As a single woman in her 30s over a thousand miles away from her closest natural-born relatives, I sometimes long for connection and intimacy that I don’t always feel in my studio apartment across the river from Manhattan. There may be millions of people here, but sometimes I still feel alone. Once in awhile, I think a boyfriend or husband could fix my problem. Then I remember that having a husband can never really fix my longing for intimacy and connection. My loneliness runs much deeper than what another relationship could fix.
I come from a really broken past characterized by abuse and shame. There was a time when I did not know how to trust people and engage in intimacy, but God is healing me. I am learning that experiencing deep emotional connection with another human being has everything to do with whether I am willing to face my own shortcomings—and my disappointment that the people around me have many shortcomings of their own.
It has been in building my character that I have learned the following things which are key in building deep, meaningful relationships:
1. Don’t try to fix people or their situations.
Paul told the Romans to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “mourn with those who mourn.” It was such a simple instruction. Quite obvious. Yet I have observed that most people don’t mourn with those who mourn. Often we try to get those who are mourning to rejoice. If they could just realize it could be worse or if they’d just looked at the bright side, maybe they could laugh more quickly again. But I have learned that people rarely need me to fix their situation. They just need me to be with them and feel their pain.
2. Commitment is key in all relationships.
My married friends tell me who I am now reflects who I will be when I marry. How I act in relationships now will be how I will act when I marry. If I quit on my friends, I will probably quit on my husband too.
3. When there is conflict, I must look at my own shortcomings first.
Nothing ever was solved by saying, “I know I did …, but you ….” When I say this, my friends only hear an accusation. They don’t hear me taking ownership of my sin and my desire to repent. They hear me blaming them for my actions. Instead, I need to take ownership of my sin, confess my wrongs and then clarify their actions with them.
4. Being committed to loving someone doesn’t mean I remain intimate with people whose character cannot engage in intimacy.
What I mean to say is that when I share my heart with some people, they kick me when I am down or use the information I shared against me later. I think Jesus called this casting pearls before pigs. I was actually raised on a pig farm and can confidently assure you that pigs don’t value pearls. There is no reason to give a pig a pearl. If I give my heart to people who don’t value it, they will destroy it.
5. I can love people from a distance while still holding them accountable for their actions.
One of the most challenging passages I am currently engaging in is when Paul tells us not to eat with Christians who are not following Jesus. If someone says they are a Christian, knows they are living in sin and is not willing to do anything about it, I am not supposed to have anything to do with them. That’s harsh in my opinion. But as I have tentatively begun following Christ in this way and held my friends accountable to what they say they believe, I have found my interaction with intimacy is much healthier. I am much more able to follow Him with single-hearted devotion myself, and sometimes my friends repent when they see the error of their ways.
6. Lastly, and this may be repeating myself, if I am going to be so bold as to hold my friends accountable for their character, I’d better be taking the log out of my own eye first.
I definitely often have a log in my own eye. I always have to remove it before gently helping one of my siblings remove the speck from their eye. Jesus didn’t say not to help my siblings with the specks in their eyes. He told me to clean out mine first.
When I remember these things, I find relationships much less frustrating. My relationships have become safe places where my friends and I can be known and loved. I am genuinely looking forward to my relationships continuing to deepen as I allow God to continue transforming my character. It’s not easy to face my shortcomings, but it most definitely is worth it!