The older I become, the more clear it is, that all of human life is about relationship. A life well lived is one in which the circle of relationship grows. The perfect life expands to encompass the entire of humanity. A poor life is one which is isolated and where the primary relationship one has is with himself.
Our life is a series of relationships. Some are more equal than others, but each is a giving and a receiving of our very selves.
This begins at the moment of conception. Even before our consciousness is awakened, we are in a beautiful and symbiotic relationship with our mother. On her part, the mother provides all the physical needs of her tiny infant. On his part, the child gives the gift of complete dependency. Lest you think this too inequitable to be termed relationship, think of the unborn Christ Child. Yes, He would go on to give the gift of Life to the whole world, the balance of giving and receiving so shifted as to become the most inequitable in all of human history, but His first gift was His complete dependency on His mother. Love requires of us dependency. One can not be in loving relationship without being both needed and dependent. This does not denigrate relationship, it defines it.
As we grow, our initial relationships are with our parents, siblings, extended family, close friends and neighbors. It is in the family that we learn what love is. We learn there is a time for obedience and a time for moral courage. All relationship is a balance between action and inaction: When do we speak, when do we listen; when do we lead and when do we follow.
Sometimes the nature of the relationship determines our responsibility: A child obeys his parents while a parent leads his child. This does not mean a child does not teach his parent, any who have children know of this certainty. But the child does not lead, to expect him to is negligence. It is most often through his following that we, the parent, learn our greatest lessons: both of our imperfect leading and how we fall short in those relationships in which we are required to follow.
The most equitable relationship of man is the spousal relationship. This does not mean "best" or "purest" or "most desirable." It simply means that it is the most equal in both the giving and the receiving. It is the only relationship which requires a total giving of self by BOTH parties. In no other human relationship do we give completely of ourselves with the just expectation that we receive another self in return. It is a foolish parent who expects that kind of return from a child. It is a foolish maiden that expects that kind of return from a string of beaus. It is a foolish employee that expects that kind of return from an employer.
But it is a foolish bride who does not expect it from her groom.
And a justly disappointed groom who does not receive it from his bride.
There is no leader or follower in this relationship. It is a union so profound as to be more horizontal than vertical. To be sure, in practice, we take turns pulling each other up the cliff toward heaven, but a better image of the relationship is two bodies, hand in hand, walking up the incline at a slow and steady pace.
Each spouse is completely dependent on the other while living the opposite. We work as if his happiness is in our hands, knowing that our own is his for the giving. It is a moving circle like a tornado. And like the tornado, it is both small and large, always centered, created by cold and warm, touching heaven and earth and changing everything it touches, pulling all it passes into its embrace.
(And for the cynical who only see in my analogy the destruction left in its wake, ask yourself if you want the passion of a tornado or a gentle rain shower to describe the mark your marriage left on the world? There is a time for rain, but there is a time for tornados as well. Rain may pass unnoticed; tornadoes rarely do.)
It is for this reason that the relationship between Christ and His church is compared to that of man and wife. The Church needs Christ, this I do not have to explain. But Christ also needs the church in order to complete the plan of His Father. We can not do it alone, but God has required of Himself that He can not do it without us.
Take a minute to let that sink in. Take a minute to dwell in the presence of that kind of love. A tiny human is by nature dependent, it is in his nature to give the gift of dependency, just as it is in the nature of woman to nurish her child. Almighty God is by nature completely independent. He needs nothing. His Trinitarian Nature is Perfect and Eternal relationship. Yet, He condescends to need us in order to allow us to be in relationship with Him.
All of life is aimed at learning this one lesson. All of life is aimed at learning how to be in relationship. Whether it is with our mother, a friend, a dog or a tree, relationship requires we learn how to give and receive. Both aspects require that we learn to shed our selfishness. Yes, even learning how to receive requires self denial. For in each of our relationships, we are giving and receiving something. And for everything we receive, we must give something up. But more importantly, we must do something. In marriage, to be loved, we must love. In parenting, to learn we must teach. In friendship, to be heard we must listen.
So when you think of relationship, of love, do you focus on what you give or what you get?
Do you see all relationship as inherently selfish, for you can only see what you get?
Do you see it as inherently selfless for you can only see what you give?
Or do you see a tornado where the lines are so blurred all you can see is the moving circle that changes everything? Destruction of all the man made structures? Uprooted trees? Perhaps.
Or in its wake, can we see more clearly where earth and heaven meet?