Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I've been thinking a lot about relationships this semester. Yes, relationships. Here I do not necessarily mean the romantic involvement of boys and girls; while those definitely qualify, at the present moment I am not involved in one of those special relationships so I am in no real place to offer advice on that particular subject.

I am, however, a human - by default I am in any number of relationships at any given time. I am in relationship with my neighbors, whether I know them or not. I am in relationship with my supervisor, with my advisor, with my roommates, with my family - with an innumerable number of people that have cross or continue to cross my path each and every day. Because I am involved in so many, if not deep, but frequent, relationships, I find it necessary to seek Christ-like participation in each of these relationships.

I've already used the word "relationship" about a million times in this essay and I'm already sick of it. But until I come up with some other witty metaphor to replace it, relationship it is. (And yes, I used it two more times just to talk about how much I dislike using it. Just a little bit of writer's irony for you...if that is such a thing.)

I invest in people. I do not enter into most friendships just to be flittant about them. In fact that might be why I'm not always great at small talk or in big groups and why I often dislike meeting new people. Sure, small talk is great with your neighbor on the train or with your co-worker at the water cooler (does that really happen in offices anyways?). I can bitch about early-morning classes with the person sitting next to me as well as the next person. But when it comes to true, let's-hang-out-on-the-weekends-besides-just-studying-together-i-meet-your-family-recognize-all-your-stories-know-what-cereal-you-like kind of friends, I am in it for the long haul. What's the point of being in a friendship that is shallow, in which you find no affirmation and with a person on whom you cannot depend?

Christ loved everyone with whom he came into contact. I do not believe his relationships were shallow. For him, there was no just-for-fun. For him each relationship was focused on something eternal, it was about loving that person unconditionally, caring about that person's passions (both good and bad), their faith, their flaws...everything that made them uniquely them. Because he loves people. I know that I'm not perfect but I would like to think that I am working on being such a figure in my own relationships.

Of course I have fun in my friendships; my friends bring me great joy. But joy is different than happiness. My closest friends continually remind me that Christ is ever-present, that God's love is real, that I am worth everything to him, and to them. They remind me even when they fail that I cannot depend on them alone but Christ alone, and when they ask me for forgiveness they remind me of God's faith in humanity and his never-ending fountain of grace. If my friends do not give me this, why should I invest in them? I realize that there is a difference between what friendships offer and what acquaintences offer. I realize that I should not, and do not, expect those whom I randomly encounter on the street nor those who do not share my faith to emulate Christs' love in our relationship. But I should, and do, expect that of my Christian brothers and sisters.

I consider myself a pretty loyal person. You become my friend...good luck getting rid of me. Unless of course you do something to hurt another friend, then we'll have to talk about it. Part of that is I hate change. I hate losing friends, which comes as a result of change, like moving or going to college or other such life-altering experiences. I've moved away from enough of my friends that I hate to lose friends who still live in the same town or even in the same building. I'm often loyal to those who are not loyal to me. I've done that in past romantic relationships...and whether or not those relationships were extremely healthy, I do not regret my loyalty. I have tried, and tried, to convince myself that my loyalty is a bad thing, that I hang on too long for my own good. And you know what, I probably do hang on too long for my own good. I've been hurt enough times to understand that seemingly simple concept.

But I can't do it. I can't change who I am. I can't change my optimism for people; my faith that people can be good if they only tried. That people, one day, will recognize that I held that hope out for them; that I didn't give up. It's not even about that, really. It's not about that recognition of me. I just want people to know that there is someone who loves them unconditionally, no matter how many times they hurt them. That's how Christ loves. Christ doesn't give up on us. He is always there to forgive, and forget. To say, you know what, it doesn't matter. Let's start over.

Of course, I am not Christ and I am not perfect. I am also not made of steel. What I have to learn is friendships change. I also have to learn that people will not always want my...loyalty...in a friendship. People will not always be magically willing to invest in me simply because I invested in them. That to love a friend, to hold out hope for them...doesn't mean we have to be best friends, or even friends really. Maybe love sometime means the friendship changes...even when it sucks. Maybe God has to be the hero that I try to be sometimes, because he knows I can't do it on my own.

I also have to learn that just because I take my relationships so seriously does not mean others do. Because I have friends who do not take me as seriously as I take them does not make me less of a friend; does not make me less of a person. It does not mean I am not worth someone's friendship. I don't know exactly what it means yet, other than I have to surround myself with those who are willing to learn with me how to treat each other with the love that Christ had for his disciples and has for us.


Victoria said...

This is all very true, and I learn it more and more with age. It seems sad at first, maybe even a curse of our family, because we often pour out more of ourselves than we might be poured into by others. But you realize that there is beauty in it- that Christ resides in us, and that He is visible in that way. I thank God that our mother raised us with this vulnerability. I have also found that the world does tell this lie: recommending not to invest in friendships that don't give back. But that is not the model of Christ- his strength will cover our weaknesses as humans, and I have found that weakness to be sadness and maybe feeling like other people don't love me as much as I love them. But it is all lies. Anyway, I'm off my soapbox. Its just interesting that we are going through the same thing at the moment. I'm totally on your page.

It reminded me of two quotes form good old Oswald that you might like:

“The dearest friend on earth is a mere shadow compared to Jesus Christ.”

"Never look for justice in the world, but never cease to give it."

- Oswald Chambers

Sarah McCord said...

Ashley, I love you. You write so beautifully, so honestly. I too am struggling with this very conundrum--loyalty versus health. But you have inspired me to wear the loyalty with pride again rather than as a cloak of shame. Thank you.