We read an endless supply of books that teach us how to be the most authentic version of ourselves. We go deep within to understand our needs, desires and longings. We become open to exploring things like meditation and yoga, if we think there's the potential for finding peace.
But if you really want to grow and evolve in your journey, look no further than your closest personal relationships.
The people we are closest to (and specifically our relationships with those people) are the greatest teachers for our lives. Each one of our relationships powerfully reflects back to us all the parts of ourselves that are strong, happy, compassionate — and those parts that need more growth and evolution. It's as if each of our loved ones was deliberately placed in our lives to become close with us, to provide us the opportunities to become the people we need to become in life in order to do the things we are here to do.
The greatest of our lives is to love. Perhaps that explains why our parents and family members can be the most difficult people for us to love, even though we tend to be automatically closest to them. And that's likely why many of the people we spend the majority of our waking moments with can profoundly impact our happiness — and either inspire or challenge our spiritual evolution.
For example, my father and I used to have a pretty miserable relationship. I thought he was opinionated, judgmental and stubborn. But all of the things that infuriated me about my father were all the traits in myself that I didn't want to own at that time.
Once I recognized and healed the most judgmental parts of myself, his judgments either went away or no longer bothered me (not certain which, and not certain I care). Now our interactions are lighter, sweeter and much more authentic. My father — and more specifically, my relationship with him, and its evolution — taught me that the things that bother us the most in others are actually the traits in us that we're not ready to acknowledge and heal within ourselves.
Now take my relationship with my ex-husband. Or my relationship with my church ("relationships" don't necessarily refer to those with one person, but with communities, too). Both of these relationships taught me that there are some relationships where you can unintentionally hinder your own growth.
Within the context of relationships where I am neither inspired nor challenged, I tend to remain the lesser, smaller version of myself. So, in order to grow into the woman that I am today, I actually had to leave behind the safety and security of the familiar.
A man that broke my heart wide open taught me that when I really love someone, I don't hold back, even if it may hurt.
My best friend has taught me a great deal about myself and connections at a soul level. She taught me that it is only once we can love, accept and forgive ourselves that we can then love, accept and forgive everyone else.
My husband has taught me that it is only through great honesty and vulnerability that you can have great intimacy and love.
Everyone in our lives is there as a spiritual teacher for us. Their purpose is to expose parts of us that we may be hiding from. They're there to open us up to the deeper truths in our lives. Even the people that hurt us came into our lives because they're the only one that could teach us that one particular lesson in a way that we would be able to receive it, and many times we learn more through painful experiences than joyful ones.
Our spiritual teachers are there to help us awaken, recognize and understand our own true nature; to bring about the core of who we are and to evolve further in our souls' journey. Who better to assist us in our journey than those to whom we're closest?
There's something divine about it all.
So, as you're spending time with family over the holidays and you feel yourself getting irritated, identify the source of your irritation and then look in the mirror about what you're unconsciously hiding.
As you reflect on the past year and realize you're still carrying a wound, see if you can identify what that person taught you. What do you know now that you didn't know previously about yourself?
As you're wishing to create more loving relationships in the coming year, go within and ask yourself, "Am I willing to think about this differently or see a deeper truth in order to have the love I want in my life?"
For inspiration on even your most challenging relationships, get my free favorite compilation of relationship quotes: Tell the Truth in Love Quotes.