Made for relationship

Meeting with families who have lost loved ones to death in the past week, the overwhelming sense I get is one of gratitude. People are grateful for the persons in their lives and the relationships they have shared. Despite the pain of loss, which is very real, there is a deeper sense of thankfulness for the time shared together. I’ve heard stories of everyday life, some humorous, some poignant. I’ve been told stories of travel and new experiences, of family meals and holidays, of conversations and quiet times shared together.

There is no doubt in my mind that we humans are made for relationship. We need each other. One of the versions of creation that has long been told by our people is in the second chapter of the book of Genesis. In that way of telling the story, God is engaged in hands on creative work, planting a garden, causing rain to fall and creates the first human out of the dust of the ground. Trees spring up, food is abundant, a river flows, minerals are abundant. Then God realizes that “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Animals and beasts follow. They receive their names, but somehow they aren’t quite the right companion until God takes one side of Adam and forms a woman. The second chapter of Genesis concludes by commenting on the process of a child leaving the family of origin and forming a new family.

The creation stories of Genesis tell a lot of things about our people and our beliefs. They arose in their current forms out of a time of exile and cultural upheaval when the people of Israel faced near extinction, not only of their ideas and culture, but physical extinction of their family lines. In that time of crisis we began to form a consistent way of telling the stories of who we are and where we came from. Central to those stories was our desire and need for relationship with others.

It makes sense that we would tell the stories this way because our experience of God has consistently been one of God’s presence being that of relationship. God is not somehow distant from human experience, but rather engaged fully in what it means to be human. God becoming human is the core of our Christmas story and the heart of the Christian faith. We speak not only of Jesus’ human presence, but also of the trinity - God in relationship at the very core of God’s being.

And when relationships are good they can be very very good.

This is not to say that we don’t experience pain in relationships. We are capable of taking others for granted, of being selfish, of cruelty and abuse. Humans have done some pretty terrible things to one another. I hear stories of shattered trust, wounded feelings and broken relationships frequently in my work with people. Sometimes I wonder how we are capable of being so cruel to one another. I read about world leaders bragging about the size and potency of their weaponry as if their actions had no impact on millions of innocent victims and I wonder how they could be so blind. The twentieth century taught us that humans are capable of unthinkable war and destruction and genocide and cruelty.

Our people have struggled to tell those stories over the centuries as well. It is enough to make a serious person question the presence and even the goodness of God. A reading trip through the Psalms and Lamentations reminds us that ours is not the first generation of our people to raise deep existential questions about the nature of God and the nature of humans.

Yet, in the midst of all of this, I discover genuine love. I sit with people who tell me the stories of how good their human companions have been, of how wonderful their marriages turned out, of what good parents they had, and of how grateful they are for the experiences of this life. When I am tempted to be cynical about human beings, I sit and listen and they teach me another story.

There are occasions when our desire for relationship leads us into unhealthy relationships and once so engaged it is difficult to find a way towards more healthy relationships. From observation of others I would say that it is far more difficult to extract oneself from a bad marriage than it is to fall into one. But when a marriage is good, life is very good and we continue to seek that kind of a relationship.

The season of Epiphany is, for me, one of developing relationships. At Christmas we once again discover the power of spirit infused into material form - incarnation. We delight in the gift of spirit-infused humanity. We discover God’s intense desire for intimate relationship with us. In Epiphany we discover the responsibility of sharing that good news with others and of living the day to day realities of being in relationship with others. If each person is infused with God’s spirit, and if we are called into relationship with that spirit wherever we discover it, we have a responsibility to develop new relationships - to share the story in new settings - to expand the web of connections of the spirit.

God exists for relationship. We are made in the image of God. We exist for relationship with one another. Sometimes I have to remind myself that we exist for all of those relationships, not just for the easy ones. My phone rings when I am engaged in enjoying a particular activity. I don’t appreciate the interruption. The caller expresses a problem to which I do not have a solution. I don’t always know the right way to respond. Sometimes I have to say no to a request without dismissing the one who asks. I don’t want to foster lopsided relationships. Paternalism might be easy, but it is rarely conducive to long term relationships.

With luck and care, however, I pray that I can live my life in such a way that when I come to the points of looking back I will discover gratitude for the days I have been granted. It is indeed a blessing.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!