Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. I Corinthians 13:4-8
The most basic building block of any human relationship is respect. Two people who don’t know each other should operate at a minimal level with respect. No one should be physically or emotionally hurt. If I’ve never met you before and you come to the office, you are guaranteed that I won’t hurt or harm or threaten you. That’s basic respect.
The next step in building a relationship is commonality, spending time together and finding things you have in common with someone else. If two people like baseball, maybe a friendship is built with an outing to a baseball game, or throwing the ball around the yard.
Over time, a rapport is built between two people, and trust begins to develop. The next step is crucial, and that is showing some kind of vulnerability. Where there is trust, there can be vulnerability. And in order to move from trust to love, there has to be vulnerability. Love begins to take root the day that someone says “I’m not doing so well,” and the other says “I’d like to help.” Both people are then vulnerable. One becomes vulnerable in sharing. The other becomes vulnerable by listening and helping.
The problem in our society is that we are “plastic.” Many relationships consist of only surface dialogue. “Hi.” “How are you?” “Fine, how are you?” “Fine.” And they don’t get much beyond that. There is no vulnerability here and thus there will never be love. Part of the reason we don’t get to the vulnerable stage is because of what precedes vulnerability, and that is trust. Trust is hard to build, hard to maintain and easy to break. And because we don’t build environments of trust, we don’t feel comfortable being vulnerable.
And the other problem that we all have, is that we are all prideful. We don’t like admitting when we are wrong or when we feel weak. We don’t trust that it won’t be used against us in some instances. Or we’re just plain stubborn in others. Or we feel like we can do it alone or we have to do it alone. Christ told us not to be prideful, that it is okay to feel weak, to repent when we’ve done wrong and to work with the failings of others, not holding things against them. Most of all, Christ told us not to feel alone and not to allow others to feel alone.
Obviously, not every relationship in our life is going to allow for vulnerability. But we will have a hard time getting through life without any relationship where there can be vulnerability. Some relationships do not lend themselves to vulnerability. They might be classified as “transactional relationships.” For instance, at the bank I go to, I regularly see the same teller. She knows my name. She knows the amount of money in my bank accounts. And that’s all she knows about me. Our interactions are friendly; we’ve never had a cross word. But there is no vulnerability there. There is some trust there—I trust that she will get the money into the account. But there is no need for her to trust me. It is a transactional relationship. The only time I interact with her involves a bank transaction.
An “authentic” relationship involves vulnerability. We need authentic relationships. Most of us crave authentic relationships. A big part of encouragement involves building authentic relationships.
If an authentic relationship is the goal in some (obviously it will not happen in all) of our relationships, then it starts with time in fellowship, laughing, conversation. Spend this time and you build rapport. Set boundaries and guidelines for what to do when you have conflict. Learn how to forgive when things go wrong. Then trust will form. And then the environment has been created for you to go deeper in conversations, to share honestly and to be vulnerable. And this is how you build an authentic relationship with someone.
When a relationship begins to break down, in order to restore it, you go back to the foundation of time, rapport, and trust and work your way back to being vulnerable. Just because a relationship reaches the vulnerable stage, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep working at it, or that there aren’t occasionally steps backwards. This holds true both with our relationship with Christ and with one another.
We ALL need work on authentic relationships—on building them and on maintaining them. Authentic relationships are necessary in order to experience love as God created love. Love is a sense of oneness and unity and this isn’t possible when relationships remain strictly on the surface. So, while vulnerability is hard—no one likes showing vulnerability—this is the only way to authentic relationships, which we all need and which we all crave.
If an authentic relationship is the goal in a relationship with Christ, it starts with time. It starts with time in prayer, scripture reading, worship, and charity. Spend this time, and you build rapport, and then trust. Vulnerability begins with honest prayer, confession, repentance. And these lead to an authentic relationship with Christ.
Lord, help me to know You better. Help me to trust in Your plan for my life. Let me bring my joys and my struggles to You, confident that You hear my prayers. Help me to build an authentic relationship with You. Bring people into my life who will love me, support me and encourage me. Help us create environments of trust, where it is okay to be vulnerable and where it is easy to forgive. Give me the courage to be vulnerable. Help me build authentic relationships. Amen.
Time. Create the environment. Build trust. Be vulnerable. Build an authentic relationship. This works with Christ and with your neighbor.
The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! There you may find a database for past prayer team messages as well as books by Fr. Stavros and other information about his work and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
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