Men and the Messy Business of Relationship

I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.” – Genesis 28:15

Boys” (*dad-shudder*). As the undeserving father of two beautiful, vibrant daughters I can say with confidence that for fathers the “B” word may well be the second scariest plural noun in the English language. Beginning sometime around the second month of fifth grade and continuing non-stop until an unbearably long, tear-filled walk down an inevitably too-short aisle when “boys” becomes “husband,” we dads struggle continuously with the Barbarians at the Gate we once worked so hard ourselves to be.

Which brings me to what may arguably be the scariest word in the English language for dads everywhere (and men in general). The “R” word – Relationship. Yes, it’s true. Even the strongest men, backyard bruisers who can grill for 20 with perfect temperature control while swilling a cooler full of iced Heineken and reciting every line from Braveheart and Gladiator, even these guys can become wobbly puddles of man-goo at the thought of the R word.

We guys dread R things. Like meeting “the boyfriend” – the one with the bad hair and the entirely too shifty eyes (you’ve met him – you may have been him). We draw blanks when our spouses or partners want to sit down over a glass of wine and have the “R” conversation. And when do guys ever talk about our “relationship” with Bob or Jim or Pete?

“I don’t care if I’m Toby Maguire – no shoulder rubs!”

Most guys simply don’t “do” relationship (the verb, not the noun). We have our poker night buddies, the guys we hang out with during each Season  (Sports, not Fashion or the latest binge-watching series), the dudes we see at the gym, the significant others we tolerate at parties, heck – we’re even on first names with our hairstylists (we used to call them barbers). We “know” guys, we just don’t always have “relationships” with them.

Relationships are messy businesses. They’re hard. Done right, they require advanced socialization skills like listening, considering, actual discourse. They take empathy and understanding. They take, well, they take love. Another word that sends shivers down many of our steely spines. It’s just so much easier to assume than to act.

Relationships don’t “complete” us, they refine us.

Yet relationships are the essence of human interaction. With apologies to Jerry Maguire, relationships don’t “complete” us, they refine us. Relationships allow us safe refuge to cycle out the psychological toxins pumped into our psyches by 21st century living. We get to wrestle with someone else’s view of who we are, try it on for size, checking out the view in a virtual 3-side mirror of love and trust and respect, only to realize the sleeves are too long or too short, or the color just doesn’t suit us, or there aren’t enough pockets. Relationships give us the freedom to grow or not. They can bring us together, or drive us apart.

Turns out God has more than a few things to say on this subject. In fact, one might argue that God is entirely about relationship. Relationship with Him. Relationship with each other. Relationship with our own fractured selves.

The passage from Genesis I opened with was not accidental. From the very beginning of His narrative defining the human experience, God set the tone: “I am with you. I will watch over you wherever you go.” Unqualified. Unbound. Unending.

Imagine for a moment if our relationships with each other were this pure, this transparent. Imagine if we honestly said to one another “I’m right here, right beside you. I’ll be here when you need me.”  Not in some touchy-feely Facebook way, and not just with those closest to us.  But with everyone we meet, every living, breathing soul with whom we share this experience of life.

God is very direct on the subject of relationship. Throughout man’s unfolding story of awareness in God and His plan of Salvation, one theme has reverberated again and again. We are the vessels of grace bestowed by God. It’s our interaction with and relationship to one another that breathes life into the promise of the Kingdom. “The kingdom is among you,” Jesus tells us.

Men – and women – can learn endless lessons from how Jesus demonstrated the art and practice of relationships. We can all follow his example, even those of us who struggle with the enormity and, yes, messiness of the religion that has evolved over the centuries in his name. And it’s really quite simple if we get our heads and self-focus out of the way. Try the following exercise with me sometime in the next week.

1) Think of three people you know, three people you care for, but whom you’ve not connected with in a while. Perhaps they are close friends, perhaps they are people you just met.

2) Write down their names and something meaningful about them. Study that a moment, feel it. Imagine seeing the world from their eyes and from their lives, rather than your perception of it.

3) Reach out. Email, phone, handwritten note, maybe even get in the car and pay a decidedly pre-21st century actual visit. Tell them you were thinking of them. Tell them you care. Invite them into your life.

4) Encourage them to do the same, paying it forward to three of their friends and acquaintances.

God tells us He will always be with us, watching over us wherever we go. He does that for all of us, freely. How much less it is for us to do the same for each other.

Colossians 1:17

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