Protecting your closest relationships
By Philip W. Nation
“Some people make enemies instead of friends because it is less trouble.”
This statement, attributed to E.C. McKenzie, feels like real life on a lot of days. Sometimes friends are more trouble than they are worth. But as a pastor, I’d rather be surrounded by friends who have my back than by enemies trying to stab me in the back.
Being a pastor can be a solitary experience if you aren’t careful. Ministers need strong personal relationships for support, accountability, and encouragement. We all need a strong circle of friends who enjoy life together and show up when dark clouds are hovering overhead.
To that end, we need to know how to nurture and protect the relationships we have. Here are seven ideas, both practical and principled, to help you protect the connections you have with your friends, your spouse, and your kids.
1. Listen to your friends and family. We all need a listening ear at times—whether it’s to share our burdens or to chat about how the day is going. But it’s easy to zone out when someone we love is talking.
That’s especially true at home. As a husband and father, it should be easy for me to listen intently to my wife and two sons. Notice I wrote: “it should be.”
In reality, the stress of the daily commute, pressures of unfinished tasks, and a million other things seek to distract me from the people who matter most. You and I must choose to listen intently to the people we love.
2. Step away from the smartphone. I heard about a group of friends who regularly go to dinner together. At the beginning of the meal, they stack their phones in the middle of the table. The first one who answers a call, text, or notification has to pay the bill. If no one breaks the rule, everyone buys his or her own meal.
It’s a silly idea but one that helps the group prioritize their friends over the dinging, whirring, buzzing, vibrating notifications of their smartphones.
3. Carry their burdens. The idea of carrying another person’s burdens could be the very definition of having a relationship. Sometimes a friend will actually need you to carry something—especially on moving day.
But more likely they need you to be present and attentive when life gets hard. It’s in that type of moment you carry another person’s burden.
4. Let your burdens be carried. By their very definition, relationships are reciprocal. So, don’t keep your troubles secret from your friends. Be honest about your struggles and ask for help.
The lack of humility to admit the need for help and the growing habit of keeping secrets both undermine healthy relationships. Give up your pride and let someone hold you up in the trying times of life.
5. Forgive quickly. Don’t keep score. Relationships grow when we hold short accounts with one another. Do you have a relationship that needs mending? Stop reading and go forgive a friend or loved one right now.
6. Choose activities that are interactive. Turn off the television and do something fun with your friends and family. Play a board game with your kids. Go to dinner with some friends. Take a canoe trip with your wife.
Activities like these help us interact rather than just spectate. Remember, just because you’re sitting in the same room doesn’t mean you’re together.
7. Have fun. Never underestimate the value of a good laugh. Our relationships require work but they are intended to be fun. So make the choice and enjoy the journey with those you hold closest to your heart.
PHILIP NATION (@PhilipNation) is director of Adult Ministry Publishing at Lifeway and teaching pastor at The Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee.