How do we go from being strangers to having deeply connected relationships?

(Photo: Unsplash/Dev Irl)

I was waiting in the terminal line to board a plane, when one little boy ahead of me started chatting to the man behind him. His mum had clearly given him the "don't talk to strangers" speech on a previous occasion, because after asking the man his name and if he was excited to fly, he turned to his mum and said, "I know his name, that doesn't make him a stranger anymore."

I smiled from ear to ear at his cheekiness.

Then I got to thinking, how profound what I just witnessed really was. This little boy wonder just reached passed social, cultural and religious norms to make a friend without any pause for thought. I think the process of making a friend is precious, taking them from unknown to known.

People need friends to share quality life moments and experiences. Yet, there are a lot of isolated people in this world because of trauma and a lack of skillsets to relate well with a stranger.

There is a model in some churches that compares spiritual development to that of the lifespan. Newborns are those who just met Jesus, infants need a pastor to be fed, adolescents begin developing their identity and gifts, and adults mentor, teach, and reshape the world. Anyone can be in any category regardless of age and can be in multiple categories at once. This model gives a possible explanation to why there is church hurt: we have spiritual infants in leadership and congregations who were never taught the next step.

In my opinion, there is a growth model for the human lifespan and its development that includes the proper ages to teach certain things because the mind has developed enough to process them. An example of this would be the two-year-old that asks a bunch of questions about the world around him. It is logical that there would be a proper time and way to develop spiritually: to feed our spirits, learn how to hear God ourselves, own our quality of life, and operate in our gifts, anointing, and callings.

As a teacher

As a teacher I won't teach trigonometry or statistics to a fourth grader unless that child was gifted. If in education the one size fits all method doesn't work, why do we assume it would be that way in our church programs? If spiritual training looked more like child rearing, we wouldn't need church to be an education session and it could become just another friend group community and place where strangers become known.

When engaging, I am filled with confidence whenever I feel the pull of the Spirit towards new people who are hungry and ready to learn. Connection proves hard only when there is an unknown relational block in me or in them, and when the person is not walking with Jesus because to continue to build relationship and trust means basing connection on physical likes, surface topics, and that I measure the amount of myself I share. I cannot chat unchecked to someone about my spiritual life and practices when they are not yet developmentally ready, I will only harm them and the relationship.

I would argue that relational closeness is not measured in time or longevity, but in the ability to be who you are without screening the hard topics. The closest people to us most likely are more mature than us or are growing alongside of us.

I also don't grow in my relationships with people when I am troubled and try to handle it myself, when I forget that who I am is just right and I don't have to be anyone else, and when I trade relating for achieving and mastering my own work. Unless I view people as essential and closeness as the secret sauce to maturing, I'll become stagnant, stuck, and my faith will be useless.

Half hearted

Half-hearted relationships look like ticking all the right boxes while connection is limited. Where there is serious trauma or a relational block, self-help isn't going to get it done because a human being young or old only knows what it has been taught by habit and often for those who've suffered abuse, there has been no one there modeling or providing tools to cope and that person is stuck in survival mode.

For those who have PTSD for any kind of life trauma, healthy, deeply connected relationships are hard to do. Help is needed in the form of a person who has walked through similar trauma and has changed, people of whom this fruit is evident. If the therapist or pastor you are seeing doesn't display fruit, cannot hear the Lord, and peddles Bible verses and programs, kindly end your session and do not return. All you'll find there is religion that tells you to perform better, an endless cycle of hoop jumping and emotional abuse. Look for a mentor who can call you out, hug you, and meet in a crisis.

To that little boy in the terminal of the plane I was about to board, thank you for reminding me of how beautiful it is to be someone on the inside of a loving relationship that turns to include someone else. There are no strangers in the world around us, only potential friends and healing moments.

Courtesy of Press Service International