Relationships involve our most important experiences of the eternal in this life. Relationships and the Word of God are the two tangible things we possess in this life that will last forever. Everything else is temporary; everything else will burn.
Think of the thousands of people who have had most of their earthly possessions burn up in the recent wildfires in California, yet where are they now? They are huddled with their families and friends in shelters or in the homes of friends or even strangers. What has been preserved are their relationships. Indeed, in most instances I imagine those relationships have been strengthened, and I suspect many have made new friends who will be with them the rest of their lives. In times like these we are forced to realize what we knew all along but often forget — how important our relationships are.
Imagine Jesus being a famous speaker about whom we heard nothing except when he was speaking. What if he didn’t have twelve disciples, he didn’t walk around with the people, he was never in the crowd, he was always in front of the people delivering a message, not among the people. We would have such a limited understanding of him. No conversation with Nicodemus, no interaction with the disciples, no conversations with Mary or Martha, no scathing conversations with the Pharisees, no touching or being touched by the crowd, no chatting with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Most of what He taught us came in the context of the people He was relating to.
We actually have only one sermon of Jesus recorded. Because there’s only one, it has a name. You all know it; it’s the Sermon on the Mount. It’s not even recorded in all the gospels, and when it is, or portions of it, it’s in the very beginning. The rest is Jesus in conversation with the people around Him. It was always a personal message delivered personally, but for the benefit of us all.
Normal life presents opportunities for relationships everywhere. We need to think more like this. Your job is not just a job, it’s a set of relationships you wouldn’t have without it. Church is about the same thing — a set of relationships with those around you. Dinner out is an opportunity for a relationship with the waiter or waitress. And when you think that relationships are eternal, you have to ask, “What’s more important, your job, church, dinner, or the relationships that come with these things?”
The businesses in town we all frequent have people with whom we can build relationships; like the teller at the bank, the cashier at the market, the clerk at the dry cleaners, the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker … all these are important relationships that can be nothing or can be something depending on our time and commitment. Sometimes when we say, “How are you?” we need to say, “How are you, really?” if you care about the relationship and want to get a real answer.
It’s all about engaging — and I am talking mostly to myself here — it’s about engaging and being ready to engage. You prepare yourself for this. Somewhere I got the idea that I have an “ON/OFF” switch for myself that I can switch off whenever I want, and most often than not, it’s “OFF.” “ON” means you’re listening. You have questions to ask and you care about the answers. You’re probing; you’re thinking about what the other person is saying; you’re asking questions that don’t just have yes or no answers. But “OFF” means, this is my time; I don’t really care about you. I’ve noticed I can be in a conversation with my switch “OFF.” That’s the worst. That means I’m in conversation with someone, but I’m not really there. That’s downright rude, and my worst record on this non-engagement is with those closest to me — my own family.
My wife is incredible about this and I don’t know how she does it. She’s “ON” all the time — always engaging, always interested. I used to think it was some kind of special talent she has, but I have since come to realize it is simply a lot of work. And she does the work because she cares. She genuinely cares. And if you don’t care, work it until you do. There are rewards to this, not just work. People are beautiful — made in God’s image. So much to be discovered. We’ve got to learn to leave our switch “ON.” God has so many surprises for us. And what we gain will last from here to eternity.