9. Five Environments (Part 4)
Once relationships have been initiated, they must be developed. It cannot grow on its own. It must be nurtured over time. This is what is challenging about relationships; you cannot leave it in autopilot. To develop relationships we must communicate regularly, care personally, and have common experiences as often as possible.
This leads us to a very important consideration. We cannot develop all our relationships in the same way. We do not have unlimited energy; we must choose. So relationships must be categorized. We cannot treat all relationships as equal. Some relationships will require more energy to maintain, and we must maintain them, while others need only to be sustained in a limited sense. In other words, we must be honest with ourselves. We’re not superman, and we don’t have superhuman powers. As human beings, we must choose those to whom we will develop more intimate relationships. For others we must be willing to accept a more shallow form of relationship.
So how do we categorize our relationships? Let’s start with the most shallow one. This is what I call “familiar faces.” With these types of relationships we can only hope for a limited form of communication, caring and even common experiences. We don’t interact with these people all the time. We do things with them but only rarely. Next, we have “acquaintances.” These people are more than familiar faces. We know their names and maybe a few other personal information about them. Again, compared to familiar faces, our interactions with them are limited. But we tend to have more time with them than familiar faces, that’s why we know more about them than their faces. In terms of energy, our transactions with them are not very intense. Thus we can have many of them and not really get very tired. They are lightly-maintained relationships.
Next we have energy-intensive relationships, friends and best friends. First of all, friends are people that we know more about than acquaintances. We hang out with them more frequently. They know us and we know them. We like them so we talk with them a lot. I’m sure this is true both ways, or at least in most cases. Friends require more time to maintain. They can also be emotionally draining, not in a negative sense, but in a practical sense. We easily get involved emotionally with these people. They make us laugh and they make us cry. That’s why we cannot have too many friends. A lot of energy is needed to maintain them. Again, in terms of influence and impact, friends can be more closer than a brother. Thus they also tend to affect us more in terms of our inner being — our preferences, beliefs, and practices.
Discipleship occurs specifically in these types of relationships. We want to affect those we disciple so that they will have the right internal convictions that will guide them toward the right kinds of behaviors. People who know how to love have been most likely discipled in love. So making disciples involves pursuing real, authentic relationships that result in real friendships. It is only at this point that we can see real change in people’s lives, when they become our friends, and vice-versa. We will talk more about this later on as we talk about discipleship in particular.
The last type of relationship is the most intense of all — intimate relationships. These types of relationships require a lot of energy to maintain and develop. These are also the most crucial types of relationships in terms of our well-being or our being fully human. These involve our families and especially our spouses. Most of all it involves our relationship with God. Without these types of relationships our lives would be very empty. In other words, it is not good for man to be alone (Gen 2:18). I believe God is referring to these most intimate types of relationships. But, by implication also, He may be referring to man’s need for all types of relationships also, since all types of relationships are important.
To develop any kind of relationship, we need to communicate, care for each other, and experience common experiences together. How, how frequent, and in what way we do these things develop the kinds of relationships we will have. If we want friends, best friends and intimate relationships, we need to communicate more and more deeply, care more, and experience more common things together. Since we cannot do that for everyone, we must choose.
For relationships to develop, our communication must not be mere casual talk. It must be heartfelt, emotional in content, and revelatory. How heartfelt, emotional or revelatory? Well, it depends on what we want to happen in the relationship. If we want mere friends, we will talk only about things that will develop our friendship. But if we want intimate relationships, we must pursue full disclosure. We must be “naked” so to speak when we are trying to develop intimate relationships (Gen 2:25) with other people and especially with God. We cannot withhold anything, for that would not lead to real intimacy. Obviously we cannot do this for everybody. But speaking the truth in love is the key to real friendship and intimacy (Eph 4:16).
Caring for each other is always a given in any relationship. If we don’t care, can we honestly say we have a relationship? Caring involves knowing the other person’s needs, or, as in the case of God, what pleases God. If we are disregarding each other’s needs, and we’re doing so constantly, then we might as well kiss our relationships goodbye. No relationship can last long without real caring between persons. Caring is like oil in a car or water in a plant. Neglect them and you kill the car or the plant. Pour them constantly, and in the right amounts, and you will see a good running car or a blooming, fruitful plant.
Finally, to develop relationships, we must pursue common experiences. These are the stuff of memories. Memories bind relationships until they become real covenants. When we go through experiences together we become as one. It’s no longer I or you but us. The more common experiences the more intimate the relationships. Remove them from any relationship and it quickly disappears. Or it may easily become just a familiar face or an acquaintance. Common experiences can either be positive, like a celebration of important events, or negative, like the death of a loved one. Unless we pursue these common experiences together we cannot really say that we have a relationship. Again, the more of these we have, and the deeper they are emotionally, the deeper our relationships will be.
So these is how we develop our relationships. Since we are limited, we cannot do them for everyone. Even Jesus did not do it. He only chose twelve, and among the twelve he only chose three — Peter, James and John — and among the three there is only one who is called “the beloved” or the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:7).