I have 1,177 friends on Facebook. Well, at least I did the last time that I checked.
It’s an absurd number. The notion that anyone could truly keep track or maintain close contact with 1177 people, even in the era of modern social media, borders on the ridiculous.
Many of those people are mere acquaintances, from high school or former churches or other places where our lives brushed for a few minutes. But many others had a memorable impact in my life, and I really wish that I could maintain those relationships better than I do.
Then there are relationships that seemed to be meaningful, important friendships, and sometimes even deep relationships. Some of those have not merely faded, but severed with harsh words or accusations or passive aggressive commentary, or even the drastic step of the “un-friend” button.
It is indeed a heart-wrenching moment when you discover that someone, once counted as a dear friend, is actually glad or relieved when you part from their company. Or perhaps you discover that you really were not as “dear” as you thought.
It’s hard to know how to react when you discover that people think less of you, and you have no idea why that is. After all, maybe you are reading a lot more into their words or actions than they ever intended. Or, maybe they just weren’t that into you in the first place.
In this uber-connected postmodern society, relationships are often as fluid and fleeting as the latest phone app. Maybe they always were, and we just notice it more now because of all the opportunities we have to stay connected. That may also create more opportunities for us to feel hurt or disappointment when we discover that relationships were not what we thought they were.
Reality is that many (most?) of our relationships will not be long-term, and we have to learn to place the right value on those relationships when they exist. Our best bet is to make the most of the relationships that we have when we are in the moment, and appreciate them for what they are in a special time and place.
This is particularly true for people in the ministry.
When someone accepts the call of the Holy Spirit on his or her life, it is an acknowledgement that everything in life may well be temporary. The average tenure of a pastor in America is between 3 and 4 years. For a youth minister or other church staff, it is 3.6-3.9 years.
Accepting a call from God to ministry is to acknowledge a belief that God can place a life-change in front of us at any given moment. That means ever-changing relationships. It also means that we are to do all that we can to add meaning and value to our relationships in the present, because there is no guarantee that they will remain into the distant future.
I am learning the hard way (as usual) that the value of relationships with people is not always found in how long they last, but in how much we pour into those relationships while we have them.
People—particularly in the church—tend to idealize the past or the present to unrealistic levels. Either they long for the “Good Ole Days” and wish to return to them; or they lament that past and long to enjoy how much better things are in the now. As a minister, I’ve lived on just about every location of that spectrum.
People are not always going to love you or pine for your presence. Even if they do, it may only last until something else comes along. In reality, if you have a healthy perspective on your life’s calling, that is how it should be. The task is not to be eternally beloved, but to provide what is needed in order for people to love others.
While they might not be as pronounced as it is for ministers, I think this holds true for most relationships. That leaves us with the option to do our best and be our best for the people around us, no matter the context, circumstances or longevity of the relationship.
Our calling is to do our best to invest in people when we have the chance, to hopefully leave them better and richer for having met us. Even if they do not recognize it, the Christ-centered heart that we put into our relationships can add life to others long after our relationship is past.
The point of relationships is not to leave people thinking about how awesome you are. Instead, we should strive to leave people and their situations a little better off because we are/were a part of them. We often do not get to see the fruit of that investment. Instead, we hold on to the hope that we help those that we love to move forward to a better place in their life and their relationships with others—even if it comes at the expense of their relationship with us.
For those that have left behind our relationship, I hope that it is not because of some hurt that I have caused. I make lots of mistakes, and have no doubt that I have unintentionally hurt a lot of people. I offer a lot of apologies in life, and I probably owe a good many that I do not even realize.
My prayer is that, in spite of my faults, I have offered something positive to most of you that know me. Even as I struggle to learn to be better, I hope that I offered the best that I could do in the circumstances surrounding all of my relationships. And it is my sincere request that people will graciously accept that, no matter what they think of me now or in the future.
Thankfully, our best is more than enough for the ever-gracious and forgiving God, and I ask that it be enough for the people and friendships that I continue to value. At the least, it has to be sufficient for us as individuals to know that we offered our best, no matter how people feel about us in the future.
May we strive to offer the best that we have to others while we have the chance, no matter where our relationships might go in the future.