Last week, I wrote about three principles I am learning about relationships that are in flux today because of social media. I suggested that social media, by nature of its homogenizing relationships, can cause us to fail to appreciate the diversity of relationships. As social beings, we were created with a need for healthy relationships. We are told in the opening chapters of the Bible that after God created Adam, God said it is not good for man to be alone…(Genesis 2.18). So God created a partner with whom Adam could have an intimate relationship.
Since the very next chapter of the Bible, relationships have suffered because of sin. All relationships take work and involve humility, forgiveness, and restoration. Different types of relationships involve different types and amounts of effort. I have learned that all relationships were not intended to last forever, and yet some are. So, let me give an overview of at least the five kinds of relationships I believe are critically important to a healthy relational person.
- The first kind of landscaping is the grass, which provides ground cover. It takes a lot of grass to cover the entire lawn, and with grass comes a lot of weeds.
- We will have many acquaintances, including shallow relationships and, yes, even some pathological ones. Grass has shallow roots and is, therefore, subject to the environment around it.
- We can have lots of relationships (grass) that continually need some attention, feeding and weeding (at least in Orlando!). We should have plenty of these relationships.
- Their roots may not go very deep, and most have trouble surviving traumas like droughts or disease.
- So, if we don’t continually spend time grooming them, they will fade away, and that is okay.
- When we move geographically or demographically (e.g., get married), they may not survive, and that is okay.
- The second kind of landscaping is annuals, which provide beauty for a season. These plants are selected because of the beauty they bring to our lives for a specific season.
- We have fewer people who fall into this type of relationship than the grass type. These are those who bring energy and joy for a specific time or season into our lives.
- These relationships need attention at the beginning of a season to plant and nourish early and then provide joy and beauty during that season.
- These relationships achieve more depth than casual relationships (grass type). However, often, they were for just a season.
- When the season changes, so does the relationship, and that is okay. These relations change and die with the season of our lives.
- The third kind of landscaping is perennials, which provide beauty through multiple seasons. They survive more than a single season because their roots go deeper and have more resilience than annuals.
- We have even fewer relationships with people that transcend any one season of life. These relationships are with individuals who bring energy and joy through multiple seasons of life.
- These relationships take effort to plant and nourish at the beginning of a season, but they then last several seasons,
- They may require attention to keep them alive during the beginning of each season, but they seem to survive multiple seasons.
- Because these relationships survive multiple seasons, we often mistakenly assume they will endure for a lifetime. However, as we look back at our relationships, we can identify relationships with people who survived several seasons but they eventually died, and that is okay.
- The fourth kind of landscaping is shrubbery or bushes, which provide beauty and protection from the wind or sun through many seasons.
- These relationships provide protection from the ups and downs in our lives. They last across many seasons and are necessary and give stability to our lives.
- They require effort to invest in and to receive from. We find that investing in these relationships returns a deeper sense of stability and continuity in our lives. These take pruning and attention, and their roots go deeper than the previously listed relationships.
- We can count on these individuals from season to season to show up and be there. They provide not only depth but protection from many of the perils in life.
- They may last several seasons and even a decade or more, but they, too, may fade and be replaced with newer shrubbery.
- The fifth kind of landscaping includes mature trees with deep roots that grow through decades of challenges.
- These relationships comprise very few of our relationships. We are privileged if we can count five or ten in our lifetime. Jonathan and David seem to express this kind of relationship in 1 Samuel 18.1.
- These relationships provide protection, shade, and oxygen necessary for us to thrive.
- They are the relationships (hardwood trees) that grow over a lifetime of seasons and seem to survive challenges. Seasons only make them stronger.
- They change during various seasons but are resilient to seasons and climate changes. They grow through traumas by growing deeper roots. They may lose their leaves and even be scarred, but they survive because deep trust, history, and commitment transcend the immediate challenges of any season.
I have talked of seasons throughout this discussion on relationships, how would I define relational seasons? It would seem to me that many have been geographically defined in my life. When we move physically, our relationships change. Other seasons are defined by demographic differences. When we have young kids, we may build relationships with other parents of young kids and we enter a different season. We go through a divorce, our relationships change, and we change seasons. We retire and we may enter a different season. Our financial situation may change and at times this causes a change in season. Even changing churches we attend can cause us to enter a different season.
This is where social media can inhibit these types of relationships maturing to healthy endings. When we go through different seasons, it would be natural for some relationships to fade so that we could build new ones in our social context. We should not try to keep all our old ones alive. It is like trying to keep all the grass, annuals, or perennials we have ever had alive forever. The plants aren’t biologically intended to be kept alive indefinitely, neither are all our relationships.
I fully appreciate this may be difficult for some of us to accept, but it is a reality for most of us. I think this is a great reason for multi-generation and multi-cultural relationships. More on that later.