We all crave connection. Whether we're single or not, introverted or extroverted, we all have a need for relationships (and not just the romantic kind.) We want to be understood, to be accepted. We want people who will love us in a Christ-like way: unconditionally, as we are.
The Church is the ideal place where we can develop these sorts of relationships. Nourished by the Church, living as the Body of Christ, we can answer the call to be open about our shortcomings, to help build up our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to grow more connected to each other and to God.
Sadly, we fall far short of this ideal: many of us don't have enough close, intimate relationships. We connect with most of our friends on a superficial level, risking nothing deeper, and keep our acquaintances even more distant. Somehow asking "How are you?" and "How's it going?" have become the same thing as saying "hello!" And though we ask, we don't wait to get the answer.
Nor are we prepared to give a real answer ourselves.
I think most of us would welcome more openness and vulnerability in our friendships, but we don't know where to start. We don't want to be the first one to go out on a limb. We're scared of rejection, and perhaps we're scared of the possibility of awkwardness. It's easier to keep conversation light-hearted than to get too deep.
One of the reasons I love Church camp is that it creates a space where we can let our defenses down and make strong connections. Friendships at camp get honest and real, real fast. (You can check out more reasons to love camp with this episode of Be the Bee.) In talking with GOYAns, I've found that their favorite moments at camp are ones where both campers and counselors are able to open up about struggles, hopes, and fears. These experiences are so powerful (and only possible) because they happen in a safe environment where trust and friendships were already present, strengthened already by a shared faith.
But how can we bring this sort of openness into our day-to-day life? How can we create safe spaces for real friendships to flourish?
Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind.
1. Be approachable and humble
People flocked to Jesus because they knew He was open to receiving them with love. They knew that Christ would not treat them harshly for their mistakes, no matter how poor their reputation or how terrible their sins. And we cannot forget that even outsiders, people from any and all backgrounds, approached Jesus with the same ease.
Are we open in the same way to our friends and family members? Do they know that? Do our lives reflect an openness to people who struggle with sin or who aren't Christians, or would people know us more by our criticism and judgments?
We develop this sort of openness through humility. Humility helps us to be present and supportive for others, to provide a safe space in which real relationships can flourish. If I am aware of my own imperfection, then I am less easily scandalized by the imperfection in my neighbor, and less likely to create a distance between us.
If I am humble before God, I can learn to be humble before my friend.
2. Put Jesus first
As Christians, our first priority should be our relationship with God. Many people try to satisfy their desire for God through relationships with other people (or things, or ideas), but no other relationship can give us the fulfillment that we can only find in Jesus Christ. If we aren't standing on the solid foundation of a relationship with Him, then all of our other relationships are going to suffer. "Having a Relationship with God" gives us the clarity and the proper perspective we need to grow closer to other people.
And, as I hinted at above, the humility we cultivate in our relationship with God will help us develop the humility we need to build relationships with other people. Being honest with God about our imperfections, through living out a life of repentance, helps us to have the humility we need to encounter other imperfect people. (Check out "Getting Vulnerable with Jesus" on The Trench.)
This humility will help us to be not just open and approachable, but ultimately vulnerable with others.
3. Be vulnerable
Part of craving connection is a desire to be vulnerable. We want to open up to our close friends, to reveal who we really are, yet fear keeps us distant. But the great thing about sharing what's going on with ourselves is that it opens the door for our friends to be open with us. Once your friends know that you're willing to trust them, it's easier for them to trust you.
But being vulnerable isn't easy.
We like to think we have it all together. We want the world to know how strong we are. We're scared of showing weakness. The thing is, like Christian shared on The Trench, "Getting Vulnerable with Others" isn't a sign of weakness. It takes guts to be open and honest with others.
It takes courage to show our weakness.
We learn through Confession that being open about our weaknesses helps us to conquer them through Christ, and this is critical. But in addition to a relationship with a Spiritual Father, close friendships give us the opportunity to be mutually vulnerable and open.
I go to Confession to receive forgiveness from Christ, and guidance from my Spiritual Father. This relationship isn't meant to be one where the priest tells me his struggles too. This is why it's so helpful to have close friendships where we can share with each other where we are and to help support the other through our own experience.
We live in a world where people are constantly looking for connection and belonging, intimacy and love. As the Church, we offer the world a community of believers who are growing closer to each other and to the true source of Life. But are we really living this out? Or are we too bound by fear to let ourselves be vulnerable before our friends?
It's time we learned to be the Church by being better friends (John 15:15).