Re-reading The Shack has me thinking about relationships - not too broad a topic for a two-page blog entry, right? Specifically, I am ruminating on (as in “chewing and digesting again”) the centrality of relationships in God’s plan for us. Like concentric circles, we live in relationship with ourselves, with God, with intimate others, with family (of origin and/or choice), friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and with the world as we conceptualize it and our place in it.
Because of the way that Young presents God to us - as Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu - we get an easily accessible “visual” of God as a relational Being; God in relationship with Godself; God in relationship within Godself. That visual reminds me that our primal human need for relationship is one of the primary ways in which we are created in God’s image. We are multi-dimensional beings, capable of being at war or at peace with ourselves. We are capable of living lives that are so rigidly compartmentalized that we are almost acting as different people in the various different contexts of our lives. We are equally capable of harmoniously integrating all aspects of who we are into a complete and healthy whole person who lives and relates to others with both internal and external integrity.
Young posits - and I agree - that personal relationship with God is key to experiencing the full positive potential of our relationships with self and others. Through the character of Papa, God says to Mack, “We want to share with you the love and joy and freedom and light that we already know within ourself. We created you, the human, to be in face-to-face relationship with us, to join our circle of love.” That statement leads me to a different vision of my concentric relationship circles. Instead of seeing myself, alone, in the smallest, most central circle and God and me in the next one, I envision God and myself together at dead center; right in the bull’s eye. All of my other relationships wrap around that one.
... bring the joy, peace, and love that I experience in relationship with God to my other relationships ...
It is my hope and prayer that, to the extent that I consistently nurture my relationship with God, I am becoming a better person, pastor, partner, mother, sister, friend, etc. I hope that I bring the joy, peace, and love that I experience in relationship with God to my other relationships. I know that my relationship with God has brought me a long way when it comes to how I express anger (trust me - it hasn’t always been pretty!) and it has sustained and strengthened both my desire and ability to forgive.
I don’t know why it took me so long to realize how much into relationships God is! Every one of the Ten Commandments addresses some form of relationship - with God (#’s 1-3), self (#4) and with others (#’s 5-10). Jesus’ Great Commandments do the same - love God with all you’ve got; love your neighbor as yourself.
... relationships with God counteract loneliness in more than one way ...
When I am feeling closest to God (which is entirely a function of how attentive I am to God’s presence at any given time, since God’s presence is a constant) I am more open to relationship with others and better able to “ride the waves” that come up in relationships, with my inner calm intact. So I think relationship with God counteracts loneliness in more than one way. It assures us that we are never truly all alone. And it enables us to choose, nurture, and sustain life-enhancing relationships with others around us. I think that is important, because, as wonderful as God is, relationship with God can no more replace relationship with other people than relationship with other people can replace relationship with God. I don’t think that God ever intended that it would. I believe that God created us with the innate need for both.
For me, that is one of many good reasons to be in church community. I’m not saying that going to church is the only way to enjoy life-enhancing relationships. I know that’s not true. But I think that church community can provide lots of opportunities to learn to navigate the waters of relationship with others who (please, God!) believe in the centrality of loving relationship with others in God’s plan for us; and who (please, PLEASE, God!!!) are sincerely striving to get better at “doing relationship” in accordance with the teachings and example of Jesus. I cannot promise that will be true in every church, or of every person in any church. I do know, though, that at its best, Christian community adds much to the abundant life God wants for all of us.