Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Tim Lane and Paul Tripp's new book, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, (New Growth Press, 2007). 

Your spouse argues with you. Your child rebels. Your boss criticizes you. Your friend betrays you. Your neighbor irritates you. Relationships are often a mess – full of stressful conflict and tough problems. But they’re worth it, because God uses them to help you become the person He wants you to be.

Here’s how you can find hope as you dig into messy relationships:

Trade fantasy for reality. Realize that no relationship ever delivers what you dreamed it could. Ask God to help you recognize what unrealistic expectations you have for your relationships, and give them up. Understand that it’s normal for sorrow and joy and sin and grace to co-exist in all your relationships, because all people are imperfect. Know that there are no secrets that guarantee problem-free relationships. Recognize that all the pain you experience in your relationships is meant to remind you of your need for God, and all the blessings you experience in your relationships points you to what you can find only in God. Know that God made you for relationships – with Him and other people. Expect God to use every one of your relationships to accomplish good purposes in your life. Realize that you can rely on God’s help and strength for all your relationship needs. Remember that God cared so much about relationships that He sent His Son to die for the sake of people’s relationships with Him. So don’t avoid relationships; embrace them with hope, trusting that they’re worthwhile.

Look to God as the ultimate model of relationships. Know that, as someone made in God’s image, you were made to reflect His likeness (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in relationship) by living in community. Instead of letting your relationships be driven by your personal desires, let the bigger agenda of God’s glory motivate you as you interact with others. Remember that God is always with you, dwelling in community with you so you can build healthy community with other people. Recognize that your identity as a human being is tied to community. Know that if you deny, avoid, escape, misuse, exploit, or destroy relationships, you’re actually denying your own humanity. But also know that every time you move toward someone else in compassion, you affirm your humanity and the other person’s humanity as well, thereby honoring God, who made you both. Understand that your relationships will be the most satisfying when you enter them not just to please yourself or another person, but to please God.

Deal with sin wisely. Understand that when you let your own agenda – instead of your relationship with God – rule your heart, that sin will harm your relationships. Consider to what extent you’re giving your allegiance to other gods, such as comfort, control, material things, power, success, and approval. Ask yourself what motivates you to form relationships with other people: Are those relationships ends in themselves, or just a means to the end of getting what you want? When others sin against you, avoiding reacting with in sinful ways yourself, such as holding grudges, becoming bitter, praying for vengeance, or gossiping. Instead, pray for God to help you respond with patience, humility, forgiveness, and gentleness. Remember that God will help you overcome any sin in your relationships. Trust Him so you can trust others and build healthy relationships.

Be willing to do the work relationships require. Recognize that all your relationships are gifts from God that you should manage with great care. Know that it’s worth it to invest in the time and energy necessary to begin and maintain your relationships. Don’t shy away from giving others grace, since God has given you grace. Be humble, refusing to hold others to a higher standard than that to which you hold yourself. Be gentle, being careful not to damage others who interact with you. Be patient, placing the needs of others at least as high as your own needs. Be forbearing when you’re provoked. Don’t love people with limits hat are driven by your own perceived needs or interests. Make sure that others don’t feel as if they must always return a favor to keep you happy with them. Understand that God’s purpose for your relationships is not for you to get what you want, but to give you what you need. Know that when you’re frustrated in a relationship, God is at work revealing where you’ve given in to a selfish agenda and helping you grow.