Relationally Open

By Gwen Sellers

Relationships have been on my mind recently. Perhaps more specifically the way I relate with others and whether it pleases God.

Like everyone, I've been hurt and disappointed in past friendships. That makes me wary of opening up again. I've also been burnt out by being too busy, which makes me hesitant to add more social activity to my calendar. But, hopefully also like everyone, I've had some really great relationships. I've also felt energized in the midst of a full schedule. Rationally, I understand that relationships are what make life worth living. I get that it takes a certain amount of risk and vulnerability to reap any reward. I understand the importance of investing time and effort to keep a relationship vital. I accept that a good friendship does not consist of the "needy friend" and the "counselor friend." I see that both need to be willing to open up, to give, and to receive. But my heart doesn't always understand what my head knows to be true.

I think other people might struggle with this as well. A recent interchange with one of our questioners about whether one should accept offers of friendship from a person who is likely selfishly motivated has made this clear. We fear others just as much as we need them. We want to know and be known, and yet it can be terrifying to open our hearts. I come up with various excuses for why I don't seek out more social engagement—I'm too busy; good relationships take too much work and aren't worth the pay-off; I can't find friends my age because it's just a weird age and I've never felt like I fit in with the general social milieu; I like to go deep so I can only handle so many relationships at once; and the list goes on. But these are excuses. They are just covering up a heart that is scared, selfish, and lazy.

I've been doing a Bible study called Lifegiving by Tammy Maltby. In her book of the same title, she writes, "Lifegiving women are compelled to raise life above mere existence. We know that in order to nurture, love and care for others, we must thrive, not just survive!" (p. 84). Sometimes this really energizes me. Of course I want to thrive, not survive. I want more than mere existence. But I also know that requires something of me. It requires me to give of myself. It requires me to do the hard work of investing. And that's exactly where I get hung up, the me part. Too often I treat relationships like a task at which I must succeed to be acceptable. But relationships are not about performance. They aren't about me doing it right or the other person doing it right. They aren't about never being disappointed or always feeling like I fit in. They aren't about convenience or busyness. They're about the heart, about connection, about fellowship.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." We often use this passage to talk about the importance of being involved in edifying Christian fellowship. But we usually don't include the preceding verse: "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:23). The basis for fellowship, and in my opinion any good relationship, is Christ. We can stir one another to love and good works because we are holding fast to our hope in Christ. We are putting our faith in Him, not in ourselves or in the others involved.

I ended up telling our questioner that he might get hurt if he accepts a friendship based on ill motives of the other party, but that, ultimately, it is God who he is relying on, not the friend. The same is true for me. Just as much as I need not perform socially, neither do others. Friends are going to hurt me. They are going to disappoint me. I am going to hurt and disappoint them. But is that any reason not to allow people at least some access to my heart? Is my heart secure enough in Christ to let others in? Is it filled enough by Christ to pour out on others? If not, I'll never reap the reward of relationship. If so, I might get some scars, but God will be faithful to restore and redeem them (Romans 8:28).

Image Credit: wallace_Lan; "old women on the bus"; Creative Commons

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Published on 8-21-13