I’ve never chosen a word for the year before – or a theme or an idea that will permeate the year. It’s not that I think it’s a bad idea; it’s simply that I’ve never considered practicing it before.
But this year, I think I stumbled on one inadvertently – and within the first week of the New Year, I had already embraced it. And it is this, in all its simplicity & complexity:
Some people think I’m naturally good at this because my chosen professions are teacher, mentor, and leader. But the truth is, a lot of the time I’m way more selfish than people realize. My motives are a messy tangle, but suffice it to say, it’s easier sometimes for me just to be a “nice” person outwardly than to truly care about the heart of my relationships.
I can ask all the right questions and nod my head at all the right times, but my heart might be a dozen miles away, only thinking about myself. I end up caring more about what others are thinking of me, how much attention I’m getting, or how successful I think I’m being in my people skills.
I’ve struggled through a lot of self-conscious, awkward years where I was terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing socially. I went from being the shy girl who never spoke up in group settings because she didn’t know the correct joke to make everyone laugh, to gradually speaking up, but questioning every thought I spoke.
I’ve also gone through many years of working on a job where people skills were paramount, meaning I eventually learned many external practices that made people like me. In that process, it is true that I learned to shed some of my self-consciousness and genuinely love other people. But old habits are hard to shake, and I still find myself falling into selfishness and pride when it comes to cultivating relationships – or even just conversations.
Sometimes I get so nervous about a conversation falling awkwardly flat, that I barely listen to another person’s response – I’m too busy coming up with a string of questions to make sure I don’t appear inept in my people skills.
It’s a battle.
And in the midst of the battle, I’m not truly building up relationships – I’m merely keeping up the social whirl of all the appropriate conversations to have, which ultimately means I’m caring more about myself and my appearance than the other person.
But in that first week of the new year, I met up with several friends and mentors with whom the conversation flowed easily – and not only that, it challenged me and reminded me of who I am as an individual. And part of that is cultivating relationships the way that God has called us to as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Relationships should be life-giving, joy-filling, lovingly challenging, and soul-edifying in order to point us back to Christ and His purpose for our lives. Which means that they can’t be approached passively.
And it is so easy for me to become passive in my relationships – to wait for the other person to text me first, to wait for their invitation to do something fun, to pity myself that my friends aren’t paying attention to me, to be jealous of others because they always seem to be doing fun things and I’m not.
But relationships are not ultimately about me. They are about the other person – and I need to ask myself, “How am I seeking others out? How am I pursuing my relationship with them? How am I being proactive in showing them Christ’s love?”
I shouldn’t be counting the number of times they’ve initiated hanging out with me – I just need to be faithful in getting together with them, no matter who initiates.
I shouldn’t be feeling sad over here about my empty weekends – I just need to start texting my close ones and see how I can be ministering to their lives and make those empty weekends full.
I shouldn’t be pitying myself because my life looks different than theirs – I need to enter into their seasons of life with joy and love, seeking to serve them with whatever they are going through.
So this year, instead of passively letting my relationships happen, I want to be active in growing relationships that come from my most deeply rooted relationship – with Christ my Savior.
I want to listen actively and ask more questions about what people are saying. Not just asking them a long string of pre-prepared questions, but listening to what they are saying, and building conversations off of their comments.
I want to reach out and get together regularly with those closest to me, instead of just waiting for others to reach out to me.
I want to keep my schedule clear enough to have several relationship encounters each week, whether planned in advance or spontaneous.
I want to be generous about paying for things or doing things for others instead of clinging to my own money and time as if it will fall apart if I give any of it away.
I want to care about what’s going on in other people’s lives, but mostly about what’s going on in their hearts. I don’t want to make them projects – I want to seek to understand them and love them for who they are, just as Christ loves us, His dearly beloved.
Most of all, I want to learn genuine, sacrificial love for others – love that’s not a checklist, a routine, or a set list of things to “do.” Love that’s learned first of all at the feet of Jesus who set the ultimate example – and then that’s practiced with humble abandon – forgetting about myself and what others think of me, and simply living it out in daily ways.
My heart is a work in progress like all of ours are. But there is such profound joy in cultivating these kinds of relationships. I’ve already experienced it within the first few weeks of the new year, and I know that I want God to continue developing it in me throughout the year.
By His grace, may He constantly keep this idea of relationship close to my heart this year, and may He use me to show others the love that He’s shown me. It is a beautiful thing, and I can’t wait to keep exploring it.