What Does This Relationship Give Me?
“We all of us need to be toppled off the throne of self... Perched up there the tears of others are never upon our own cheek.” -Elizabeth Goudge
This past Sunday as I was listening to the sermon I had a thought that humbled me in a lot of ways. The pastor was talking about what it looks like for us to follow Jesus into bringing in the Kingdom of God - and how this requires us being in relationship with people. These relationships should represent the diversity of the Kingdom of God, so when we look around we should see not just people that look different from us, but also think, act, love, speak differently from us.
I realized that I believe this cognitively, and want to live it out...but more often than not, I only enter into relationships with people that will benefit me in someway.
Admitting to this is difficult. It makes me realize the depth of my selfishness and my inflated ego. I see people more for how they can help me, make me better, serve some purpose for me - more so than what I can learn by knowing them and their story. When we see a person only for what they can give, we miss the opportunity to be changed by the relationship.
Sitting in church I asked myself this question: “When was the last time I entered into a relationship with someone who could not...would not...give me anything in return for the relationship?” It’s kind of a weird question because to some degree a relationship always involve some type of transaction
But without getting into the nuances of language and missing the point entirely...I wondered how many people I could say I genuinely have relationship with that provide very little to me materially...socially...emotionally...and if I’m really honest I think my answer would be “zero.”
You may ask, “What would a relationship like this even look like? Why should I have a relationship like this?” and both are good questions. This borders on being about having relationships with people who are difficult, just because by it being difficult it means it’s ‘good.’ I don’t think this is healthy. And if it feels like I don’t really know what I’m trying to land on here it’s because I really don’t. But something stirred in my heart this weekend that made me realize how, even in spite of understanding how important relationships are, I still so completely miss the full potential of them by focusing on what I get.
I don’t know what it looks like to be in relationship with people that don’t offer me much but I think it’s where Jesus wants us to go. The people who most often approached Jesus had nothing to offer him except their desperation. Surely Jesus could have been sitting in huge palaces, eating feasts every day because of his miracles. Instead he touched and healed and interacted with people who left confused...sometimes ignoring his command to stay silent...sometimes more focused on what they received rather than who they received it from.
And just to be clear...I don’t think this is as simple as saying ‘how can I help others rather than focus on myself.’ There is still a temptation to focus on the pleasure I get from helping someone. The power I may feel as I provide for them, or help them get out of a tough situation. My sin has a way of manipulating every interaction into being about me.
My presence can be as much of a gift to someone as their presence can be to me. And I want to challenge myself to enter into that kind of understanding more often with people who I would otherwise not spend the time getting to know. I want to be that person to someone else who would maybe not see me as ‘worth’ their time. I want to shed the pretense that a relationship has to be about what it gets me, and focus more on the person with whom I am connecting. In what ways have you focused more on what relationships give you rather than the person with whom you are connecting?