I’m a not a world traveler. Until recently, my wanderings outside U.S. borders amounted to a handful of excursions to (and through) Canada and one day in the Bahamas. In my opinion, neither of those qualifies as international travel for an American.
Then a couple of summers ago I burst onto the international scene as Katrina and I journeyed to Ethiopia. No, I didn’t cheap-out on an exotic anniversary getaway. In fact, it was far from inexpensive but worth every penny. Our African destination was determined long ago as part of a divine plan to grow our family through adoption.
There’s much to tell about our adventure in Africa. But what’s presently on my mind relates to something we brought home with us. At the end of our 10-day escapade our guide gave us a gift. It’s a replica of an obelisk with a few small buildings on both sides. It’s only about six-inches wide, the same tall, and made from a grey-green stone that is very fragile. Several times our guide told us how special this gift was and to be very careful with it. He gave it proudly; we received it humbly. It was a symbol of his Ethiopian heritage, as well as the value he placed on our relationship, however brief.
Like our Ethiopian gift, relationships require careful handling. Even our deepest, closest relationships have an inherent fragility. They must be nurtured with time, pursuit, listening and love. Good relationships are a blessing; gifts of grace. The best ones handle conflict quickly, directly and redemptively. They thrive on the freedom of individuality while celebrating the fullness of togetherness.
Good relationships are also risky. Risky because they demand transparency and vulnerability. Such risk may result in disappointment, frustration and pain. Even so, we’re called to be risk takers. The Apostle John said, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (I John 3:16) Laying down. Letting go. Serving. Letting someone else have the last piece of pizza. That’s how we are to love and relate. It’s counter to cultural messages of personal peace, self-reliance and rugged individualism. Real relationships start with sacrificing expectations on the altar of obedience. From there we do the hard work of being people who redemptively challenge, coax, debate, celebrate – and willingly receive the same.
These thoughts on relationship were jumped-started by this quote: “If you don’t love someone deeply enough that they can hurt you, you likely don’t love them enough to do them much good.” (Lynn Anderson, They Smell Like Sheep, vol. 2, 162) As a private person, that challenges me. How well do I lay open my heart for another to love? How well do I give my love? Risky business, indeed. But with risk comes reward. Those relationships that have traversed the good, bad and ugly reap a harvest of love and joyful shared experiences. A bond that bridges distance and trial. A unity that goes beyond words.
Be a relational risk taker. Risk loving, to be loved. Risk hurting to gain a deeper joy. Surround fragile friendships with a wrapping of grace. Lay down your life for your spouse. Your children. Your family, friends and coworkers. Jesus did it for us. Let’s love Him by doing the same.