In several of these letters, I’ve shared how important relationships are to me, and how I hope that my relationship with you is always the most important thing between us. I’ve shared the fact that I believe God created us for relationships, both with Him and with each other.
But in today’s letter, I’d like to explain a bit more about what that means, and tie together several strands of thought from several of the letters I’ve written thus far.
When I say I believe we were created for relationship, and that my relationship with you is the most important thing between us, what do I mean? After all, there are different kinds of relationships: some healthy and some . . . not. A relationship characterized by abuse or neglect, for example, is still a relationship. But of course, that’s not the type of relationship I want with you – nor is it the type of relationship God wants with us.
I think it comes down to what I wrote in my letter yesterday about differentiation. I want a relationship with you where we are both able to interact as two healthy individuals, relating to one another as is appropriate for our respective levels of development. Obviously, that’s going to look different now, when you’re seven months old, than it will when you’re seven years old, or seventeen years old. It will also look different as I get older, and keep learning and discovering and growing. Like I’ve said several times, just because I’ve been a parent for seven months now hardly means I’ve got it all figured out.
The same is true of relationship . . . my relationship with you or anybody else. What I strive for in each of my relationships is an interaction that: does not judge the other person solely based on their behaviors, does not rely on them to “fulfill” or “validate” me, does not depend on shared opinions or preferences, and DOES seek to extend empathy and understand their feelings and the needs beneath them. In short, everything I’ve talked about so far in these letters.
As I said, this is important to me in all my relationships, but it is especially important in the relationships with those closest to me . . . and there is nobody closer to me than you and your mom. I want to make sure that, at any and all points in your life, I am treating you and interacting with you in ways that feed the relationship between us, rather than ways that starve it.
This will mean doing things that might not make sense in the moment, to you or to others watching our interactions. It might mean allowing you to do something other parents would not. For example, I’m not going to “discipline” you for getting into something that “isn’t a toy.” Because my relationship with you is more important than whether the toilet paper gets shredded or the beans get spilled all over the floor, I’m not going to take an action that has the effect of telling you that my “things” are more important to me than you are.
At the same time, though, there will probably be times when I decide not to give you something you might, at the moment, want more than anything else in the world. For example, I’m fairly sure that I want our home to be one that never has a dedicated video gaming console in it, because I think it’s too easy to get sucked into spending time with the XBox instead of one another. That’s a decision my dad made for our home, and over which I argued with him several times. And it’s one of those areas where I look back now and think to myself, “he was right.”
So as I said, I want to make choices on my end that feed the relationship . . . but I also want to bring you up with the knowledge that relationships are important, and hope that you’re making the same choices as well . . . because one of the things about relationships is, they cannot exist when only one of the parties to the relationship is nurturing it.
I think that, right there, is the broad narrative that the Bible has to share with us. Like I said at the start of this letter . . . and like I’ve said several times . . . I believe we were created for relationship. In Genesis, the story of Adam is a story of relationship with God. God spent time in person with Adam, and relationship was important enough to God that He made another person for Adam to share a relationship with as well. In fact, even after Adam and Eve sinned, the very first thing the Bible records about God’s reaction is that . . . He showed up for their evening walk together. It was Adam and Eve who severed the relationship by running and hiding. Though God was deeply affected by their actions, the fact that He wanted a relationship with them was not.
The rest of the Old Testament is, to me, the story of God trying to restore that lost relationship piece by piece . . . and the story of the people on the other side all too often not caring. Time and again He reached out to them, and while there were times when the relationship looked like it was on the road to being restored: Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, Josiah . . . in the end those of us on this side of the relationship always turned back away from Him.
Ultimately, he showed up in person. And we killed him. And then we set up a religion where He never intended to create one. We made “following Him” out to mean doing the right things, saying the right words, and being in the right places at the right times. We made the point of “accepting Him” out to be some “get out of Hell free” card, rather than a restoration of the relationship that was lost in Eden.
And yet, after all that, He still continues to offers us His hand in relationship . . . which is the real promise of Salvation, rather than a “fire insurance policy” to keep us out of Hell.
That’s the kind of relationship I want with you . . . the kind in which, like I told you in my very first letter, there is nothing you can do to make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less. The kind in which loving you is the most important thing . . . more important than that you act a certain way or think a certain way or believe certain things. The only thing I want to make sure you believe is that you are loved.
Too many people . . . too many parents . . . use a relationship that looks like the kind I’ve been talking about – a relationship that is based on individuality, empathy and openness, to try to subtly manipulate their child into a specific set of actions they know they can’t force their child to adopt openly. For me, though, the relationship is not a tool to get you to the point where you think or do the “right things.” The relationship is the point, and it always will be.
Will you come join me in such a relationship?