Most of us find it very hard to live relationships outside the box. We put people in our boxes which define our relationships to them and then when they do anything that does not fit the box we created for them we shake the box real hard, hoping they will realise that we are in control of the box and that we can empty it at any time. The only difference between little kids who say “You are not my friend anymore” and adults, is that adults have not made up 3 hrs later.
Perhaps it is because as adults we are weighed down by our sense of being responsible and the need to be in control of our lives and the web of relationships that we have built. Children however, know that Mummy and Daddy are in control. Whatever fights or misunderstandings happen, there will always be food on the table and wood on the fire. This makes it so much easier to forgive and forget. Furthermore, children only really have two categories: Friend or No Friend. They might play or make believe other roles, like shop keeper and customer, but at the end of the day, children seem not to divide the world up the way we do.
Becoming like children to experience the Kingdom of God therefore means that we must reconsider these boxes. This is what Jesus meant when he said “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”. The same theme arose in the parable of the Good Samaritan where the question was “who is my neigbour? Again and again, Jesus challenged people to throw away their boxes – when he hung out with the tax collectors and sinners or when he healed the foriegners or in the ultimate challenge “Love your enemies!”
You might expect that those who are most earnest about following Jesus would have this point mastered. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be the case. Your professed faith is not an indicator of you ability to live outside the box. Probably, because we only have 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, most people therefore hold firmly to the categories that define their investment in relationships and their level of openess. Of course Jesus only had three really close friends and 12 close followers and there are obvious limits to what we can invest into other people’s lives. Nonetheless, he was able to powerfully impact the lives of thousands and change the course of history. He consistently broke out of the expected pattern of interactions, to relate to people in an unconventional way that released heaven’s hope and power into their lives. And this is what we are called to do likewise.
A wise friend of mine; Peter Stael, once explained that all healthy relationships depend on the dynamic of rotating roles. Because we are all experts in different matters, depending on the subject of discussion, the roles of teacher and student are constantly in flux. So when we are talking about something where I have less experience, I am following your lead and when we move a subject where I have more experience, you are listening to me. This is what Paul meant when he wrote about church relationships saying: “Submit one to another in love.” However this healthy exchange is interrupted when we start to put people in our own boxes. Worse still we put ourselves in a box. And when we write the words LEADER on it, they we begin to burden ourselves with the responsibility to always be one step ahead of the game and calmly in control. In order to maintain this expectation of ourselves, we then have to put people in boxes that govern the relationship.
So let us get back to the simplicity of childhood where we simply have friends and where we can relax in the knowledge that our heavenly Father has everything under control.