Day four – relationships.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

I think we’re all familiar with these words – a few verses from 1 Corinthians 13, otherwise known as the “love chapter”. We’ve probably heard them at least a wedding or two, and by now there’s even a possibility that we’ve heard the reminder that in context, these words were NOT spoken explicitly about a romantic relationship – they were spoken to a church by the Apostle Paul.

I’ve heard person after person remind us of the true context of these words, sometimes to the point of invalidating their meaning for a romantic relationship. But I think that we could learn a lot by viewing these words as applicable in BOTH contexts. I think it can tell us that while a romantic partner CAN often be an essential part of life, it should never be the end all, be all – that should be God. I think it also can remind us that our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ should be treated with as much importance and care as that of our romantic partner, our spouse. Should every relationship be that deep and emotionally intimate? Of course not. But the level of “deepness”, per se, does not need to correlate with the level of care, authenticity, or realness in our relationships.

The gift for today, day four – relationships. Or as I have kept in my notes, “true, deep, real relationships”.

Following the post yesterday regarding the people God has brought into my life, I want to address something that goes hand in hand – the relationships we have with the people God brings to us. And while the two gifts could be looked at synonymously, I very much think they can be seen separately. I mean, I’ve had some pretty great relationships as a result of the amazing people God has brought my way. But more important than that, the struggle I have had to walk as a result of my depression and mental illness… it has also taught me about relationships. I have learned so many lessons, and I have learned the value of finding and having and cultivating those true, deep, and real relationships.

Let’s take tonight for example. I finally got myself up and out of the house for something social/with other people OTHER than church or work for the first time in, well… let’s not talk about how long it’s been. I went dancing tonight, and I met some pretty cool people. A lot of the conversation tonight was the “small talk” kind of conversation, but that by no means limits me from being real and authentic. Authenticity does NOT have to mean spilling my guts and my entire life’s story to every person I meet the minute I meet them. What it DOES mean? It means doing all I can to keep honesty present. It means listening to the other person. It means making small talk because it’s appropriate for the context, not because you’re trying to avoid a needed conversation.

Something else I’ve learned about relationships, an experience that has been a gift for so many different reasons…

Over the years, developing and maintaining two-way relationships has very much been a struggle for me. I’ve done a lot of taking over the years, and that has largely been due to my depression and my other emotional needs. In the last year or two, I’ve seen and experienced a little bit what it’s like for the roles to be reversed.

But those true, two way relationships… not necessarily 50/50, because life is messy and it ebbs and flows, but relationships in which there is the desire to give just as much (if not more!!) than there is desire to have needs met.

For whatever reason, those have continued to be difficult. I’m not entirely sure why – some of it could be awkwardness in my own mind because of some kind of age or generational difference with a person, maybe some other reasons. Who knows. But these amazing people God has given me… they have all had so much grace and patience with me; they’ve given me some incredible space to practice and continue growing.

There’s one circumstance, though, one moment that I’d like to share surrounding all of this. A dear, sweet, wonderful friend and I finally had a chance to start reconnecting a little while before I moved to Virginia. And when she and I FINALLY sat down for coffee – a coffee date that we had been planning for no joke, months, even before she moved back to Santa Rosa – she shared something with me, a vision and hope for our friendship. And it shook me a little bit, in all the good and beautiful and also difficult ways.

She shared that she has seen our relationship in the past as very much one of her being in the mentor role, mentoring me, but that she would love to see our relationship move much more into a two way friendship, more of a peer relationship. And like I said… it shook me a little. In part because I suddenly felt horrible for never being that friend back, but also because it was suddenly very clear that another person genuinely wanted a friendship and peer relationship. Now, why did that shake me? We’ve often heard it said that we can’t be ready for a serious romantic relationship until we can fully come to terms with who we are and can have a healthy view of ourselves.

Well… I think this was very much along those lines. Growing up, and even in the years since high school, friendship has been a struggle. So to have someone deliberately say that they would like to cultivate this, that they would love to see this happen… woah. Like, I know that God has done so much healing in my heart this year, but like… really? ME?

So the gift of relationships. And all of the wonderful and beautiful and even painful lessons that go with them. It’s all been a gift. Because that principle is true, that you can’t fully selflessly (in a human sense, anyway) love another person until you’re comfortable with yourself.

That all being said – the gift of the last seven years led me to a place of coming face to face with all of my self doubt and self hatred in the mirror. It left me with no choice but to confront that self hatred head on and to remind it who’s boss – the King of the universe who loves me and died for me and rose for me and who still forgives me, day after day after day.

And now that I have confronted that in a way that was needed for far too long… well, I’m by no means perfect. Not even close. But it’s left me able to love in a way and with a capacity I would not have otherwise. Not only that, but it’s allowed me to be a little more okay letting other people love me. We all have our own baggage, and we all need each other. But if we can’t let others love us? And if we can’t love them selflessly in return? It’s going to be a long and lonely life.

Praise Jesus, though… because He loves us. And He reminds us each and every day that, yes, it’s okay to be loved. And it is okay to love in return.

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