I’ve heard it said that true community is the greatest fear and deepest longing of every human heart. Talk about a love-hate relationship! This business of knowing and being known, seeing and being seen—it’s messy. It’s inconvenient. It’s terrifying. It’s what we’re made for.
When it comes to human interaction, we all fall somewhere between two extremes.
Maybe you can relate to this ultra-flattering picture: after being significantly hurt a few times throughout my life, I’ve learned to isolate myself at home with my tea and my cat and my books about Jesus. No vulnerability here, no danger—just lots of rules and order. I refuse to relinquish any illusion of control I have over myself and my surroundings. When I sense a potential threat, I withdraw further (and may the Lord protect you from my anger if you question these carefully built walls). If I can avoid relationships, no one will figure out exactly how much I need Jesus, and I’ll be guarded from why they need Jesus. This self-protective life costs me real intimacy but provides a feeling of security…as long as I don’t venture out too far.
If that sounds nothing like you, here’s another extreme. While the first heart is a fortress, the second (like Anna’s from Frozen) is an open door. Endless people pleasing, a never-ending yes, unlimited obligation to keep everyone (but me) happy. At first, the constant involvement is empowering—look how many people owe me (relationships, favors, kindness, etc.)! I’m absolutely essential! Then this desperate hunt for acceptance turns to loneliness and emotional neediness, transforming me into a black hole, bitterness growing like cancer. If you were to confront my relentless availability, I’d be consumed by guilt (and probably cover it over with a new form of activity). Sure, this life deprives me of the ability to rest and know who I am, but look at all the good I’m doing!
I find it interesting that both ends of this engagement spectrum operate in functional atheism. There’s no God to take care of the escape artist or the yes man, no Savior able to sustain an abundant life. (I wish this weren’t so familiar to me, friends! But they say to write what you know, and I’m painfully familiar with this territory.) No matter how many Jesus books you read in your basement or how many ministries you help out with every night of the week, you’re depending more on your ability to control rather than on God’s ability to control.
Okay, so maybe I have a defective way of interacting with others, but it doesn’t really affect that much. Yup, I lived in this hope for a long time until I realized something—the pattern of human relationships that weaves throughout your life carries over into how you relate to God.
In The Anatomy of the Soul, Curt Thompson wrecked my world:
“You cannot know God if you do not experience being known by Him. The degree to which you know God is directly reflected in your experience of being known by Him. And the degree that you are known by Him will be reflected in the way in which you are known by other people. In other words, your relationship with God is a direct reflection of the depth of your relationship with others.”
Well, dang. It looks like my anxieties and my demands create barriers to the whole point of this existence. Maybe people aren’t meant to be the object of my terror or the well I run to for satisfaction. When frenemies stop being hazards to avoid or objects to fill up our need to be needed, they become brothers and sisters in this war against the true darkness, allies of the day.*
Wherever you fall between the two extremes of a castle wall and a revolving door, God is there with you, inviting you into a new rhythm. It doesn’t always say yes, but it doesn’t always say no, either. It listens carefully to His whisper and follows in trust. When we lay down our fear of others—how they might hurt us if we engage or disengage—we can take up a healthy fear of the Lord, the One worthy of our courage.
Where do you tend to camp out on this engagement spectrum? How has it affected your relationship with yourself? With others? With God?
*Assuming they’re saved. If your frenemies don’t know Jesus, they’re better considered civilians, spiritually helpless and in need of the rescue we didn’t deserve. Christ came for them, too, and we share a common adversary intent on destroying us all. Keeping the real enemy in view helps with maintaining a clear and compassionate perspective.