Relationships: Is There No Hope?
This is the first in a series of essays examining various aspects of relationships. The essays are intended to be read in sequence. A link to the next essay in the sequence is provided at the end.
Magic Johnson drives to the basket, eludes two defenders, then soars high above the hoop from the free-throw line to slam the basketball through the net. We watch awestruck at the coordination, the power, the agility, discipline, and self-control demonstrated by Magic Johnson.
Tim Tebow’s team is 4 points down with less than two minutes left after the opposition just scored. The kickoff. The reception. Then the tackle. Tim Tebow’s offensive team takes the field at its own 20 yard line. The team huddles; the ball is snapped. The offensive line holds the defense at bay for a few short seconds, the receiver streams out to the right flat, Tebow sees the target, throws… Complete! Then the receiver steps out of bounds… First down. Next play Tebow scrambles for five, and the dance [drive] continues over and over and over. With 10 seconds left the team is now on the opposition’s 10 yard line. Time only for one more play. Tebow hands the ball to the running back, who blasts through the defense to score the winning touchdown. We watch awestruck at the coordination, the power, the agility, and self-control demonstrated by the team.
The couple takes to the ice and starts out slowly gliding and twirling in unison. Just getting comfortable. Then the music speeds up. The twirling becomes more vigorous and passionate. Scott Moir lifts his partner high above his head, then suddenly deposits her Tessa Virtue back on the ice gently, carefully. The dance continues; the couple performs a leaping triple axel. They glide, they jump, they fly, they spin like dervishes. Passion and joy radiate from their faces. When the music stops they hug expectantly waiting for the winning score. We watch awestruck at the coordination, the power, the agility, the self-control, and the love demonstrated by the team.
The common thread in all the above situations is that we are instinctively drawn to grace, beauty, power, and love. We long for the perfect union, the perfect unity of relationships demonstrated in the football team’s drive, by the acrobatic display of passion joined to perfection on ice, by the perfect union of Magic Johnson’s coordinated body parts as he sails to the basket. We instinctively understand that our deepest desire is the perfectly harmonious integration of our lives into something larger than ourselves. These examples provide us with a moment of hope that such a desire can be fulfilled.
Why is that? Because we are created to live in a perfect relationship that we somehow can’t achieve, no matter how hard we try in this life because all our partners are imperfect. There are times when Magic Johnson loses the ball, Tim Tebow fumbles, or one of the partners on the ice falls. Then we are brought back to reality and our heart sinks. But such failure is also an opportunity for another to step in, help, and make the team shine in spite of it all. When that happens, our hearts leap with joy at the victory of the relationship over the failure of one individual.
Do we not have a similar reaction when we encounter that “perfect” couple, married for decades, with each intuitively knowing the thoughts of the other without a spoken word? Do we not feel a twinge of envy in the presence of such “perfection”? Are we not brought back to reality and our heart sinks as our spouse makes an unwanted joke about our behavior? Indeed we are.
The boy obviously has an illness. His right hand twitches. Periodically he slaps himself in the face. His body jerks spasmodically as he tries to control himself, but can’t. His steps are halting and painful; sometimes his feet drag along the ground unwillingly and he appears ready to lose his balance but does not. His eyes wander aimlessly and his face contorts into one misshapen image of pain after another. We watch with empathy and perhaps feel his pain and sorrow. We pray for healing, wishing there were something we could do to make him whole, but that is not to be.
We are brought face to face with our broken reality at the sight of his broken body. Does he not remind us of our relationship with our spouse, our children, our parents? Do we not slap them in the face with our comments? Do we not refuse to coordinate our actions and desires with theirs so our relationship continues to limp along haltingly, sometimes dragging one or the other along unwillingly to some destination? Do our faces not contort from the pain caused by anger, insult, rudeness, abuse, disregard, or any one of a million other sins? What are we to do? What can we do? Is there no hope?
We watch sitcoms. We watch as spouses tear each other apart, as families kill each other with the verbal cuts of a thousand razors, as children break the heart of their parents, as friends stab each other in the back for the sake of personal satisfaction, and the sins go on and on. What are we to do? What can we do? Is there no hope?
There is one relationship that will never fail us because our partner in that relationship is perfect: Our relationship with Christ Jesus. We long for a perfect relationship here on earth because we were created to be part of a perfect eternal relationship with our Creator. But we messed up. We dropped the ball and lost the game. We fell on the ice. We walked away from the dance. But He did not. Like a patient father [lover?], He follows us and entreats us. He continues to call us, to hold out his hand to us, to encourage us. He continues to say, “It’s OK. You can do it. I know you can because I’ll teach you. Don’t give up; don’t worry about falling because I’ll catch you. Come, let’s try again. Let me show you how to live.”
And He did. He showed us how to live by dying: On the Cross he showed us the true meaning of love. He showed us the true nature of that perfect relationship we all so desperately seek. He modeled exactly how we are to live a full life in view of perfection. And what does that model look like? What are the characteristics of a perfect relationship?
First and foremost, it is a relationship characterized by selfless love for the other members. Additionally, it is a relationship in which
- All members are joined at an intimately personal level
- Each consciously chooses to do that which pleases the others, even at great personal cost
- Each demonstrates a mutually loving attitude of service, attentiveness, and consideration to all others.
Just think about it: Does Michael Jordan’s hip complain that his right hand is getting the glory of shooting the ball instead of the hip? Of course not! All his body parts are working in perfect unison to make that impossible basket. So it is with the perfect relationship.
Next: Earthly Relationships