It’s one thing to acknowledge the truth, or at least the possibility that something is true; but it’s another thing to actually test it out. In the previous post, we considered the assertion that we have inherent value because God made us. So, how do we pursue and realize this truth for ourselves?
I don’t see how any of us could possibly do this in isolation. We have to explore and experience the truth of our significance in the accompaniment of others. The Apostle Paul encapsulates much of this within his words to a young pastor, Timothy:
“Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim 2:22; italics mine).
First we are told to run away from our idols, or, all of the inherently empty and discontenting pursuits of this world. This is the opportunity—and the challenge—of what we considered in the previous post. But that’s only the half of it. Ever wonder why those private commitments to “never do it again” can so easily fall apart? It’s because we need to gather together with others who “call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
The writer of Hebrews drives this latter concept home a bit further:
“…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (10:24-25; italics mine).
This idea of being with others has to be a habit. If you’re so inclined, you might recognize that the context of this passage pertains to fellowship. The surrounding passage suggests that even the loftiest of aspirations can become imperiled by a lack of consistent, healthy companionship. Granted, the Hebrews chapter 10 is probably talking about the observance of Mass, or being dedicated to the Apostles’ teaching (a la Acts 2:42); but the general dynamic seems to nonetheless apply. Each person’s sense of identity, value, and purpose can only be found in relationships. Isolation leads to death—emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
To be clear, insofar as a person might explore and experience a sense of mattering in this world, corporate spiritual disciplines (like going to church, Bible studies, etc.) are not the be-all-end-all. Granted, as a Christian with very orthodox tendencies, I have a natural affinity toward these endeavors; but I’ve experienced a significant sense of value in some of the least “churchy” situations.
One such experience occurred soon after December 9th, 2008. I remember that date, because that’s when I suffered a complete patellar tendon rupture. Yeah, that hurt, and my prolonged recovery from surgery was even more painful. What touched my heart, however, was a sympathy card sent from my athletic club.
I actually received two cards. One was from the majority owner and all of the employees. It was nice. The handwritten notes were brief and kind, but most felt as though they had recycled their words for others whom had been ill or injured.
The second card moved me to tears. The inside panels were filled with remarks from my fellow master’s swimmers. (My eyes moisten a bit, even as I write this.) I didn’t realize that those people genuinely cared about me so much—men and women I swam with, twice a week, for the previous couple of years. Remarks like these made me realize that I played a simple but significant role in others’ lives: “our lane isn’t the same without you, Scott.” “We miss you, and hope you can get back here soon.” And, “it’s too tempting to loaf when you’re not here.”
Wow. How did that happen? I think it’s important to look a bit deeper than paying membership dues. I actually attended there regularly, and I still do, using multiple aspects of the facility throughout a given week or month. And I visit with people for various lengths of time, ranging from a simple ‘hello’ to extended moments of supporting someone in the challenging news of a cancer diagnosis.
It’s been said, “familiarity breeds contempt.” I’d suggest that familiarity breeds emotional safety for even some of the most superficial relationships. A new face gradually becomes a face with a name, and the name becomes a personality. You attach a story to the person you’re getting to know, and eventually that person becomes part of the shared story in your common endeavors, i.e., mattering together.
One might think, “that’s easy for you to say, but I’m an introvert.” Actually, I’m an introvert too. Seriously. Outside of my day job as a psychologist in private practice, too much time with people can drain me like a car battery at 50 below zero. We all need people. How we relate to people, and how often, varies according to our temperaments.
Some people find structured and/or task-oriented activities too boring or constrictive. Others appreciate the predictability such structure affords them; they can find success in tasking, then gradually branch out and connect with others. Alternately, some people quake at the prospects of novel and unstructured get-togethers, while others become energized by the newness and social improvisation these situations bring.
Here are a few ideas to pursue a sense of purpose and connection:
Some caution and clarification, however, might be in order. There’s a subtle but profound shift that must be made toward a narrative that goes beyond oneself. Otherwise, however nobly appearing one’s involvements, these will be doomed to the same emptiness of the Four B’s. This is the substance of my next post.