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A few weeks ago I noticed that the trees in my front yard had experienced a spring growth spurt. Unfortunately, some of that growth was covering a stop sign, creating a driving hazard. Deciding to take immediate action, I grabbed a ladder, some hedge clippers and a saw.
Everything was going well until I noticed a couple of bees flying around me. This did not deter me from getting the project done. I just thought, “I need to pay close attention to where the bees are in order to avoid a sting.” As I made progress, I continued moving the ladder as needed in order to reach new branches that required a good trim. I was so focused on my project and avoiding the bees, that I did not pay attention to the ground. I moved the ladder once more, climbed two steps and continued working. Suddenly, I felt something on my legs, biting me. I had accidentally set the ladder on an ant pile.
As I rapidly came down from the ladder, I said to myself, “I cannot believe that I was paying so much attention to the bees above, that I did not pay attention to what was happening below.” I removed the ants from my legs and sneakers, moved the ladder again and continued trimming. This time, however, I was intentional in paying attention to all of my surroundings. I realized that I could not assume anything.
As I finished, I thought, “What a great lesson!” (As a writer and public speaker, I was also grateful for a new – albeit, painful – illustration.) I often assume things in life. I assume that everything is fine with people and relationships that are important to me. Worse, I frequently take them for granted.
I thought about three kinds of relationships that provide a solid foundation for my life, and that I should never take for granted. Even if these relationships seem to be in good shape right now, I should not assume they cannot get better. I need to keep working on them in order to make them stronger, deeper and more meaningful.
Divine relationships. How many times I – and I suspect many other Christians – take for granted our relationship with God. While it is true that God is always the same, we are not. We may change in our level of involvement with the Triune God. It can decrease, or hopefully increase and become much more meaningful and deep. As we grow in our relationship with God, we become more firmly anchored in the right harbor. A deep relationship with God, the Creator, will provide us with a firm notion of our true selves and our calling. A life connected to Jesus will offer us new vitality and strength. He mentioned, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). A deep relationship with the Holy Spirit will empower us to continue with our journeys, in spite of any challenges. As Christians, we know that our lives, to be whole, depend on the relationship with our Triune God. Even so, we often take these foundational relationships for granted and neglect them. Healthy and fruitful relationships in our spiritual lives are the key for good interactions in the next two areas.
Personal relationships. This is another area where we sometimes take for granted foundational relationships with family and friends. How many times have I heard people say, “I did not have any idea that this was happening in my own house” or “This was completely unexpected.” Was it unexpected? Were we paying attention to the people closest to us? Were we listening intently to their spoken and unspoken messages?
Work/ministry relationships. As leaders, sometimes we take people on our team for granted. We may become so focused on finishing a project or achieving new goals that we forget about those who provide the support to allow us to reach new heights. This dynamic is even more dangerous if our work depends on volunteers. Are we paying attention to our team’s personal, professional or ministerial needs, dreams and hopes?
These three kinds of relationships should never be taken for granted. They need to be nurtured and cultivated in intentional ways.
It is important to recognize that each of these three categories of relationships belongs to a different realm and has a diverse level of significance in our lives. Yet each relationship is significant in its own way and space. Also, while each relationship requires time, attention and intentionality, our lives today seem to be marked by a lack of time and an abundance of distractions that lead to rushed and superficial relationships.
“Never take for granted the foundational relationships that support, nourish and strengthen your life.”
In my case, I think all of my relationships would benefit from efforts at communicating better (listening and speaking, verbally and non-verbally) and from expressing more gratitude and care. These actions are a good start for me. What about you?
Returning to my tree trimming illustration, do you perceive any “ants” that may be climbing up the ladder of your life? The ground may look safe and firm, but think twice: is it?
If not, don’t wait. Pay attention. Be intentional. Never take for granted the foundational relationships that support, nourish and strengthen your life!