Relationships are not efficient

I recently returned from a missions trip to Hamburg, Germany.  What a marvelous trip; it is remarkable (though not surprising) to witness first hand and participate in what God is doing through the hamburgprojekt, a young church there.  With a brother from my church we were able to mentor, train and visit with courageous brothers and sisters.  We hope to write more on that later, but there was one element that deserves mention ahead of those details: relational inefficiency.

Recently a pastor friend of mine remarked in my presence that as much as we would like to believe otherwise, relationships are just not efficient.  If you think about a favorite American past time, the “to do list,” versus relationships, we can see just how they differ.  To do list’s:

  • Are strictly controlled
  • Don’t surprise us
  • Don’t act in ways that are destructive
  • Don’t need to grow in holiness
  • Go away when we want them to
  • Don’t say stupid things
  • Can be delayed
  • Can be shortened
  • Take only as long as we want
  • Aren’t shy or guarded
  • Don’t yell at us…

You get the idea.  I guess it is no surprise why they are so popular to us.  All of this is probably clear, huh?  Relationships aren’t like to-do lists at all.  “Of course,” you say, “that stuff’s obvious.”

I think I underestimated how much I often put people in the same category as a to do list.  I wouldn’t really know that I had done so until I…well, left the country for another culture.  Now, no one that I know would suggest that Germans are inefficient!  Yet, one thing that became clear to us what that in their culture (perhaps it is just with Americans) they take a long time to “be known.”  They are cautious and guarded (yet polite and fun).  When it comes to intimacy, they take their time, or, are “inefficient.”

I think we get that real rich relationships take time to build.  But I wonder in our culture if we have mostly lost the ability and desire to make the investments.  Facebook demands nothing, Twitter demands less.  Email reveals little, text messages less.  I was listening to Christian radio the other day and the host was encouraging folks that if they wanted prayer to text, Tweet or Facebook ’em!  At what point did we think calling into a radio station asking for prayer was even a good idea?!  Do we do that because we knew that if we called a good friend he’d make us actually communicate in ways that would put us off our calendars?

It has taken four years for me to build meaningful trust and communication with my Christian siblings in Germany.  At times it was tiring (surprise).  But, what struck me on our most recent trip (last week) was the remarkable fruit and joy that came as a result of our investments in each other.  I never imagined that I’d be able to share such profound and impacting life and ministry with men and women from a totally different culture!  I believe it was due to the commitment to relational inefficiency that is present in the German culture.  There is a sweetness to the slowness.  There is a profound pay-out for the systematic investments in relationships over a long period of time.  Talk about delayed gratification!

In our culture, most often, we are serial-relaters.  We have efficient relationships, that is, ones that don’t cramp our style and that get us where we want to go.  I am glad that not every culture is as inane as ours.  I don’t intend this to be a German-grass-is-greener post as if one culture rises above all others.  But, clearly, ours is not a culture that places tremendous value on systematic and long-term relationships for their own sake.  How many Facebook friends do you have?

You won’t like this: K-I-S-S-I-N-G

I am doing some writing for a curriculum for young adults who are thinking about marriage.  Naturally (for me) K-I-S-S-I-N-G came up!  And I found a very interesting quote:

Sexuality touches every area of human life; even something as simple as a kiss can have social consequences (after The Kiss, you go from being the girl next door to being his girlfriend) and emotional consequences (you hadn’t realized you like him that way until then).

Kisses can play on our psychological and spiritual registers.  But sexuality, even mere kissing, is also, unavoidably, bodily.  After all, we define a kiss by body parts: a kiss happens when lips meet a cheek or a hand or when two set of lips rub against each other.  Kissing can make our bodies tingle.  And kisses can be slobbery; like other sexual deeds, they are messy in their embodiment.

Real Sex, Lauren Winner, page 33.

I’d recommend the book, but not K-I-S-S-I-N-G, until it’s time.

What does it mean…to be thoughtful?

Have you ever spoken with someone who just doesn’t think?  Have you ever watched someone who just wasn’t thinking about what they were doing?  It is a very strange phenomenon because it cannot be that people actually aren’t thinking.  Especially given what the Bible says in places like the Gospel of Mark, chapter 7, verses 14-23.  Clearly we are always thinking.

Still, I interact with people who are often best described as non-thinking people.  I suppose to be clear their thinking just lacks.  It is not always clear what it lacks, but people’s difficulties (my own difficulties) come because thinking lacks.  Let’s establish some “thoughtless categories.”

Maybe it lacked depth -and I missed the obvious (or almost obvious).

Maybe it was lazy – and I was thoughtless about a significant event in someone’s life.

Maybe it was weak and wimpy – life is hard and all I could think about was its hardness.

Maybe it was wrongly founded – and I advised someone to do something wrong.

Maybe it was poorly motivated – and I did or said something that was clearly selfish.

What does it mean to be thoughtful?  Maybe you wonder what is the point of asking the question?  (See, your thinking lacks.)  Let’s take an easy one: Mother’s Day.  Do you know when it is?  (Hint: it’s quickly approaching.)  All of you have mothers – what does it mean to be thoughtful about Mother’s Day?

1. The Bible tells us to honor our parents.  You can’t just do nothing.

Thoughtless category: lazy.

2. You can’t just focus on the ways that you wish your Mom did it differently.  Why would you focus on that, anyway?  So that you don’t make the same “mistakes”?  Maybe.  Maybe you want to think about how she should’ve done it differently so that you can talk yourself out of honoring her.

Thoughtless category: poorly motivated.

3.  Don’t wish your Mom a happy Mother’s Day because you think she can’t live without you.

Thoughtless category: lacking depth (gimme a break)

4.  If your Mom’s life is hard and you don’t wish her a happy Mother’s Day because you think you’re doing her a favor (maybe you’re the reason her life is hard), that’s stupid.

Thoughtless category: wrongly founded.

5.  You don’t honor her because your life is hard.  It could be hard – life is hard – but your isolation from your Mom won’t make your life easier.

Thoughtless category: weak and wimpy.

What to do, then?

Call her (don’t Facebook her, Tweet her, email her or text her) – CALL.

Thank her

Wish her a happy Mother’s Day

Pray for her

Send her flowers (if you can afford it); pick some flowers from somebody’s yard or the roadside (if you can’t); you should probably ask your neighbor, first.  If he says, “no”, categorize his thoughtless behavior: poorly motivated.

Tell her you’re sorry for making her life hard (if that’s true)

There are some mothers out there who likely make these things hard for you to do.  I’m sorry about that; it happens.  I come back to only one thing and ask you to press on: the Bible tells us to honor our parents.  It doesn’t tell us to do so when they’ve met some criteria that we establish; just to do it.  So, do it.