God Comes First!Fr. Barnabas Powell
There’s something about intimacy that scares us to death AND becomes a central hunger for our lives. We are terrified of loneliness AND intimacy!
From sociological studies showing modern society becoming more and more lonely, to small groups of Baby Boomers forming support groups to talk about death and dying, to the perennial stories of men and their lack of close friends; modern humanity is struggling with a dual challenge: A deep-seated (and God-given, in my humble opinion) desire for community and a terrifying fear of letting anyone get too close. The fact is the current pandemic of loneliness in younger generations is setting off serious alarm bells in mental health circles as more and more health professionals are seeing the results of our struggle to build relationships!
It is a perfect storm of psychological warfare that creates all kinds of problems for us humans.
Look at our lesson today in 1 John 4:12-19:
NO MAN has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us.
Let’s face it, we were made in God’s image to become in His likeness, and God knows Himself as Persons in Communion. The old saying holds true “we were made for each other.” We were made to be in communion with one another. We were made to experience a closeness with friends and family and faith where we can be open and vulnerable and known, faults and all, in a safe environment where real personal growth and spiritual maturity can happen. That is the intent. That is the purpose. That is the goal of the Kingdom of God – The Church. For our Orthodox faith, salvation itself is all about becoming like Christ. And the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit invite us to enter into the same kind of communion God enjoys within Himself. In fact, it is this very communion, this Eucharistic life, that is at the heart of what the faith means when we say “salvation.”
But how many of us experience this reality? How much energy do we expend “hiding” our true selves from friends, family, and brothers and sisters in Christ? All the while our hearts long to be known and loved and supported! Our fear of discovery clashes with our longing for close friends and true family. And this dissonance sets us up for all kinds of dysfunctional relationships, disappointment, and heartache. This, in turn, feeds our fear and deepens our hunger for a solution. Sounds like a vicious cycle, if you asked me.
My first step toward freedom is acknowledging that there is a Primary relationship that must be corrected if I am to ever have other healthy relationships. My relationship with God is that Primary relationship that must be healthy first! Then, if I love God and others, God lives in me. To the extent I do not love others, I distance myself from God. Notice I didn’t say God distances Himself from me. Not at all! I deafen and delude myself. As I learn to humbly love others, not noticing their faults, not holding their mistakes against them, not expecting them to live up to a standard I, myself, don’t live up to; I watch my heart become capable, through God’s grace, to love even my enemies. And that humble agnosticism of the faults of others releases me to be in authentic and loving relationships that give me the greatest gift any human can receive. The gift of authentic intimacy.
Today, know that close friendship, and healthy relationships depend on your willingness to be humble and loving. Waiting for others to be humble and loving before you take that risk is never going to work! Today, you are invited by love; the love of God towards you (after all He didn’t wait to love you until you became lovable. He loved you before you even knew He loved you) and the love for God in your own heart, to humbly take no notice of the faults of others and only see your own faults. thereby setting all around you free from unreasonable expectations that destroy relationships and setting you free to singularly focus on your most important work – your own spiritual maturity.
P.S. Christ my God, set my heart on fire with love in You, that in its flame I may love You with all my heart, with all my mind, and with all my soul and with all my strength, and my neighbor as myself, so that by keeping Your commandments I may glorify You the Giver of every good and perfect gift. Amen.