When I think of a DTR (define the relationship) conversation, I envision a little high school couple awkwardly sitting on a park bench watching the ducks waddle along as they attempt to discuss their future together (or not together). The girl is fiddling with her hands while the boy is staring off uneasily into the distance to avoid any unnecessary eye contact. I imagine the words, “so...um…” are uttered repeatedly throughout their discussion. It’s quite unpleasant and uncomfortable.
I recently had a DTR-type conversation with God, but it went differently than that of the poor couple at the park.
During our talk, God asked me to literally define “relationship.”
In all honesty, I haven’t ever really tried to do that. Relationship is just one of those words that I used and never realized I didn’t have a definition for until I was put on the spot. And when God put me on the spot, I didn’t have an answer.
My first move was to go to Google where the Oxford Dictionary defined it as, “the state of being connected.” This got me thinking, but it still felt very abstract to me. So, I then looked up what people considered to be the most important aspects of a relationship. As you can imagine, there were TONS of articles out there with everyone’s opinions about what makes a healthy relationship. Something I noticed as I poured over the expanse of advice from self-proclaimed relationship gurus on the internet was that the majority of the lists included the following four qualities: respect, honesty, trust, and communication.
I wrote these four things down in my journal, and then I sat. I just sat and stared at them for a while. In my staring, I felt God nudge me to recognize that my current “relationship” with him may not be what I think it is. And I wondered if that might be true for more people than just me.
To find out, I wanted to dive in to what the intention is behind those four words.
First, respect involves learning about and valuing what is important to one another. So, what is important to God? By reading scripture, I can confidently say that God values humanity. In arguably the most well-known verse of the Bible, it says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). While we were dead in our sin and possessed nothing in ourselves that would cause him to love us, God valued us enough to save us from the penalty that we deserve. He didn’t do this because he loved just one or two of us, he did it because he loves every person on the planet. And the indisputable truth is that whoever responds to this great love by placing their faith in Jesus will be saved. So, if I want to be in a healthy relationship with God, I should also care for and see value in all people. All humans carry the Imago Dei in us—the Image of God. Knowing this fundamental truth should lead to a willingness to show dignity to every person no matter their life circumstance. It’s imperfect. It’s messy. It’s uncomfortable. But it is what Jesus modeled for us in the way he interacted with people in scripture and should be the example we strive to follow as believers.
Furthermore, the respect that we have for God is not just limited to what he values, but it is also found in understanding his character and acknowledging who he says he is. He is known to us as Father, and in the Father/child relationship, respect is action-oriented through obedience. In his fatherly nature, we see a call to know him and submit to his authority, not redefine him. We should not try to change him or force him into a mold that we think he should fit into, but instead submit ourselves to him to be changed by him. We don’t get to determine who God is because he has already told us. God, who is our Father, has revealed himself to us through the Bible, and as stated throughout scripture, we show respect to our Father by submitting to and obeying him.
The next quality of a healthy relationship is honesty. This means being candid and asking God the hard questions and expressing the ugly emotions to him even when it terrifies us. God is a big God, and he can handle our questions, doubts, emotions, and insecurities. We can pour out our hearts to God in confidence that he hears and cares. Psalm 62:8 states, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” When we are vulnerable enough with God to be brutally honest, he responds to us in love, grace, and compassion. He meets us in the middle of our messy emotions without condemnation because he is the one who designed and gave us emotions in the first place.
This leads us to the next word on the list: trust. Trusting God flows from a knowledge of his true character and an understanding that God’s ways are always right. I recently found myself asking questions about trusting God in the midst of big life changes, and the more time I spent reflecting on it, the more God showed me that I had a lot to learn. It became very apparent that I trusted God conditionally, and the list of areas where I did not trust him was much longer than the list of where I did. And ultimately, my lack of trusting him stemmed from inadequate knowledge who he actually is.
Thankfully, God did not simply leave me to sulk with this list of shortcomings that revealed how bad I am at believing him. Rather, he pointed me to the truth of who he is as revealed through scripture. Trusting God won’t be an automatic thing that happens overnight; it will take untangling fact from fiction and embracing what is truth. But God has given us his word in its entirety as a means of learning his character and recognizing that he is trustworthy throughout history all the way to present day.
The final word to be discussed is communication. This is equal parts speaking and listening. If there is no listening, there is no relationship. It means asking questions and then pausing to actually listen to what God’s response might be. If we allow space for God to speak, we may be surprised by what he whispers to our hearts or adamantly presses into our thoughts. He has so much to say to us if only we would be quiet long enough to let him. It may be a small voice in the noise or words spoken almost as if to the heart by the Spirit. From the many facets of our personalities to how he has designed and created everything, God speaks to us in so many different ways. We just have to choose to listen and respond. And there is no disputing that God has spoken to us all in some way because he has given us his word.
After mulling over each of the words in my head, I saw that there is a lot of progress to be made in cultivating a true relationship with God. I often say that my relationship with God is the most important one in my life, so why not make sure it is also the healthiest?
It might be painful and feel a little clumsy, but I encourage you to have a DTR conversation with God. Consider the qualities that make relationships healthy and ask what it would look like to apply those to your relationship with him. It may lead to growth in ways you didn’t think possible, and a depth of relationship you have never experienced.
-By Becca Walters