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Re-reading Relationships

A Pastor’s Perspective on the Express Grace Conference

Sometimes I find it helpful to re-read a book—perhaps because of how much I love the story or the content, perhaps because it’s so rich that I need to process what it really means for me. For both of those reasons, I’ve found myself over the past few days “re-reading” in my heart our Express Grace Conference from mid-January.

I realized quickly that Dr. Zink (along with the breakout session speakers) was inviting us into not merely a weekend about relationships but actually a lifetime of relationships. While he talked about the centrality of relationships, Dr. Zink explicitly told us he didn’t have simple “how-tos” but instead a process—a process he said in Sunday’s sermon begins with the reality that “we need to know what relationship with God is by seeking experience of it, not merely facts about it.” This challenging reality is only one concept I’ve been pondering from the conference as I think of my own joys and struggles in my relationships with God, with others, and with myself.

I’m contemplating what it looks like for me to view people as whole people—as hearts—not as projects, since our role as spouses, parents, and friends is to care for the other’s heart. I’m asking myself where I am missing the beauty of relationship because I’m seeking to “fix” someone rather than empathize with someone. In Dr. Zink’s words, “love is creating space for another’s existence,” whereas I’m convicted of the “violence” I’ve done toward others by making them feel squeezed into my mold, the agenda I have for them.

One of the stories I loved was the story about the violets in Sunday’s sermon. God’s call to develop the dignity (“violets”) with which he created me and others even more than I seek to eliminate the depravity (“weeds”) is a challenging but glorious call. What is the glory God has created in me that I need to nourish? What is the glory God has created in others that I can appreciate or even nurture?

Finally, I’m thinking again about something I’ve known about myself in relationships, including my marriage. In our standard conflict “dance,” I tend to withdraw. What am I forgetting about my identity in Christ that leads me not to confide my heart in those moments? How am I failing to love my wife (and my kids) when I move away instead of moving toward them? Am I praying for God to “strengthen me in my inner being” (Ephesians 3) so that I confide instead of withdrawing? 

In our sound-bite, quick-fix culture, re-reading seems like a waste of time; it’s much easier to listen to God’s Word in any context and carry on with no self-examination whatsoever. Whether you were present for the conference or not, I urge you not to let that happen this time. Consider listening (again) to some of the conference talks or just meditating (again) on your relationships. Pray that God would continue the lifelong process of shaping us into a safe community of grace and truth—in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and in our church.

Quotes from the Breakout Sessions:

“God created us to know and be known for the right reasons. … In order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.”
—Nancy Dunn speaking about empathy and comfort in relationships

“Guilt tells us we messed up, and drives us toward people.  … Shame tells us we ARE messed up, and drives us toward isolation.  … We all have shame tied to aspects of our stories.  The only way to be free from it and be reconnected with others, God, and ourselves, is to face it.”
—Aaron Shaffer speaking about God’s grace impacting our shame

“The good news is that there is an antidote …feeling and connecting with Christ and with others, to the things that led you in and the one who leads you out.”
—Carl Stewart speaking about wrestling with pornography

Find recordings of Dan Zink and the breakout session speakers at southwood.org/audio