Human beings are made for relationships. We are not meant to be alone, but to live together in community, to immerse ourselves into collective life, even if we are shy and private and prefer the joys of solitude to the extroversion of the party, the small gathering rather than the crowd.
Mostly, we live in the world in the way that suits us, although sometimes there are compromises and trade-offs required because love is larger and more enduring than convenience. This is how we negotiate the world and most often how we know that love is in it.
That some of this love flows towards us is the greatest gift of all; we are named and known, loved and forgiven, resident in someone else’s heart. We are not alone but have companions on the journey, those who travel with us as we negotiate what Shakespeare called life’s fitful fever. In various iterations across time and culture, we have been told that we can be happy as human beings if we have someone to love, something to do and something to hope for.
Someone to love
In the Catholic faith, our first relationship is with God, whose divine son, Jesus, was made man. The miracle of the incarnation means that we are in a relationship with every other human being made in the image of Jesus, most importantly our children, parents, siblings, spouses, friends and community. This is our someone to love.
We may also love ideas of beauty and truth and goodness; this blue planet we call our common home; the great works of art and music and literature which build us into better human beings; the stranger we invite into our home or country; the lesser works of art, music and literature which provide the day-to-day scenery of our lives and the minor elations that provide moments of happiness in the humdrum.
Something to do. Many of us have to-do lists which seem to get longer even as we tick off tasks completed and jobs finished and obligations met and duties done. Yes, we are busy, but sometimes it’s a busyness that keeps us frazzled and frenetic rather than slowing down to think through what is most important. We are redefining our priorities as we navigate the pandemic and treading new paths as we work from home or ensure that our community members are still in the loop, noticed and cared for, despite the deprivations of lockdown. Ultimately, our something to do is about a purposeful engagement in work or an endeavour that moves us beyond the confinements of self.
Something to hope for. In our Christian understanding we believe in life everlasting. We believe in the hope offered by the Resurrection. We believe in something visionary, lit by the energy of the Holy Spirit, a homecoming to God at the end of our days. We are a people of hope, and we need to kindle this more than ever in these dark days of despondency and gloom. We need to share our light, be it small and flickering, with others. The dark cannot overpower this insistent illumination.
Good relationships are founded on generosity, finding and encouraging the best in others, preferring the positive over the negative. There must be a healthy dose of reality and a fine seasoning of laughter, rich drizzlings of compassion and a good supply of empathy, as well as the daily bread of the wise balance needed to know when to say or do something and when to refrain from saying or doing.
1 Peter 4:8 notes, Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. We human beings are flawed and failing, and we let each other down. This is not always through a huge betrayal, but sometimes through the small, accumulated hurts or resentments or grievances which grow and fester. We need to cleanse ourselves of these before they ruin something that has been good. We need to talk it out, forgive, change, look anew at our habitual actions and attitudes and see if we can reorient them to that rightness in the relationship which enables respect and reciprocity.
We need to keep on loving. The early Christians knew how to build community and the phrase ‘building up’ is often used as St Paul encourages these fledgling communities to look for the best in each other and to use actions that build grace and goodness. We need to continue to build each other up so our relationships in our community are strengthened. As Oscar Romero reminds us:
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
Let us be encouraged that the good relationships we are building now in faith and life will shelter and nurture those who come after.