By Dan Amos
“Community is an Elim strength, but there’s much more to do as many are lonely and hurting, leadership included.” Pastor Martin introduced the current sermon miniseries on relationships with this statement, which was the last sentence of the Elder input to the annual report a couple years ago. The input was generally positive, pointing out where we had moved forward with personnel, property, and programs. But it didn’t seem right to present a positive report when people reading it might be thinking, “Yeah, but I’m lonely and hurting.” And that very thought had just been expressed by several in leadership at a retreat that fall, me included. So I tagged on the incongruous statement as an acknowledgement of need, of an area where we need to grow.
Relationships aren’t easy, and they take effort. We, collectively, have a responsibility to be open to new relationships. Every relationship won’t be of the deep friendship variety. We are too different, with different interests, backgrounds, and baggage, for us to expect all to be at the same level. Even Jesus concentrated his time on a few of the twelve who were chosen out of the many. And beyond our community responsibility we have individual responsibilities.
Relationships take time. Acquaintance relationships don’t take a lot of effort, but they also aren’t particularly fulfilling. Deeper relationships can be fulfilling, but they take a significant investment of time and, because of the finite nature of earthly time, we are limited in how many we can deeply invest in. My circumstances then and since have limited my time and energy, and I have made choices that have limited my investment in these deeper relationships. The result is that at times I have been lonely and hurting. I know what the solution is, but I have to choose to implement it.
And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more. – 1 Thessalonians 4:10
Relationships aren’t about me. Most of you know I go to the men’s retreats infrequently. A lot of men love them and come back refreshed and rejuvenated; for me, they are work. Several years ago I was having lunch with some people and an impertinent young man asked if I was going that year. I said, “No.”
He countered with “Sometimes it’s not about you,” and explained that sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to because we can’t be in community when we don’t. I had no wiggle room and went to the retreat that year. I’ll go again, too, just not every year, and that whippersnapper is now our Associate Pastor.
Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice. – Proverbs 13:10
Relationships are with imperfect people. If you get to know me, I can almost guarantee I will let you down and you will do something that rubs me wrong. That’s just the nature of who we are. I have stuff going on in my back story and you have stuff in yours. We don’t always have that in mind when we process our interactions with each other. I am under stress at work, which none of you see because we don’t work together, and I’m not very good at leaving that stress behind when I do see you. That is just one thing I carry that affects how I act and react. My strongest relationships will be with those who can look through the stupid things I do or say, who are in a position to speak wisdom into my life, or who just love me anyway.
A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. – Proverbs 19:11
Relationships take work: A simple search of Proverbs on relationships yields a wealth of simple but profound wisdom that often comes down to loving others more than yourself: listen more, forgive repeatedly, speak less, be kind, value the eternal over the temporal, discern foolishness, accept wise counsel, avoid quarreling. There are things that are incumbent on us in building relationships. Though they are simple, they are often difficult.
I have to take responsibility for my part in my relationships. When relationships fail or don’t go to the next level, there is rarely a one-sided reason. It’s not all about the other person; when they fail, I have to look at my part in why they failed … and do something about it.