What Comes First, Performance or Relationship?

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By Claire Greenwood, reprinted from the Salt & Light Australia Daily Devotional.

“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” – Ecclesiastes 4:12

Most of us want to get continually better at what we do. However, have you reached the point where you think your performance has a limit? Is it realistic to think we can constantly get better at what we do at work, on the sporting field, perfecting a hobby or character trait? Our days are therefore working to improve our human performance, some of us for someone else’s business, for others the goal is for our own lifestyle. Isn’t this the motivation behind study to improve our skills, knowledge and capabilities? Today I want to challenge you to think about how we go about doing this (bear with me, it’s a little long but I promise you need to consider it).

Today’s devo is inspired by a book I am reading called The Power of the Other by Henry Cloud. I recommend this book to anyone who is keen to better understand identify the relationships in your lives, and how to improve them, not only to improve how you work but also enjoy the journey!

I want to share one of the many takeaways as it relates to how we improve our performance. The book overall looks at how the relationships, and categories of relationships, we have with people in our lives work as the foundation for mutually improving our performance. While a university course, extra hours at work or pure grit will improve our performance, physiologist Henry Cloud shows a different approach, and one Jesus taught us that existed before any university! It is through having a small number of people with whom we can have honest, vulnerable relationships that supports our ability and intentional plans to reach higher levels of performance together.

It is the word together that has struck me and wanted to share two reasons why we need people in our life who can be part of this journey to better performance.

Firstly, to make my point, imagine yourself in this story (taken from Cloud’s The Power of the Other). Imagine you are running a marathon. You are at the 35km mark and can feel the tank start to empty, your mental strength starts to fade and the earlier fire is starting to go out. You start to fear and talk to you yourself that you may not make it. You start to feel you may “hit the wall.” It is the moment the body has nothing left and can’t go on. No change in self-talk or will power can change the feeling you can’t run another step. You feel embarrassed all the hours of training has been for nothing. But then, just when your body is failing you, you see and hear your running buddy and close friend on the roadside cheer you on. You see their fists and arms urge you on and words of encouragement. Your eyes locked with theirs, and then something happened, something beyond yourself. Your body jumps into another unknown gear, another dimension of performance you never knew was there. You miraculously find some energy from nowhere and finish the race. This what is called the “power of the other.”

Do you have a few people in your life you can talk to about your dreams, but also fears, and who walk beside you?

Secondly, God’s word says we also need this. We were made to live in community and not live alone. The greatest commands were around community and relationships, not signs and wonders, not leadership and power, not laws and obedience, but love for one another.

In Jesus’ time and in many other countries today, people live with their families and friends in a very close-knit way. They eat together more, socialize more together and therefore talk & help each other more.  Living close to family and friends really enables “doing life together.” However, today we are more of an individualistic culture. We rely on ourselves too much. Individualism and doing life on our own is not part of God’s plan.

The model of interacting with people for our growth and for those in our friendship circles is seen throughout the Bible, where God shows why we need them in our life. Having close friends provides us an opportunity for growth and development through exposure to new ideas, different ways of thinking, and also to be challenged so we don’t become complacent or prideful. We see in the bible how God wanted the Israelites to be his people, living and worshiping Him together. After Christ’s death and resurrection He teaches the importance of the church as a community of believers: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12:27). If this is the model, then why do we see so much loneliness and isolation these days?

Ecclesiastes also shows us a lot about how to live well in community. God wants us to be fueled by relationships that support us but also challenge us to ensure we are living a Christ-led life. We only improve and learn from others if we are exposure to times where “iron sharpens iron” which means we need to humbly accept the refining pain that comes from getting “sharper.” This saying actual comes from Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens the face of his neighbor,” which some say is an example of “tough love.” It also reinforces the fact we are not meant to tackle life and work progression alone.

The types of relationships that fuel improving our performance take time. To do this we need to make relationships a priority, a commitment to allocating time that slowly builds relationships with people. As you do this I encourage you to ask yourself if you have three people who can answer these questions of yourself:

  • Your goals
  • Your fears
  • Your strengths
  • Your weaknesses
  • If they trust you
  • Can be open to hear negative feedback

And, vice versa, have you spent enough time with a few selected friends to know their answers? If you can’t answer, do you need to invest more time with them? The other consideration is to ask if these people with whom you want to become a core group also place Jesus front and center in their life. Honest, mutually supportive relationships set the foundation and safety for both of you to share constructive feedback if it’s needed. If we can’t share that the iron knife needs sharpening, then how can we improve our performance – whether our faith journey or in our role at work (even though these are intertwined)?

Don’t forget we live in a fallen world, people will disappoint you and personalities may clash at times. But like a rope that needs 3 stands, we become stronger when we stick together“Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Community means we cheer each other on, hold each other up, and keep Jesus at the center of it all.

To close, I return to God’s model of life and work, a verse from Hebrews: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24–25)

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