by Jared Musgrove
There is no hurt like church hurt. And it can stop us in our tracks for a long time.
This may never be more true than in our relationships of trust. We often expect human nature to be different among the people of God. But sometimes the group experience just isn’t what we expected. Or we had a leader whose personal issues or capacity was being pressed or crushed. Sometimes relationships of trust are broken by besetting sin in one or perhaps both people’s lives.
Whatever the specifics of each case, we’ve all had them. After nearly a lifetime of church membership and over 15 years serving as a pastor, I’ve learned that church can be one of the toughest places to cultivate and retain relationships of trust. It can be overwhelming to try this over and over again.
I wonder if the old monks were talking about friendships with fellow Christians when they came up with their famous dictum, ora et labora. Pray and Work.
We often complain about the lack of relationships and deep trust in the church, but do we fast and pray for friendships that may not be there… yet? Are we an authentic person worthy of being a friend? Are we who we say we are? Cultivation of relationships of trust requires authenticity of character as well as availability. You can’t complain that no one has time for you if you don’t have time for them either. Is there room in your schedule for a deep friend or two? Or rather, is there time to begin cultivating what it takes to grow such a friendship? Both parties have to be committed. That’s relational accountability. You do what you say you’re going to do. You don’t flake out.
Then there’s the work of going after the already-existing existential weeds. Are people even able to grow relationships of trust anymore? Many of us have lost fortitude in friendships; someone does something we don’t like, we don’t stick it out. We easily dispose and say, “Well, we were friends then. But I’m going to go find some others who agree with me more often.”
There’s also the fear of intimacy. We are often more comfortable being side by side rather than face to face in friendships. Relationships of trust require vulnerability, but we have to dig deep at the shame of not always being in emotional control before we can cultivate. We live in a culture of competition; we are told to be strong and successful and run past anyone that gets in the way. There’s a growing trend of defensive detachment. Then there’s each of our respective pasts that include friends that cut us off, rejected us, or even abandoned us. This all must be faced.
It’s easy to see why too many of us give up. The garden of trust is too overtaken with weeds and hazards.
But think about the threats facing Ruth and Naomi. Jonathan and David. Barnabus and Paul. They developed intense and godly relationships of trust under trying circumstances. That’s a key: friendships are often formed in the crucible of faith. God was doing a work in them. And they shared it with one another. Maybe that’s the start. What is the work God is doing in you? Do you see Him working in someone else? Reach out and share. Who knows what He will cultivate out of a few moments of community.
Ora et labora.