I was a shy kid, and spent most of the time outside playing by myself or reading books, like the Encyclopedia Britannica. I didn’t have many friends because I was introverted and unsure of myself. When I had friends, something would happen which made the relationship complicated and then broken. This would cause me to retreat into my introverted-self and avoid the world. By doing this, I missed out on having deep and rich relationships, and my worldview became limited to only what I added to it. So for me to have a friend I confided in was unusual.
We were created to experience deep and rich relationships.
There was a girl in the neighborhood I grew up in named Pepsi. She was a few years older than me and I had a crush on her, so I called her Coca Cola. She and I often met at the far left corner of my backyard fence and we’d make fun of each other or just sit and talk about the life of a fourth and sixth grader.
Pepsi had a donkey whose hee-hawing reverberated throughout our little section of the neighborhood. Her family had claimed an empty lot beside their home to keep their donkey, rabbits and chickens. It was around 3 O’clock when her donkey let the neighborhood know he existed. About this time we’d sit under the shade at the bottom of a majestic valley oak chomping on our loot of Gravenstein Apples and walnuts.
Sometimes we’d sit on a berm and watch a feral cat stocking a field mouse, mimicking a lion stalking its prey in the savannah of Africa. On the occasion, we’d meet at the corner of Southwood Dr. and Dutton Ave. and ride our bikes over to the canal and watch birds. It was then I developed my fascination with bird flight and dreamed of soaring high in the sky like a Cooper’s Hawk.
Pepsi and I had fun together that summer. It was the best summer a fourth grader could ever dream of having. Life was good, but a dark shadow was looming over our heads.
One day when Pepsi and I were at our usual meeting spot at the back corner of my backyard fence, having our normal mundane conversation when she took out of her pocket a seashell. It was just a small one. It looked like a snail shell than any creature from the Pacific ocean. She leaned into me and told me to put my ear next to her’s so we could listen to the sounds of the ocean together. I don’t know what came over me, but I remember getting hot and my forehead and palms got sweaty. As our faces neared each other, I leaned in real close and kissed her—I kissed her right on her cheek. She pulled her head away faster than a sneeze through a screen door.
Things got awkward after the kiss, and we were never the same. We tried to be friends and have our mundane conversations like we did before I tried to kiss her, but it got complicated. There were fewer meetings at the back corner of my backyard fence. We didn’t meet at the corner of Southwood Dr. and Dutton Ave. anymore, and I lost interest in bird flight.
Our relationship became less deep and rich. It was no longer a simple friendship; it got complicated and complex. The summer left us and we no longer hung out and stopped talking to each other. She moved onto Lawrence Cook Jr. High School and I moved up to 5th grade and stayed at Shepherd Elementary school. Maybe that’s how relationships evolve, a natural progression of people drifting apart, but I can’t help think the kiss added a layer of complexity to our relationship.
Who knows where our relationship would be today if I left it as a friendship and not tried to add any expectations or stipulations to our relationship.
There’s a tendency today to put unnecessary expectations on our relationships, like only having community with people who like-minded.
The consequences to this: We can decide someone’s worthiness as a human.
It’s demoralizing how we dehumanize one another just to prove what we believe is right and what others believe is wrong. When we aren’t friends with people who are different from us, people who have different life experiences, cultures, and viewpoints; we miss out on having our lives become deeper and richer by their influences. One more very important thing: Jesus never meant The Church to be ethnocentric—read the book of Acts.
Jesus spent most of his time on three important relationships, and he kept it simple.
Jesus had three important relationships he invested most of his time and energy into—His relationship with the Father, with the disciples and with the least and lost.
We see this throughout the gospels. Jesus was purposeful in letting people know they were important to him. In fact, when a teacher of the law asked Jesus what’s the greatest commandment; Jesus’ answer was deeper and richer relationships.
“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-41)
Relationships matter to Jesus and they should matter to us.
If I can allow the Holy Spirit to cultivate my heart to love Jesus and love like him; then my response to God, fellow sojourners, and people I’m not connect to will be with unconditional love. It’s liberating to see people for who they are and not for who they should be. When we do this, we love people they way our Father in heaven loves us—unconditionally.
The simpler we approach and interact with people it’s likely we will experience the richness of what it means to have deeper relationships.