26 May 2007
BARRIERS PREVENTING AUTHENTIC RELATIONSHIPS
Because real, deepening relationships don’t come naturally or easily, it is important for those of us seeking to be Community Builders to address three specific barriers to the formation of authentic relationships.
When a situation is new or uncertain, people become afraid. The natural compulsion when afraid is to seek protection from what we fear. However, as children of Abraham , believers are called to move into the unknown in order to be a blessing to others. When we fear, like Abraham, we do things that feel to others more like a curse than a blessing. It always takes trust in God to be a blessing. Abraham’s fear-induced actions (better, reactions) among the Egyptians caused so much trouble that they paid him to leave and gave him a police escort out of the country! Not really what God had in mind back in chapter 12. Then, God in his goodness appears to Abraham with these words, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.” He even assures him that, even though things will not always be rosy for his descendents, Abraham himself will “die in peace, at a ripe old age.” In essence, he said, “Stop fearing for yourself, Abraham. Start trusting me, so that I can bless you, so you can bless others, like I promised.” We all have a tendency to be more of a curse than a blessing to one another because of our fears. Once we’re aware of this, we can begin helping other believers conquer their fears. And, with faith in a good God, they can be a blessing to others.
We also need to address our tendency to compete with one another. In sharing times with small groups, I have been told that “men compete with one another; women compare themselves to one another.” Whether we are talking about competing or comparing, the natural impulse is still the same -- we desire to come out on top. And, if we are competing with someone or comparing ourselves to someone, it becomes impossible for us to show that person compassion. For compassion cannot be achieved by putting ourselves above another. By definition, compassion is “feeling the hurts of others and doing all that is possible to relieve them.” We must, with the Spirit’s power, help new believers move from their natural compulsion: competition and comparison to what is necessary for authentic relationships to take place: compassion.
Finally, we must help the new believers move from isolation to connectedness – from individualism to community. Many people have come to believe that a cocoon of isolation from others is the safest place on earth, because they have hurts from past interactions with others that were full of fear and competition. A plan that may feel safe, but that is terribly lonely and not at all what God desires for them. We encourage groups of believers to build a safe spiritual community, where, for example, “the absent are safe with us.” We move believers away from isolation to connectedness through modeling and encouraging vulnerability, transparency and mutual confession. As you can imagine, a group of people full of fear and competition will never be able to engage in these brave disciplines.
As Community Builders, we must intentionally address all three of these natural compulsions because they are barriers to authentic relationships. We can help believers move from fear (curse) to blessing (through faith), from competition to compassion, and from isolation to connectedness, creating fertile ground for authentic relationships and a thriving spiritual community.
[Art work: "Communitas" (c) 2003 Peter W. Michel]