One of the ways medical students learn to diagnose disease is by studying healthy bodies. They listen to healthy heartbeats, peer into healthy ears, eyes noses, and throats. They look at normal brain scans and they learn the indicators of healthy blood tests.
Bank tellers and merchants learn to distinguish real money from counterfeit by examining genuine $100 bills over and over again so that they more likely to spot the counterfeit bills when they seem them.
In the same way, it’s important that we learn some of the ingredients necessary for healthy relationships. We want to be wise and able to discern when a relationship is unhealthy and even becoming destructive. Just because someone is a Christian doesn’t mean they are spiritually or emotionally mature.
Today I want to talk about the necessity of freedom. God has given all human beings the freedom to choose. In the Garden of Eden, God did not order Adam and Eve to love and obey him. That would not have been a mutual relationship. Instead God created an environment where they had a choice. Although they choose poorly, God doesn’t want relationships with robots. He wants his people to choose to love and follow him.
In healthy adult relationships, an important ingredient is freedom to choose–freedom to respectfully share our thoughts, ideas, desires, and feelings with another person without fear of punishment or retaliation. If we aren’t free, then there is something wrong with us (often fear of man issues) or wrong with the relationship (it’s unhealthy and/or destructive).
We’ve all witnessed the results in history, in fundamentalist religious groups and in families when freedom is squashed. Members are not free to question, to challenge, or to think differently than the group. They are not free to grow or to be themselves without fear of painful consequences.
Married couples and close friendships need freedom in order to thrive. I do not mean the freedom to do whatever you want. When you commit to someone, you willingly choose to limit some of your choices (especially in marriage). But all healthy relationships need freedom to disagree, to respectfully challenge someone’s thoughts or decisions, and to say no without fear. When one adult is in a relationship with another adult and she has no decision making power, she is either extremely sick or unconscious (physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally).
If you have allowed someone to take your decision making power from you, you must reclaim it if you want to get healthy and have healthy relationships. Your will is one of God’s gifts to you, and a good relationship with someone is impossible when one of you lacks the freedom and power to choose.
On the other hand, if you are the person who tends to dominate and control others, if you want healthy loving relationships, you must learn to stop and let go.
Here is a short prayer by Susan Muto, taken from her poem, Free Again for your Presence, in her book, Practicing the Prayer of Presence.
Lord, create around me a climate of gentleness
in which each person can express himself without fear.
Let me not be tempted
to force others to pretend to feelings they do not have
simply to please me, to make me feel good.
Teach me the art of redeemed, spiritual living.