Leading Relationally

Hey, Friends!  For the past two Sundays, I have been honored to share at two different churches (The Orchard in Tupelo, MS, and The Orchard Northside in Baldwin, MS) on the topic of Biblical Womanhood:  Leading Relationally.  I spoke along with three other awesome women,  who also happen to be dear friends.  I have to admit that it is very intimidating to speak on the topic of being a godly woman.  Why?  Because I know myself.  I know all the ways I am not a godly woman.  I wanted to spend most of the time giving disclaimers, citing examples of how I don’t live up to the standard.  But I only had 8 minutes to talk, so if I spent all my time talking about the truth about myself, I would not have had time to talk about the truth about Him—which is really the only truth that matters.  So, here is my talk in case you are interested!  Blessings, my friends!

Hi, I’m Sara Berry.  I am wife to Mont and Mother to seven great kids:  Katie, Ellie, Joseph, Troy, Joshua, Sally, and Charlie.  My topic is Leading through Relationship. I recently read about The Harvard Study of Adult Development, which may well be the longest study of adult life that’s ever been done. For 75 years, researchers tracked the lives of 724 men, year after year, asking about their work, their home lives, and their health. Over these 75 years, the study showed that the people who fared the best–physically, mentally, and emotionally–were the ones who leaned into relationships, with family, with friends, and with community.  Women and men alike are born with an innate need for connection.

Now, obviously, with such a large household, I am constantly dealing with relationships. I don’t have it all together, nor do I have it all figured out.  But I do value my relationships, just as I am sure most of you do.  And I have learned a few things along the way. If you hear nothing else from me today, I want you to hear and remember this:  Living a godly life, the type life we were created for, can be obtained by following two commandments.  Jesus said they were the greatest commandments.

Matthew 22:37-40 (New Living Translation)

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Love God, love others.  It really is quite simple and it can be applied to every relationship we have:  spouses, children, friends, parents, co-workers … apply these two commandments and your relationships will improve.  Slowly, healing will come, the crooked places will be made straight, the mountains will be leveled.  I am not trying to be trite.  I am not implying a Pollyanna-type theology.  Relationships can be hard and complicated and painful.  But all relationships can improve by applying these two commandments.  Love God.  Love others.

There is one catch, though.  We cannot reverse the order of the commandments.  We can’t love others, then maybe get around to loving God.  That is a recipe for dysfunction.   That is a path of making idols of our loved ones.  That is when expectations are never met, needs are never fulfilled, mistakes are never forgiven.  And why is that?

Because on our own, we are incapable of loving others unconditionally.  We are incapable of truly serving, completely forgiving.  We are incapable of always be present to meet needs, always understanding, always being the person others need us to be.  When we love others in our own strength, we will let them down.  And they will let us down.

However, when we love God first, the love of Christ fills us with the power of the Holy Spirit to love well, to forgive completely.  We must let go of our expectations of ourselves.  We can’t be God to someone else.  We must point them to God, who will never disappoint.  We also can’t expect others to fill the needs of our soul that only God can fill.  They are incapable of doing so and it is unfair to expect them to.  We will be disappointed every time.

To have truly healthy relationships, we must first connect with God.  We must love Him above all.  We must wrestle through the disappointments and pain of dealing with others, and realize that HE is enough.  When we have first connected with God, then we are equipped to connect with others.

Yes, all of us are born with an innate need for connection.  Mont and I have found that to be true as we have navigated through the waters of adoption.  When we adopted Sally and then Charlie, we knew that we must be intentional in developing a relationship with them.  We couldn’t take for granted that they would bond with us.  We had to work at it.  It took a long time for them to trust us.  Sally used to keep food in the roof of her mouth for hours.  We had to teach her to let it go on down her throat—that we would not let her go hungry.  Charlie used to panic when Mont or I left the house.  We had to teach him that we would not abandon him.  You see, even after they became a part of our family, they still occasionally acted like orphans.  And so do I.  The Bible tells us that we are all orphans until we are adopted into the forever family of God.  But even after we are adopted by our Heavenly Father, we still have to develop our trust in Him.  We have to cultivate relationship with Him in order to really believe He will never leave us nor forsake us.  Through our adoption journey, we were reminded of something along the way. This intentional development of relationship was not just the best approach for our adopted kids, but also for the kids I gave birth to.  And it was best for our marital relationship with each other, our relationships with extended family, with friends …. I bet you get the point.  We all have a sphere of influence, a place of leadership, and we will find that our leadership abilities will be much more effective and enjoyable if we take the time to develop relationship first.  Love God, then love others.

Some of my favorite women in the Bible wrestled with relationships, fought through the pain and disappointments only to discover that God alone could really meet their needs.

For example, Hannah had a deep longing for a child.  Even though her husband kindly tried to fill that relationship void, Hannah remained miserable.  When she finally surrendered to God, He fulfilled her longing with a son—Samuel.  But she had to give him back to the Lord. Because she had fully surrendered to God, she was then able to surrender her son to the Lord’s perfect plan.

Ruth had experienced much grief.  She lost her dearest love—her husband.  She is known for surrendering to God by remaining with her widowed mother-in-law.  She said, “Your people will be my people, your God, my God.”  Because of this surrender, God selected her to become part of the lineage of the Savior.

Leah was the ugly duckling, the forgotten wife.  She longed for relationship with her husband, Jacob, but his heart was set on another.  With each son born, her misery was revealed by the meaning of their names—each one symbolizing her desire for love of her husband.  Until her fourth child. When he was born, she surrendered to God.  This fourth child was named Judah, which meant, “this time I will praise the Lord.”  Period.  She surrendered her circumstances to God without trying to manipulate them, trusting God to bring about good in the midst of her pain.  And oh how He did bring about good!  Jesus came from the lineage of Judah.

Each of these examples shows an innate desire for relationship.  We long for relationship with others—husbands, children, parents, friends.  And that is a God-given desire.  But those relationships can never fulfill our deepest longings.  No, our deepest longings are only fulfilled when we surrender to God and begin a relationship with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  All other relationships fall into line under the headship of our relationship with Jesus. Love God, then love others.

Over the years, I have learned the most valuable lesson.  God is enough.  I must love Him more than Mont, more than my kids, more than my work, more than my friends.  I must love Him more, so that I am equipped to love others better.

To end, let me reiterate to you this truth:  God is enough.  Love Him more.  Love Him first, then go love others better.

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