In Pursuit of Relationship
I sat down about a week and a half ago with a friend of mine to work on a take-home essay exam for one of the classes we had together. Due to the unbelievably arbitrary nature of the grading scale and the overall flawed point system of the institution, we were a little less than apathetic to answer roughly seven pages of essay questions for a final that mattered very little with regards to the outcome of our grade. But we pressed onward regardless. The apples of our MacBooks aglow, Word documents formatted and titled, we were ready to tackle this assignment, a full four days before it was even due, I might add.
We were at the dining room table of my apartment for fifteen minutes when I suggested we take a well-deserved break at the coffee shop located a few blocks from my apartment. I didn't want us to get burnt out by how much productivity was taking place.
The coffee shop was particularly packed that Saturday afternoon, every table occupied, every seat filled. With little hope of securing a place to sit, we had to awkwardly stand in the middle of the shop until the coffee was ready, all the while surrounded by several other people waiting for their fix of java. Heightened by the close proximity of the other customers, time seemed to crawl by until finally the order appeared at the counter and the barista called out the drinks from behind the espresso machine. Coffees in hand, personal space thoroughly violated, we returned to my apartment and sat down once again to what would hopefully be the last time we had to do work for this class.
We spent about thirty minutes typing up our responses, relatively silent, save the occasional question about content or length. My friend broke the silence when he asked,
Do you think any of the relationships you've made during college seem artificial?
I was bit taken aback by the question. Well I would hope not, was my first thought, but as I really began to think about the relationships I had made over the past couple years, how accurate was that feeling? Out of the 7 or 8 people I considered to be my good friends during my first few years of college, how many did I still talk to consistently? Even once a week? I sensed there was more to the conversation than this seemingly broad inquiry and his second question confirmed those suspicions,
Do you think we'll still be friends when we graduate?
We sat next to each other in class every day of the week. We ate lunch together about two times a week. Nearly every weekend, at least one night was spent hanging at my apartment. But none of that mattered.
In combination of the day-to-day events of life as a college student and my own negligence, I lost focus of what relationship was really about. I wrongfully viewed those daily encounters as satisfaction or substitution for what was really needed to cultivate a relationship that felt significant, a relationship that felt real. Genuine relationship is not just about whether you did the reading, or your opinion on Interstellar, or how your weekend was. Genuine relationship is the active and intentional participation in conversation and time spent together that fosters an opportunity for greater intimacy. Genuine relationship is telling and showing someone their presence and influence is desired and wanted in your life. Genuine relationship does not stray from conversations that are awkward or convicting, because those are the indications that honesty is more important than saving-face or maintaining a good image. Genuine relationship shows devotion, bears burdens, forgives, encourages, and most importantly, loves. It is in these relationships that we are able to grow in conformation to a Christ-like identity by displaying the very characteristics Christ showed in his own life.
It's heart-breaking to look back at the relationships that have come and gone. The conversations over coffee, the evenings filled with laughs, the shared silence when words weren't necessary. I can't help but feel this isn't what God wants for His people. I can't help but feel He sympathizes with our pain when relationships end and when friendships fall apart. For God desires unity. He desires genuine love for one another. He desires a community that is strong both in our moments of rejoicing and in the brokenness of our failures. God desires reconciliation and only in Him can we find such restoration.
I can't claim to have everything figured out because I know more than anyone how much I still need to grow, but here are some of the steps I'm taking to make that maturity possible.
1. Strive to find those people you want to do life with. I cannot stress enough how important it is to surround yourself with people of common mind and purpose. The people we are best suited to do life with are the ones who possess similar goals, lifestyles, and direction. These are the individuals we genuinely enjoy spending time with, the ones to whom we are willing to confess our deepest struggles, the ones who are there to weep with us in the tragic events we undergo, the ones who are there to encourage us when we lose sight of the goal. These are also the people who may hold different opinions than our own, and in these relationships we are able to participate in conversations that sharpen us, knowing disagreement or conflict do not supersede the close bonds we share. Rarely will these people fall right out of the sky, and it is in this realization that we must seek those people with intentionality.
2. Strive to be intentional in conversation. Having found people we connect with on a level that surpasses music preference or major, it is in these relationships that realness should characterize the time we spend together. In discussion of our fears, our hopes, our doubts, and our passions, we are given the opportunity to genuinely know someone, an opportunity we must be careful in sharing. In these conversations I feel people are able to experience a greater sense of closeness and thus find those conversations or interactions more beneficial and worthwhile. We as people desire to be known and loved, and this is only manageable through being intentional.
3. Make the growth and maturity of others the focus of the relationship. The Gospel at its very core is the demonstration of the willingness of Christ to humble himself for our sake. When Christ went to the cross, he displayed subservience not only to the will of the Father but to sinful and broken people. We are called to live life with the same humility Christ showed in his every word and deed, striving daily to see others as more important than ourselves. It is in this willing submission that we display love, sacrificing our power for the opportunity to show genuine care for the concerns of others.
4. Encourage growth in the other's relationship with Christ. When we consider ourselves to be part of the body of Christ, we must understand the eternal significance of spiritual maturation in the lives of our brothers and sisters. While we should care about the earthly concerns of our friends and loved ones, we must always live in light of our future expectation of glory. We must encourage our friends to make Christ the focus and center of all things, for when that occurs, we are able to rejoice together, praising God for what He has done in their life and the joy we receive in sharing in that moment.