I was talking with one of my daughters the other day. She was conflicted about spending time with a new child in her class given we are moving to a new area in just a few short months. To her mind, what is the point?
She was fairly matter-of-fact about the issue, and I was taken aback.
I wouldn’t have always been. I remember years ago adopting what I jokingly referred to then as a “no net-new-friends” policy. I said I had no room for anyone else, that if I made a new friend, an old one would have to go!
To paraphrase Shakespeare, “many a truth is spoken in jest.”
I remember being (ungratefully!) irritated if I was invited to a dinner party and seated next to someone I didn’t know. Actually, I would get irritated if it was a small group and the hostess invited anyone I didn’t know. Don’t people understand, I would think, that when you go out to relax you want to be able to kick back? You don’t want to meet someone new because someone else knows “you’ll just think the world of each other!” Who cares? I was full up on friends and didn’t want to “waste” time asking “so, what do you do?” when I could instead be rehashing lines from a “Seinfeld” episode for hours on end with people I knew well.
In other words, why would I want to go through a whole evening starting a relationship that might very well end with the evening?
And then, the one relationship I thought would be my most important and intimate and would last until death proved to be in some ways the most ephemeral of all. What a twist. So as my life blew up and I became a single mom, I started thinking about relationships a little differently.
Over the years, two conversations in particular really influenced me. Because my four kids didn’t have a dad in the home starting when my oldest was just 10, I was more focused than I otherwise would have been on the adult relationships they did have. Whether it was with a teacher, adult at church, or occasionally a fellow I dated, I focused on whether those relationships were long lasting, stable, and so on.
And then, a friend pointed out that as long as the relationships were with good people, to not be too afraid to have folks moving in and out of my children’s lives. A teacher, a Bible study leader, a friend of mine whether male or female, a friend of their own might be touching their lives for a short time. But that short time could be a positive thing that was just what they — my kids or the other person — needed in that moment.
In another conversation, a friend explained why he believed in short-term mission projects. I had always been a little cynical myself about any this-worldly benefit. “OK, so we send a team into Africa, they build someone a house and help orphans — but typically everybody goes back to their lives the way they were — what is the point?”
And then my friend shared that’s exactly what happened with Jesus. In his earthly ministry, He sometimes touched people just for a moment. He healed and yet those very people would get sick again. He knew people intimately, like the woman at the well, in a way they couldn’t imagine — and they surely went on to be lonely again in this world. He raised people from the dead and those very people would go on to later die. Yet those moments changed lives and changed history. Not just in eternity, but in real time. He more than anyone who ever lived showed relationships, even those that last moments, if thought about rightly can have lasting value.
So yes, I still get protective of my “relationship” time. I want to spend that time on family and close friends. And yes, being aware of time and being deliberate about how we use it is wise. But I’ve also become, I hope, more thoughtful over the years about understanding that shorter relationships, even some that just last a moment, can really matter too. I mean, you might even find in that moment someone who, say, can rehash “Seinfeld” with the best of them!
My kids? Well, they will have to find their own way on this, I suppose. Sure, we can sing, “Make new friends and keep the old, one is silver but the other’s gold.” But they will probably have to walk through a few fires of their own before figuring all that out. I do hope I’m raising them in such a way that those fires give them a little more to offer, and to receive, in those relationships of the moment.