Every once in awhile my devotional book drops a good ole’ truth bomb on me – here is one such example.
“One of the most basic sins in relationships is inattention; we make greater commitments to our gardens than to the people we say we love.”
The author explains that “coasting” in a relationship is impossible because we’re all sinful people, and weeds are going to pop up. Someone will annoy you, or hurt you, or fail to hold you accountable, and you will do all those things right back. Then you have to address those things. Or maybe you just won’t pay enough attention, and that friendship will become the sad, wilted potted plant that died of neglect.
This just confirms my suspicion that life and relationships are a lot of hard work. This kind of thing makes me want to lie down and yell for someone to bring me my smelling salts. I would rather he said, “One of the most basic sins in relationships is the failure to watch enough Gilmore Girls together.” That would be more up my alley.
But this week, it has been revealed to me many times over that real relationships require vulnerability and work, and it has also been revealed that I don’t always particularly enjoy those things.
Vulnerability is difficult, especially when you like to pretend you’re perfect, and time is tricky, especially when your number one favorite activity is accomplishing things. It means actually stopping by to chat when maybe you’d rather go home and read about global media ethics. Okay, you wouldn’t rather do that, but you would rather go away and accomplish something than, like, invest in human lives around you. (Yes, I’m a terrible person. Was that not yet clear?)
But if you do want to take time and be vulnerable, a good way to start is to dig in deep and ask some questions. And it’s your lucky day, because I have questions for you already, and they were specifically designed to increase intimacy through vulnerability– and not just for falling in love, as the article suggests. Any relationship can benefit from the honesty these questions invite. A friend and I were very curious about this, so we tried it, and flagrantly disregarded the 45 minute time limit. It was great! I guarantee you will learn something new no matter how long you’ve known that person! For example, I learned several things about myself, and I have known myself for 24 years.
If you do this, I bet there will come a point, as there did for me, when you think, “Well, I could answer this question in a pseudo-deep way, or things could get real up in hurr and I could give the honest, full answer.” After a moment’s hesitation, I gave the real answer, and I have no regrets about it. But fair warning: if you click the link, you will see that there is an option to attempt 4 minutes of uninterrupted eye contact at the end.
I refused (and still refuse) to do this, on the grounds that it is super creepy, and also seems like something a serial killer would do. But why does even the idea of that freak me out? Because eye contact is POWERFUL, that’s why. And I tend to not use this power for good - I am the worst at looking at people when I talk to them – I dig through my backpack, finish that email, look for my shoes. Is there any more efficient way to tell people, “Your life does not merit my full attention,” than by not looking at them while they talk? Conversely, what is more convincing that someone is listening than straight-to-the-soul eye contact?
I’m still not doing that creepy four minutes thing, but I have been more conscious about really looking at people when I talk to them.
Taking the time to get to know someone takes work, but my pastor recently pointed out that every life-giving aspect of a relationship you enjoy is a tiny piece of the ultimate relationship with God. Which makes God seem a lot more fun to me, somehow.
And I have an inkling, that just maybe, true deep relationships are not just a way to love people. They are a way to capital L Love people; they ARE the gospel. Think about this – God wants us to know him – and he made very deliberate, sacrificial moves to engage in relationship with us. He fully knows and fully loves us. So what if we were just as intentional about knowing and being known? And then, fully loving and making fully-attentive-but-just-shy-of-creepy eye contact? What if we just really wanted to KNOW and LOVE people right where they were at without any agenda of fixing them? I don’t know exactly what would happen, but I think it would be pretty awesome.
I think with that kind of weeding and watering and toiling, the gardens of relationships would bloom somethin’ fierce.
**Props to my friend Jake for leading an excellent Bible study that got me thinking about this, AKA I stole his ideas