both others and ourselves?
- When we sin or hurt others, do we have the humility to apologise, and ask for forgiveness?
On analysing our answers to these questions, we will see the necessity to open-up to God, and others.
Now, it is important to discus a subject whose importance to our topic is paramount, because without it, our relationships as God expects of us will never be right. This subject is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is 2-dimensional-outward and inward. Unfortunately, most people only think about the outward forgiveness, which involves God's forgiveness, forgiving others, or others’ forgiveness. While this is very important to getting our relationships right, inward forgiveness-forgiving oneself is equally very important.
In spite of our daily disobedience to God, on apologising to him, asking for forgiveness, he unconditionally forgives us, and with the blood of Jesus, he erases out completely all our transgressions. Repentance, which is the complete turning away from our action or the path that led to our forgiven action, should follow forgiveness.
Another aspect of outward forgiveness is when we have been offended; irrespective of the seriousness of the offense, if the offender apologises, it is imperative that we forgive the person, and this involves forgetting about the situation. Conversely, if our offender fails to apologise, it is advisable to create a situation for dialogue, so that the issue could be discussed, if possible settled.
I know that forgiveness is easier said than done. Nonetheless, knowing its advantages would encourage us to strive harder to achieve it. Advantages of forgiveness are; first, it sets us free from heavy heartedness, which could bring about sleeplessness, anxiety, even illness. When we fail to forgive, we suffer more than our offenders-we impose suffering on ourselves.
Second, we have to forgive because God commands us to do so; else, he will not forgive our innumerable sins, and this will obstruct our relationship with him; thereby, preventing our prayers from being answered. Lack of forgiveness could be an obstacle between God and us. The feeling of emptiness and misery that ensue by distancing ourselves from God is the last thing we should desire, as in our daily life, we are marching towards our ultimate destiny-answering our master's call; when we will have to give an account of our stay here on Earth.
Also when we offend others knowingly or otherwise, it is necessary that we have the humility to apologise to the offended, and ask him or her for forgiveness. If the person refuses to accept our apology, that would be left between him or her, and God. Before God, we have played our part-heeded to his command. Apology is a practical manifestation of humility and boldness, and not a weakness. God blesses the humble.
These lead us to the inward aspect of forgiveness. Sometimes, when we offend God, or others, even after they have forgiven us, we find it very difficult to forgive ourselves. Our inability to forgive ourselves is even more dangerous than failing to forgive others, because besides all the disadvantages of not forgiving others, it can slowly, but consistently destroy our self-confidence, and deprive us from discovery our identity in God, which is paramount to all achievement. You cannot forgive others without being able to forgive yourself, because you cannot give what you do not have.
As it is often said, “Charity begins at home"; thus, for you to love others, you must first love yourself, and this is also applicable to forgiveness.
One of the most effective ways of liberating oneself from the burden of inability to forgive: inward, and outward forgiveness, is to share it with a trusted person-partner, intimate friend, family member, associate, Pastor, or whomever, you think would have the patience to listen to you, and encourage you to open-up, without condemning you. How could this set you free? It is because as you harbour the bitterness and anger in your heart, it remains a secret, and Satan: Master of secrecy, uses that issue to condemn you-making you to feel guilty, worthless, helpless, and hopeless. By talking about those issues, you destroy Satan's chances for manipulation. Most importantly, praying after having exposed it, God will flush out the heavy heartedness, and illuminate your heart and mind.
I have been trying very hard, but could not forgive, you may point out. Do not despair, for you are not alone. Majority of people have the same experience. Personally, quite often, I have to struggle before I can forgive. Forgiveness does not come naturally, but by Divine grace. The good news is that, God whose desire is for all his children to have a forgiving heart is ready and willing to give us the Spirit of forgiveness, if only we ask him with humility, and have a burning desire for it.
It worth pointing out that acquiring the said Spirit does not come so easily; it is a slow, sometimes painful, and a progressive process. This is so because on asking God for the Spirit of forgiveness, he will expose us to situations that, on passing through them, we will acquire it. Even after obtaining, we will still have to nourish it for growth. This would be done, only as we would be regularly exposed to difficult situations that necessitate forgiveness. Jumping such huddles brings about the gradual strengthening of our Spirit of forgiveness.
You do not have to wait until you are offended before you seek the Spirit of forgiveness, because by then, it might be more difficult, if not impossible to acquire it. As it is often said in Africa, “It is better to find a black goat, when it is not yet dark", I implore you to pray and ask God for the ability to forgive, no matter the circumstance.
May the Almighty God; Creator of Heaven and Earth and all therein, whose supremacy, love, grace, and mercy abound, grant us the ability to obey His command to love him with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind, and also to love our neighbours just as we love ourselves. Amen!
The author also has an inspirational book entitled, “In search of Success", that he's yet to get a publisher, for its publication.