Shape and be Shaped, Love and be Loved

By Raquel Sequeira, Yale Timothy Dwight ’21

At the start of each new school year, I find myself auditing my relationships: Who are my true friends that I will make the time to invest in this semester? Who are my fake friends—or friends I’ve been fake to? Who are the people that I wave to but don’t remember their names or where I know them from? (Thank God for the Yale Facebook, am I right?) I tally up the relationships I can’t wait to deepen this year, and those that I feel guilty about for my negligence.

Then I ask myself the more uncomfortable question: Who am I when I am with each of these people? Sometimes I feel like a many-sided shape:a prism with plenteous faces, rotating like a magnet into the orientation that seems to attract those around me. It’s not that I’m a totally different person with different people,but it’s clear that my society shapes my personality.

It’s easy to fret overour social life, but we often fail tothink about our relationships enough—or at least, not with enough intentionality. There are only three meals a day (two on weekends!) and so many people to get a meal with. Relationships are an investment, and not a cheap one in a time and season of life when time feels like our most valuable resource.

But these are investments worth making. Because I believe in a relational Creator, I believe we are designed for relationship. My identity isnot only about my individuality, but about my relationshipswith the Creator and with fellow-creatures. This attitude sets Christians apart. Relationships are central to who we are: as individuals and as children of the Kingdom.

The Psalms and Proverbs are clear on this point: your character is shaped and judged by the people you hang out with. We are told not even to be in the vicinity of “scoffers”, “fools”, or people contemplating evil (Psalm 1, Prov. 4). We are also instructed that “as iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another” and “there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother”(Prov. 27:17, 18:24). We are vulnerable to the influence of others, for ill and for good.

Even beyond our individual worlds that often seem so small, scripture gives us a glimpse into the role of our relationships at the scale of the eternal Kingdom. Jesus promises that our Christ-centered relationships will be sanctified into priesthoods. (“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:20).)  His disciples and apostles went off in pairs to heal the sick, proclaim good news and freedom, and change the world. God uses our relationships to reveal Himself to us, giving us a taste of Holy love, sacrifice, and unity. Sometimes, God puts people into our lives against our inclination, giving us a chance to mature in humility and generosity, and in doing so—often unbeknownst to us—He makes us instruments of His grace.

If you also feel like a many-faced magnet in your varied field of friends, ask yourself who you’re willing to be vulnerable with. It’s hard, and not every acquaintance can become a deep, life-shaping friendship. Nevertheless, practicing relational vulnerability—the true and terrifying giving of ourselves—is the way we allow Christ to shine through our cracks and build bridges of love where we can’t. And this practice is a positive feedback loop: the more we risk true, vulnerable relationship, the more we channel God’s true love for others, making us less afraid and more genuine as we go on.

“For what do we live,” says Jane Austen’s great social critic, Mr. Bennett, in Pride and Prejudice, “but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?” Like most of Austen’s characters, Mr. Bennett’s cynicism veils a nugget of truth. Our lives really are all about relationship: first with our Creator (a stunning, humbling, worship-inducing thought) and also with our fellow-creatures. Let us pray for wisdom and true love in our relationships this year.

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