Over the last few years one of the things that I have started to notice is the necessity for a diversity of relationships. Relationships that are close; some that are more acquaintance-like; others that are deeply intimate; and some that are just friends. We need people in our corner at each area of our lives. But, we also can’t only engage in one type of relationship.
One of my close friend’s Jacob and I had an encounter that might illustrate this fact the first time we drove back from college together from Orange County, CA to Seattle, WA. It was a 21 hour drive done in a single stride. We left the OC at 12am and made it home by 6pm. We were both awake the whole time and spent the time talking about the last year. However, by the time we were home and I was dropping him off at his parent’s house, we were both ready to not see each other for a few days. Maybe you’ve experienced something similar.
Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas, in their book Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups, quickly discuss four different types of relationships we need as human beings in order to be relationally (and holistically) healthy.
- Public – These are people we know, have seen around and can be comfortable interacting with. These are relationships we develop when there are 20 or more people in a given space. This could be your local coffee shop you frequent, the backyard BBQ you attend, a block party for your neighborhood, or a gathering at your church. We need public relationships to feel like we have a place to go that isn’t home.
- Social – These are the relationships that you have where you know their name and they know your name. Additionally these are also the relationships you might have at a smaller group size than the public. While you’re on a first name basis, you might not know their personal business and you don’t necessarily share yours. Sports, activities, some hobbies (that you don’t feel are too personal), and generic information about your family and work can be commonly shared in these relationships. We need social relationships to feel connected with other people.
- Personal – Personal relationships are just that, personal. These are the few people you might get together with during the work week to share more deeply about your personal business. You feel more free to share your thoughts, opinions, and feel safe doing so. These are crucial relationships to make you feel known and not just connected.
- Intimate – Best case scenario, our spouses and our best friends constitute this small group of individuals. These are the people who know you deeply over a longer period of time. They not only know a lot of facts about you, but there is significant life history shared together. They know you and you know them. They know all of your personal business and even your deepest fears, insecurities, life goals, motivations, etc. They know you at your core. We need these relationships to feel intimately known.
We need all four of these types of relationships in our lives in order to be relationally healthy. If we take away one of these or function largely out of one of these categories then we short-circuit the relational system because all of these categories are meant to work together for our own personal relational health. And unfortunately when we do that, we end up seeking out what we should be getting from other types of relationships. We see this often with our students and young adults who are engaging with people at the public or social levels but doing so inappropriately through hook-up apps or social media to fulfill what is only done in an intimate relationship such as marriage. Or if you only have your spouse or best friend, then we end up distancing ourselves inappropriately from them because all we have had is intimate time. We need all four.
Just on our own, we don’t have the spiritual capabilities to become relationally healthy people. Our own brokenness and the evil we perpetuate make interpersonal relationships impossible. We hold grudges, we don’t forgive, we become passive-aggressive, and a whole host of other things. However, Jesus lived the life we were called to live, died the death we deserved because of our evil condition, and rose from the dead thus conquering sin, Satan and death to give us new life as we believe in him. This new life now unites us as Christians miraculously together at all four levels of relationships and enables us to engage one another in each of these relationships. Suddenly, we are able to forgive because Jesus forgave them. We are able to relinquish our need for revenge because Jesus already paid the penalty. We are able to receive forgiveness because Jesus already freely extends it to us. Jesus has united us with God and as a result we are united with one another at each of these levels.
We see these different relationships as the large body of the church that gathers weekly or in larger gatherings like women’s IF: Tables or Men’s BBQs. We see our social relationships develop in small groups, Sunday school classes, or music ministries. We see our personal relationships develop out of the social as we self-select other people, couples, men, and women, to get together over coffee to talk about life and Jesus. Lastly we see Jesus engage us intimately, fully knowing us and giving us the gift of marriage and deep friendship.
My sisters and brothers, may we be the people who take the relational steps necessary to have people in our corners and also to be someone in someone else’s corner. If this resonates with you, maybe think about taking some time to identify where you have these types of relationships in your life. If one of them are missing, take this month to seek out a single type of these relationships. We can’t make all four happen in a day, so take it slow. May we be known by our love for one another just as our Lord Jesus first loved us and now calls us to love one another.