I sat at one of the picnic tables at work. It was hot outside. A heat wave had settled in the region and I was feeling it. But I was excited. I was going to catch up with a friend for a few minutes.
She excitedly hugged me before we sat down together, and quickly the conversation turned lighthearted as we recapped our weekends. Then it went deeper and what came out was a time of connecting, and we walked away with more common ground than we already had. But keep in mind, this person is not exactly like me. Looking at our personalities, we are opposites. But seeing that we can connect over a common desire and common lessons we are learning is encouraging.
Our lessons seem to be about relationships. And this is slightly where our differing personalities come into play: While she is fearful her people will leave her, I fear I am undeserving of my people, the relationships I have. Both stem from fear and both result in the potential to lose people who matter to us, yet the process we go through between the starting point and the destination is different.
The conclusion to our conversation was the reality that we are meant to be in relationships with others because we are meant to be in relationship with Christ first. And in the moments when our relationship with an invisible God is in jeopardy, it is the human relationships He uses to bring us back to Him.
A short part of my story has to do with isolation. During a turbulent time for me, I retreated from most interaction because everything caused pain. At times the pain was like an exposed nerve ending. Other times it was a dull ache. Still pain nonetheless. Coming out of that time of isolation made me feel as if my relationships could not survive much longer. How could they when I was holding myself back so fiercely?
Isolation made me think I did not deserve good and healthy relationships.
This was in complete stark contrast to the life I envisioned for myself as a young girl. Always knowing there was a cry in my heart for deep connections, I desired people from all walks of life to populate my life, my heart. I wanted to give myself to my people because that is what I wanted in return. But with age, the process of forming strong relationships seemed unclear. What worked for one relationship did not work for another. Nothing about connection seemed easy or wanted. Where did this leave me? Where was I supposed to go from here if I wanted that little-girl vision of full relationships to come true?
It has been a learning process. The past year has been spent relearning healthy relationship habits, reprogramming my thoughts and heart to trust and realizing relationships can be great, just as I always imagined.
Healthy relationships, in my experience, can just happen. But they take work to stay that way. When a relationship takes an unhealthy turn, it infects different parts of your life. Think of a habit you have, one you are not proud of. If you were to lay down that habit right now to replace it with a better habit, a healthy habit, do you know there would be a time of relearning healthy habits? You will need time to get rid of what was unhealthy to take on what is healthy. The same goes for unhealthy relationships. Be patient as you relearn what a healthy relationship is meant to resemble.
One part of my relationship struggle has been realizing that I find more reasons to keep my heart safe than I do to trust it to someone else. Broken relationships have been characters in the last five years of my life, and each one convinced me (in the moment of its breakdown) that trust is not something I want to do again. Earlier this year, I was so convinced trusting people was not worth it that it invaded my relationship with Christ. I could not even say I trusted Christ with my heart. But while it was scary for me to think about trusting again, it was even scarier to think of the alternative—an ever-hardening heart because I would not let anyone come in and change things. I could not live like that. So, I reprogrammed my thoughts and heart to determine it was OK to take a chance and trust. It has been a day-by-day journey, but God has not let me down; neither have my people.
So, I reprogrammed my thoughts and heart to determine it was OK to take a chance and trust.
What came next was a lesson about my community. While I would gladly step off a ledge for any of them or hunt them down in a burning building to pull them out or vow to protect them and take care of them to the best of my abilities, not all communities are perfect. They never will be. But that little-girl dream to have a group of loving, fearless, funny, inspiring, encouraging people to accompany me through life…that community can be real, even if not perfect.
All this to say that no amount of relationship struggles will ever kill my desire to have great relationships. If nothing else I am a fighter for my relationships because I know this one thing: I was made—we all were made—to be in relationship with Christ, and that is meant to extend to relationships with others. But here is the thing: The enemy wants me to think relationships are not worth it, or rather I am not worth being in relationship with. This is a lie. A lie I have to fight against every day. And this fight takes on three facets I am going to share with you and I hope it encourages you.