But relationships aren't definable by rules. There are times when that is deeply frustrating – you long for certainty, to know where you stand, to know how the person will respond, what they will choose, what they will say. You long for the consistency, the predictability that rules would bring. I say this, they say that. I do this, they respond like that. It's how we are encouraged to relate with our children. Consistency, clear guidelines, enforceable boundaries. You behave like this, we will respond like that. But as we become adults we have to learn to deal with the people those children have become, no longer constrained by artificial parental boundaries but exercising their own choices. It is often painful, rarely easy, we long at times for the short-cut, the old predictability that would allow us the easy and known response.
Of course, the joy of relationships lies on the other side of this tension. It is the fact that the person can choose to respond outside the inevitable that makes relationships what they are. We screwed up (again), we pressed all the wrong buttons. The predictable, 'law of relationships' response would be to break the relationship. But instead, we find forgiveness and grace, understanding and kindness where justice and punishment were due.
Relationships aren't rules and ultimately, this is good news. When I know someone well, I might be able to predict their behaviour, their response to a situation, but I can't know it. There is always the joyful capacity for surprise. From the new turn of phrase, the witty rejoinder, to the generous hearted and unexpected response.
The truth is that relationships are not based on certainty, they are based on faith. Faith is about believing that something will be. It is based on the evidence of the past and rooted in a hope for the future. We have seen how someone relates in similar circumstances in the past and we have hope, based on their revealed character, that they will respond in a particular way now. But we don't know for sure because it is relationship not rules. Based on the relationship we have enjoyed to date, we have decided to ask our girl/boy friend to marry us. We hope that there will be a positive answer. So we take the faith-risk of asking the question.
Faith, it says, is the substance of things hoped for but not yet real. Faith is what wrestles hoped for possibilities into present reality. The faith to 'pop the question' is what gives the opportunity for a positive answer. If the risk is never taken, if faith is never exercised, the hoped for future can never be agreed to. Faith makes possible the hoped for marriage. Faith and hope, not rules are the basis of any relationship.
“A three stranded cord is not easily broken” If faith and hope form two strands, then the third is love. Love is patient and kind, it isn't self-serving, doesn't hold grudges. It doesn't revel in wrong but rejoices in the right. It is just and perseveres. It never fails.
Love like this is a fruit of The Spirit; it is in essence who God is. Only as we receive and overflow with the Spirit can we love in this way for any length of time. Of course it is easier when we have loving feelings towards someone, but only as we bear the fruit do we truly love. When the feelings are less intense, when troubles come, the fruit of self-control energises our choice to love and keep on loving.
These three, faith, hope and love, the three corded strand uniting the Trinity, underpinning all our relationships.