How to have a great relationship

INsights 022, Friday 26th August 2022

Peace be upon you.

I’ve noticed that one of the most common pieces of advice I give is as follows: 

Relate to God using the same principles that you know make for a great relationship with other human beings.

Of course, I am not saying that we should treat God like a human being. But I am suggesting that your relationship with Him is likely to be so much better if you evaluate and develop it using the same approaches that work for positive human-to-human engagement. 

In this way, you normalise your interaction with God and you avoid behaving in ways that are unnatural and unhealthy for your bond with Him. You can assess the state of your relationship more easily and come up with ways of making progress. 

Have a think now about some of the key factors that make for solid, lasting relationships between people...

It might help to consider some of the best relationships that you have in your life and identify what it is about them that makes them work so well. 

It can also help, even though it might be painful, to identify the factors that you know are missing in your relationships that aren’t going so well but you wish would be better. 

Then have a think about the extent to which these same elements are present or absent in your interaction with your Lord. 

By reflecting in this simple way, you can generate revealing insights for yourself about what’s good – and not so good – when it comes to your most important relationship.

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Great communication

It’s almost certain that you’ve identified great communication as a critical aspect of your connection with others.

So now turn your attention to assessing the quality of your communication with God...

Think carefully about how you communicate in your prayer (salat), supplication (du’a) and in your general mentioning (dhikr) of Him.

Is it regular? Is it meaningful? Is it heartfelt? Is it well-paced? Is it clear? Is it honest?

If it is, fantastic!

But if it’s the opposite of all or some of these, then you must ask yourself why and decide what you’re going to do about it.

Otherwise, the relationship will suffer.

Just as your relationship with another person declines when there are unresolved communication issues, the same applies to your relationship with God.

Trust and positive interpretation

Another example of an important factor in our relationships with other human beings is trust and interpreting their actions in a positive way.

For example, two people can have a fight which ends up damaging their relationship forever. Another two people can have a very similar fight which ends up marking the start of a much stronger bond between them.

The difference in the two situations is almost always the willingness of the parties to think positively and with humility about what happened, why people did what they did, and about future possibilities.

The more positively they interpret each other’s actions and motives, the better it’s likely to be for them both. 

Isn’t it the same for our relationship with God?

You may well have had experiences in your life of which you can’t make sense or yet see the wisdom. You might feel frustration or resentment, either buried deep or felt intensely every day. 

The reality is that God either does or allows so many things that we find confusing, challenging, perhaps even disturbing. He is not accountable to us in any way but we may well have experienced judgmental thoughts about God Himself...

"Why does He make us pray when He doesn’t need our prayers?"

"Why does He take some people’s lives away in such sudden and traumatic circumstances?"

"Why is there even a Hellfire in the first place?"

"Life is such a drag… what is the point of all this anyway? "

You can end up in a recurring rabbit hole of destructive doubt, trying to defy decree and resist reality.

Or you can submit yourself (literally be muslim) to Him and interpret everything He does and decides, and the very system over which He presides, in a positive way. 

If you do, you’re likely to find clarity and beauty. If you don’t, you’ll probably find confusion and misery.

The point is, applying the principle of trust and positive interpretation is vital in progressing your relationship with Him, just as it is with anyone else.

Non-negotiable quality time

When I think about what really helps my relationships progress and become deeper, then no doubt it’s having scheduled, dedicated, uninterrupted time with others. 

Extensive studies have shown the necessity of this factor in determining the success of different kinds of relationships. Our experience and common sense testify to it as well. 

If you think about your relationships that aren’t working well, either at home or at work or with friends, the chances are that you’re just not spending enough quality time – truly undisturbed, doing things of mutual interest – with the people concerned. 

For me, this principle sheds a lot of light on the wisdom of regular prayer.

After all, what symbolises scheduled, dedicated, uninterrupted time with God better than salat itself?

A lot of the friction we experience in our relationship with our Lord, and in our lives more generally, results from not making the most of our prayers to connect deeply with Him.

Remember that having dedicated time with your Lord doesn't just have to involve salat, even though this much is mandated. It can also involve spending time with revelation, or experiencing and reflecting on His creation, or simply doing what we're doing now and thinking carefully about the quality and direction of our lives as far as He is concerned. 

Just as with any relationship, if you don’t invest the appropriate amount of time in the right way, then hoping for things to get better is vanity. 

But if you do take the relationship seriously and plant the right seeds of time and attention, what blossoms will be beautiful.

It doesn’t stop there

Remember, here's the key takeaway:

Relate to God using the same principles that you know make for a great relationship with other human beings.

Today I've shared just a small handful of examples of what I mean by this. There’s more to explore on this issue and I’m sure you’ve thought, and will think, of a lot more too.

If you don't mind, take a quick minute to reply and share your own reflections. I'd love to hear them!

May our Lord grant us the very best of relationships with Him.

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Have a blessed fortnight. I'll see you in two Fridays, God willing.

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