Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Relationships

I’ve never heard a Christian leader claim that Christians have enough relationships in terms of the number of relationships or enough relationship in terms of the quality of a relationship. In fact, a high percentage of sermons and a high percentage of admonitions from Christian leaders are about how believers need to form more and better relationships in order to conform to God’s plan for our lives.

I always try not to assume to know the motives of others. Not that people don’t have motives, but I’ve noticed that there are way too many assumptions made about the motives of others and way too little evaluation of the ideas of others. Now, having written that, let me break my rule for a moment.

I wonder if the reason so many Christian leaders feel the way they do about relationships is because most leaders in general, and especially religious leaders, are highly relational in their own life. These leaders tend to see problems in terms of relationships and see solutions in terms of relationships. Therefore, our ideas about relationships may be skewed by the number of highly relational people who think and write about relationships.

Without accusing any of these leaders of being wrong about God’s plan for our life, I want to offer an alternative view about relationships. It seems to me that people can desire, and covet, and lust after relationships in a way that is similar to lusting after sex or lusting after money or lusting after possessions or lusting after success.

Just as the love of money can create an unhealthy and sinful attitude toward accumulating wealth, the love of relationships can create an unhealthy and sinful attitude toward accumulating relationships. Just as the desire for sex can become insatiable in some people, the desire for new and better relationships can become insatiable in some people. Just as the pride that comes from owning the latest sports car can become an obsession, the pride from attaining an important relationship can become an obsession. Just as the drive for a promotion can prevent a person from living a balanced life, the drive for a better relationship can also prevent a person from living a balanced life.

Perhaps relationships are a part of God’s plan for our lives, but not necessarily God’s entire plan for our lives. Perhaps some believers need to confess and control their lust in the area of relationships similar to how some believers need to confess and control their lust in the area of money, sex, possessions, and success. Perhaps some believes should spend a little more time making things, and growing things, and building things, and maintaining things, and a little less time relating.

13 comments:

Teresa said...

No David, I'm not brushed the wrong way, but others may be because they may misinterprate what you are saying. So this is what I think you've said and if I am wrong, please correct me: You are speaking of the motives that people have in wanting more relationships, that their motives are like trophies. Now my opinion on that would be: I agree that there are people out there who are doing that, and some of them are Christians who are looking to get more notches in their belts, but I would say that the majority of them are "just social people" by nature and therefore do not have an agenda in it. But here is my motive and I would say with most people: I am not a very social person although I am outgoing, if that makes sense. I want to build relationships with many different people because 1. I learn from them and 2. because God tells me to share His love with the World (like you thought I'd say) and 3. because I don't think that it is good to be a hermit. If you don't build relationships, you will always have the same perspective on life etc that you do now--how boring. I read this, this morning: Proverbs 18:15, Intelligent people are always open to new ideas. In fact they look for them. I would say that in order to look for new ideas, you would have to look for new people with the ideas and build relationships with them.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Teresa,

Thanks again for a great comment. I agree with you and I really like the three reasons you listed for having relationships and making new relationships.

I’m always hearing {relationship = good}, but I have never heard {relationship = bad}. I think people who are shy or introverted should consciously decide to meet more people and relate to more people. But I also wonder if people who have many relationships and are still unhappy might be better off cutting back on relationship effort and spend more effort working on personal contentment by doing something other than relating.

People who are greedy always think the next dollar will make them happy, but it never does. I think there might be a whole lot of people who blame their unhappiness on their lack of the right number of relationships or the quality of their relationships when in reality neither more nor better relationships will make them happy. I also think religious leaders who focus so much on relationships may be helping some people while hurting others.

I might have more to say about this topic after I give it more thought.

pete porter said...

Hi David,
I hear a man say, you'll be the same person in ten years, except for two things. The people you meet and the books you read. I think if this is so then I've got to rate people (say 1-10) like books. The lower the number the less involvement, the higher the more interaction and conection. As in spending money on bad authors, spending time badly on the wrong people. Callious, maybe but wise. Some people will inspire me, others are a drag on my soul.
Be Blessed,
Pete

Dan Edelen said...

I've never met a person with too many relationships. I've never known anyone who's made an idol out of accumulating relationships, either.

If anything, we are too disconnected. We're little self-sufficient islands. The trouble is that the Enemy of our souls finds islands easy pickings. Our lack of community makes us more prone to all the problems of the world that are more gracefully handled in a vital, well connected community.

The Body of Christ by its very nature is a community. God engineered it that way. I can't see how we have "too much of the Body of Christ" running rampant as a problem in our lives. I certainly don't! ;-)

Chris said...

Interesting post, David. I've never thought about that. But upon reflection, I'm inclined to agree with Teresa and Dan. I think the only exception to more=good would be where staying socially connected actually jeopardized ones connection with God or with one's immediate family (or, more generally, those who depend on them). This can happen, often with bloggers who spend so much time nurturing online relationships that their off-line relationships at home suffer for lack of care. But in that case, it's not more=worse, it's really trading off one for another.

But, for most of us (particularly bloggers) we seek out others to share of ourselves, and maybe also to be a light or inspiration to others. We try not to be obsessive about it, and balance the various types of relationships in our lives.

So, speaking for myself anyway, I'm pretty sure more=better. Can you ever have too many real friends? That's like asking, can you ever express too much love? I think not.

Cheers!

Lorna said...

ouch!

relationships are good, and we are called into relationship with God too.

Is the point you are making that we become too easily interested in pleasing man in order to sustain a relationship and less interested in pleasing God?

David M. Smith said...

Hi Dan,

I suspect most, if not all, readers of this post will agree with you. Thank you leaving this comment and taking the time to articulate a good challenge to my post. I may write another post, but for now, I need to do a little clarification of this one based on your comment.

When I read the pieces on your site, and especially the July 4th piece, I sense a weariness from you that comes from too much time on the treadmill of life and not enough time in the sauna of life. I made a decision many years ago that the rewards of success were not worth the cost of success. Therefore, I have avoided some of the rat race, but I can still relate [there’s that word] to how you feel.

There are many people who have lives that get the job done but are still missing the feeling that what they are doing really matters. My best times are sitting down with a small group and enjoying a meal. Like you, I want more of that, not less. I am not claiming that you, or I, or anyone else who feels that weariness should continue to feel weary. From my perspective, you need exactly what you think you need, more small group meals. However, also from my perspective, everyone does not need what you need. Some people need less relationship and less time worrying about relationship and more time being content.

I am in total agreement with you that the body of Christ is a community. I have even written about this very subject in the past. However, a better community is not synonymous with more relationships. I believe that sometimes a community will be better with fewer relationships and I know a community will be better with more contentment and less strife. Just as the love of money can create an insatiable appetite for acquiring money that never leads to satisfaction, an insatiable appetite for better relationships never leads to satisfaction, and often leads to disharmony in existing relationships; especially in the body of Christ community.

I have no way of knowing what the right number of relationships is. For some it is many, for others it is a few. I do find it hard to believe that you have never met anyone who had too many relationships. Maybe you have never considered the possibility. Perhaps a few examples will help you understand. Have you ever known anyone at Church who had to have their nose in every activity at the Church? Have you ever known anyone at work who spent more time visiting other cubes and calling meetings than they did getting any real work done? Have you ever seen a mother who wouldn’t change her babies diaper because she couldn’t put down the phone? Have you ever been in someone’s house that never got cleaned because the entire neighborhood considered the house a clubhouse? Have you ever know a pastor whose children ended up in trouble with the law because the pastor was never home? Have you ever known anyone who had more friends than seemed humanly possible, but they were still terribly depressed?

I don’t expect you to agree with me (yet), but I would hope you would give my hypothesis a little more consideration than to just dismiss it because it is different than what you are experiencing now and have never heard articulated before.

Thanks again, Dan. I really appreciate how much effort you put into all of your posts.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I’ve seen your good comments on other sites, so I am very honored that you left one here.

As I was telling Dan, I think you can have too many friends, but I have no way of knowing what the right number is. I’m sure it is different for everyone. Some people are energized by a party while others are drained at a party and need some solitude to recover. Jesus seemed to need the solitude and time alone with God when had finished relating with a crowd. I had a list for Dan that might help you to reconsider.

I appreciate you comment and I would love to hear any more thoughts you have on this matter and others.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Lorna,

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

I completely agree with you that relationships are good, both with God and other people. However, I don’t know where our relationships with God end and our relationship with people begin. There is a lot of overlap, so I don’t think our relationship with other people is getting in the way with our relationship with God except for the fact that God doesn’t just want relationship.

Money is good, but the love of money is bad. Sex is good, but the constant need for sex is bad. Work is good, but always being busy is bad. Success is good, but a compulsive need to succeed is bad. I think our relationship with other people is part of our relationship with God, but so is maintaining our possessions, so is protecting the environment, so is work, so is raising our children, and so is time alone. I think God expects balance in all of these, not just a constant and insatiable desire to relate. From my perspective, relationships are over-rated as a part of pleasing God.

I hope you are not offended. I can imagine my wife bopping me on the head when she reads this. I don’t expect very many to agree, but I still think it is worth consideration from others.

Bonnie said...

Hi David,

Not that you need any more comments on this post, but perhaps what you are really saying is that it's about the quality, priority, and appropriateness of one's relationships rather than mere involvement with, curiosity about, or acquaintances with people.

I crave relationship as someone lost in the desert would crave water, yet I'm a solid introvert. I seriously need my space. I cultivate my relationship with God in both places, however, and each informs the other. I can't imagine living without either.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Bonnie,

Thanks for adding your thoughts to the discussion.

I think it is OK for everyone to crave relationships just like it is OK to crave money, sex, success, and a new car. However, it is sinful to be obsessed about money, sex, success, and a new car. I’ve started noticing people who are relationshipholics. No amount of relationship in terms of numbers or quality satisfies their selfish need to relate. These people impose themselves into the business of others, they complain and criticize when their feelings get hurt, and they are generally unhappy.

There are many people who know the love of money is morally bad, but they still look at the wealthy as having something of value they don’t have, without realizing most of the wealthy are extremely unhappy, because no amount of money is able to make them happy.

I’m seeing more and more people in and out of the Church who have the same unrealistic view of relationships. They believe the right relationship will satisfy their need without realizing it is a need that should sometimes be controlled just like the need for more money should be controlled and not become a constant obsession.

Buz said...

David, spoken like a man ... a true, "just put me on a deserted island with my bible" man. My wife and I are very different. We have been in this hotel room for over three months. I know the building security manager. My wife has made a dozen friends, and visits them in the hospital on a weekly basis. Most of the people that I know here know me because I am "Lois's husband".

Are relationships important ... well let's see. Jesus spent three years in His public ministry. What was the main thing He did? Yes, He performed a bunch of miracles. Yes, He drove the money changers out of the temple. But the bulk of His time He invested in 12 men. He spent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 3 years. I'm sure you can break that down to hours if you want.

An argument could well be made that the miracles He performed, and most of the other things He did had, as their primary purpose, the serving of examples to His disciples.

There is such a thing as co-dependence ... a condition where someone becomes addicted to a relationship ... but that is generally to a specific relationship (one at a time, as opposed to a myriad of them). People who are codependent generally smother the other person in the relationship, and at the same time are willing to endure abuse because they would rather suffer than relinquish the relationship. But you don't seem to be talking about that here.

Perhaps what you are opposed to is surface relationships. Just because someone said "hi" to you at church three weeks ago does not obligate you to invite them to go camping with you ... whether they think so or not.

The only thing we can take with us to heaven are those around us we influence for Christ. Even the purpose of our good works is to make us more like Christ, and to edify and encourage others.

I would say that the most important thing on this earth is relationships ... first to our saviour, and then to our fellow human beings.

Buz

David M. Smith said...

Hi Buz,

Good comments, as always.

I certainly agree that relationships are our primary purpose. However, I don’t think relationships are our only purpose and I do think God created us for more than relationships. I also think Christianity in general has lost the balance that God intended. Of course I could be wrong. Most of the comments have led me to believe I struck out with this contrarian view, but I am just as convinced as when I wrote the piece that believers need balance to be attractive to non-believers and to have healthy relationships. More relationships and more fulfilling relationships may not be God’s entire plan.

Less fulfilling relationships may be part of his plan when it is time to build a new building, or a new road, or a new computer program. The building, road, and computer program, may not go to heaven with us, but the building may be a hospital that saves a life, and the road may get someone to the hospital, and the computer program may run the MRI that diagnoses the medical problem that saves a life.

We read in the Gospels about the relationships Jesus had with his followers. We don’t read about most of his life where we assume he was a carpenter. In fact, I think we can also assume he lived in relative obscurity for the majority of his life, but we don’t really know.

I believe God wants me to relate more and better with both believers and non-believers. However, I still think there are others who need to relate less and build more in order to learn more about God.