Monday, October 21, 2013

Connecting with Others

       Relationships are funny things.  Relationships of all kinds are funny things.  They ebb, they flow, they grow close, they distance, they become one thing and then another and then another.  The only thing consistent about relationships is that they aren't static but are constantly changing. I must admit I find all of this very confusing.  This is another area of growth for me as it remains clear to me that there is still so much I just don't understand.  It seems there are as many ways to be in relationship with others as there are people, and each one is a new puzzle to figure out.  But I also see that it isn't just me. It continuously surprises me how often there are misunderstandings between other people as well, ie how little we communicate what we are actually intending to say, and how often we seem to communicate things we are not intending at all.  Some examples:
1.  I was organist and music director during seminary at a Missouri Synod Lutheran church.  While theologically different, I really enjoyed the people and especially the choir members.  I worked there for three years.  When I graduated from Seminary, I resigned from my job to take a pastor position, and was replaced with another young seminary student.  About three months after she had been there, I received phone calls both from the pastor and from this student expressing serious communication problems.  The student felt that the pastor's wife "hated" her.  The pastor's wife felt nothing of the kind.  She just was being herself with her particular demeanor and presentation.  But nothing I said could convince the new organist that she wasn't hated and despised by the pastor's wife.  I offered to meet with them both together, and did so.  Still, they could not understand each other.  One continued to feel hated, and the other continued to feel confused and hurt that her demeanor was understood as negative and threatening.  I see this happening often - someone's normal facial expression is seen as angry or judging.  The way someone expresses themselves is seen as sharp or critical.  But the person isn't intending these things, they are just being misunderstood in this way.
2.  I hear people say things that sound to me like they are apologizing and offering reconciliation, and then someone else who was at the same conversation will tell me they have been hurt and offended by what the first person said.  Both parties, to me, expressed themselves in the situation with grace and humility.  But neither heard the other doing that.
3.  I have had people come to me so upset and hurt by another person and when I ask why, I simply cannot understand what it is that has hurt them.  Sometimes people get hurt by differences of opinion on matters that are theoretical, hypothetical or so distant that it doesn't actually touch the lives of either person.  Why is it hurtful to disagree with another?  Aren't those disagreements opportunities to learn from each other?  To explore ideas from new perspectives?
4.  My children often get offended by one another over things, again, that I cannot begin to comprehend at all.  "She looked at me!" one will complain.  "AND?" I ask.  "Well, tell her to stop it!"  Huh.
5.  Sometimes we take offense at advice (I admit, this is something I'm guilty of!), when another person is simply trying to be helpful because they care about us.  Advice to me somehow feels like a judgment on my ability to solve problems and come up with solutions on my own.  But really, again, it is a sign of another person's caring and wanting to help.
       It is easy to misunderstand.  And it is easy to be misunderstood.  I wish this wasn't the case, but it is.
       But what fascinates me is that in the midst of all of this, there is such a deep need and desire to connect with others.  I think there is nothing in this life that I enjoy so much as making a new friend.  I love meeting new people, getting to know them and see what makes them tick.  I love encountering the differences that make us each unique and working to understand them and connect both beyond and through those differences.  That doesn't mean that it is easy for me to do that.  How do you approach someone and say, "Hey, I'd like to be your friend.  Are you interested?" but because it is so important to me, I find myself doing exactly that with more and more success.  Even when we've been deeply, deeply hurt by other people, our need and desire to connect are stronger than our fears.  We hope, we reach out, and we search for those new connections.    Why?
       I think we are created to be in community.  This, to me, is the profound truth of the trinity.  God is one in community.  God is in community with God-self, and in being in community becomes one.  Complex. And difficult to explain.  But in this way, we are made in God's image.  We become more whole, I am convinced, as we are in community with one another.  We grow and expand as we allow the different, the "other" into our hearts and souls.  As we learn to love that which is not us and maybe even that which is not like us, we become more than we were before.  And in becoming more, we come closer to seeing, understanding and becoming ONE.  We become more united with each other, and more united with God.  Yes, we keep our individuality, and yet, we are bigger and more whole and more united at the same time.
       It truly is the greatest joy to grow deeper in relationship with God, self and others. And I thank God that we were created to do exactly that.