After over forty years of non-profit ministry, I’ve realized most people function very poorly in relationships. People seem to want to control what others feel, think, and believe – and they think this is “normal.”

In fact, dysfunction in relationships is the norm in society. So, when a relationship becomes normal or healthy, it seems abnormal to most.

A normal relationship is one of transparency, honesty, and integrity.

But that’s hard for people.

For example, Christians often struggle to understand what it means to be “in Christ.” It’s hard to comprehend that from heaven’s perspective, our performance in life does not define our personhood. The performance of Christ on our behalf gives us eternal worth, value, and the essence of who we are.

The Good News of Christianity is that God views us the exact same way He views His Son – “This is my beloved Son in whom I am fully pleased.

Every one of us is a crooked stick, but God declares us “straight” in His eyes, and over time, what He says OF us becomes true IN us.

However, when we learn to cover, hide, and refuse to admit any crookedness, we never learn to rest in God’s grace and go through life playing a game of performance. It’s a game we are all destined to lose. God “brings down the tall tree, and He exalts the low tree” (Ezekiel 17:24). Humility is the path of eternal Princes and Princesses. Pride leads to a fall in this life and the next.

But we seem to swallow the often-told lie so easily that our lives depend on our perfection – how beautiful we look, how well we speak, how excellent we do our work, how much money we have, etc.

This lie encourages us toward self-preservation. We must preserve our reputation. We must preserve others’ opinions of us. We must preserve what others know about us.

Yet, our King tells us “Whoever tries to preserve his life will lose it.”

Divine grace enables us to die to the desire for self-preservation.

“Take up your cross and die to self and follow Me” is not nearly as enjoyable of an event as “Take all your comforts and delights in self and join Me.”

Jesus called us to the former, not the latter.

Dying to self involves the dysfunctions of our soul surfacing so that we can crucify them. But this act of dying to self is mostly a learned process. It doesn’t occur at a point in time unless one of our crooked actions is publicly humiliating and shameful. The process of death to self can be quite painful.

But here’s the good news:

REAL love is experienced in the midst of the agony of our dysfunctions dying.

The greatest intimacy with others and with God comes during times we stop trying to be perfect, admit our crookedness, and embrace love. Of course, we risk rejection from those who relate to us based on our performance. But the One who counts calls us to this transparency.

If you’re rejected in the midst of honesty and transparency, you’re relating to someone who’s never comprehended the difference between personhood and performance. Those who reject you should feel your pity, not your anger.

It is always healthy not to hide in life. In fact, our problems in life should be embraced. By embracing and telling others of our personal struggles, our ugly stories begin to refresh others. They begin to see that we don’t get our identity from our past mistakes. We know who we are through our present Messiah.

God’s love is like an artesian spring. It is never pulled by the object being loved, but flows naturally, pouring itself forcefully into the sinner loved.

This is a faithful statement and worthy of your full acceptance that Jesus Christ came to love sinners. The more you acknowledge your imperfections in life and learn to open up and seek forgiveness from those you’ve wounded by your crooked behavior, the more your would will learn to rest in God’s unconditional and everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).

The reign of God through Jesus Christ in you is the only answer to your feelings of helplessness, lack of identity, absence of security, and loss of control.

When it comes to relationships, people need to learn to be honest. Real honesty and transparency are difficult because we struggle to try to get our acceptance, significance, and security from people, rather than from God’s reign in us through Jesus Christ.

How do we know if we are getting our sense of worth, identity, and significance from our performance and from people’s acceptance rather than from God and His love for us through Jesus Christ?

Ask yourself this question: “Am I attempting to control the perceptions and opinions that people have of me?”

When I seek control of what people think of me or perceive me, I will use language like: “I just  really want you to think that I’m ….” or “I really don’t want you to feel that I’m…” or “I  am praying that he doesn’t perceive me as ….”  I could give you hundreds of other statements that are clues to where I am finding my worth.

In addition, you and I can know if we are trying to control others’ perceptions of us when we are afraid to say anything because of “How others will react.” We’re in dysfunctional relationships when we’re never honest about our feelings, our thoughts, and our thinking.

Dysfunction is characterized by paralyzing fear.

Interestingly, the people whom we desire to control the most (i.e. to control “what they think, what they feel, what they perceive”) are the people that we believe can hurt us the most.

Give it up.

The One who counts already knows every wart, knothole, and rough spot in the crooked stick that is your life.

He loves you. Rest in Him.

Follow your call to be a servant to others and stop trying to control others.

Haters are going to hate. Criticizers are going to criticize. Grace people are gracious people.