John Donne was right, no man is an island. Even a casual reading of scripture reveals God’s heart for connection with us, and how he hardwired us for linking with other human beings. Relationships are probably the source of our greatest joys, and our greatest heartaches. But, if we isolate ourselves for too long, our life loses meaning, and we become eccentric, like someone’s weird hermit uncle.
Koinonia is a transliteration of the Greek New Testament word that means communion, or participating together. It is used to describe what the church is supposed to be like. It means we are in this thing together. We are sharing the journey, and sharing life itself, together.
We spend our lives looking for real community, and, honestly, it is hard to find. Churches usually fall short. There tends to be varying degrees of community that revolves around the church service, or some other program, but usually, it begins and ends there, as everybody moves into their separate worlds for the rest of their life.
Unfortunately, I have walked into bars that were warmer places of acceptance and koinonia than some churches. After all, you can be yourself, tell your story, and relax. That would be a dangerous thing to do in far too many “Christian communities.”
Have you ever traveled alone? You can experience some really cool things, like amazing sights or interesting people. You can have some intense experiences too. I have had both kinds of feelings while traveling. You probably have too. But I noticed the cool things that were supposed to be so much fun just didn’t seem to deliver. And the load of the draining and more intense times, like when I helped my parents move or deal with health issues, seemed even heavier than usual.
If I saw something awesome, all I could do was take a picture, attach it a text message, and talk to my wife about it later. Talking to her about it was the best part. Actually experiencing it seemed kind of empty, because I had no one to share it with.
If it was an intense day, again, I could phone her and tell her about it that evening, but I had to get through it alone, when I am used to her being by my side, helping, listening, and commiserating with me.
Joyful moments are more fun, and sorrows are more bearable when shared.
We need relationships like we need air to breathe, and we will usually take them wherever and however we can.
Some people experience their greatest sense of community through church. Others have great friends at work, in the neighborhood, or in some club they belong to, or hobby they participate in.
Relationships come at all levels, too. Some are intimate. Others are casual. Some are business. Others are personal. Some people, you can tell anything about yourself, and still be accepted. With others, you need to be more guarded.
After years of complaining to God about the incompleteness of my relationships, I have come to appreciate a relationship for whatever it offers.
However, some relationships are toxic. If a relationship is all “take” and no “give,” it’s toxic. If you can’t be yourself, it’s toxic. If you are being squeezed into a mold to meet someone else’s needs, it’s toxic. These relationships are not only bad for you; they are bad for the other person, because you are enabling their behavior.
I used to think something was wrong with me if I didn’t like somebody. Now, I know there was something wrong with me for not identifying toxic relationships, and breaking them off.
Finally, I can say to myself, and a selected few friends that I don’t like somebody. It’s fine to not like somebody, or to recognize the person is a creep. That doesn’t mean that you wish him ill, or harbor bitterness toward him; you just know you don’t trust him with your friendship. Wise move!
So, God made us for relationships. We need them. They often fall short. We can appreciate a relationship for whatever it offers, and avoid the toxic ones.