when relationships change
Everyone goes through seasons. Yes, we go through circumstantial and emotional ups and downs, but we also go through what I am going to call relational seasons. Whether with significant others, friends, or family members, relationships are dynamic and ever-changing. Though it can be frustrating at times (at least it is for me), I would not consider it a bad thing. It just... is.
In the times when my relationships are going well, I almost don't think twice. This is how it is supposed to be all of the time. True fellowship with the body of Christ is fun, simple, and satisfying, right? This is easy to believe when everything is fine and dandy. Fast forward a week, a month, a year: suddenly, I feel alone. What happened to the thriving community that was once so enjoyable and fulfilling? Nothing. They are still right there. I have discovered that I can "do life" with the same person for years, and yet the relationship is constantly adapting and changing as we ourselves grow and transform. We are not static people, yet I find myself expecting immutable connections with the people close to me. When my expectations are inevitably unmet, then comes the confusion, frustration, and the occasional simmered friendship.
Upon a great deal of reflection, I have come to the conclusion that my earthly relationships are reflective of the state of my relationship with the Lord.
The following are seasons that I am all too familiar with. Some tend to fall in a certain order, others overlap, and still others seem to have to rhyme or reason to their entrance into my life. I do not claim to fully understand each season or know why they occur, I have just experienced them repeatedly, and maybe you have too.
This is a time that I feel can be personified in Alice (from Alice in Wonderland). "Curiouser and curiouser!" I cannot help but ask questions, observe behaviors, and do all I can to get to know the people around me. While this season of curiosity is commonly found in the beginnings of a new relationship, I have also experienced this sense of discovery with people I have known for years. This is why I am considering "discovery" an entire season of its own. It is a mindset. A desire to connect with and know about those around me. And it all stems from those sweet times when I am re-discovering God, often at a depth I did not previously know. In these seasons when I am attempting to learn more about the Lord, I find myself getting excited about the deepening understanding and in turn begin to explore my existing earthly relationships as well.
It is in this relational season that I stop fearing judgement. I stop trying to impress. So what if I'm not wearing makeup and haven't washed my hair in a week? If you care, we can't be friends. (Kidding. Kind of.) In times of comfort I am less likely to apologize when it is not necessary (anyone else here say "sorry" at least 50 times per day?), and am more likely to be blunt. How is this season reflective of my walk with Jesus, you may ask? When I am fully aware of and resting in the grace that Jesus so freely gives to us, I find myself in a state of ease. The key word here is aware; while it is true that grace is central to my every breath, there are times when I am more conscious of this grace upon my life. It is in these times that I am comfortable in my relationship with the Lord, without being chained to fearful, legalistic patterns of living. I feel that it is important to note that there is most definitely such a thing as too much comfort. When we become too comfortable, it is easy to become a) stationary in our faith or b) lacking in discipline. However, in the right quantities and at the right times, seasons of comfort can bring the rest that I so desperately need.
This season is my favorite by far. It is similar to the season of discovery due to the abundance of questions, and close to the season of comfort in that I am not concerned with impressing anyone. However, in seasons of intimacy, the questions I am asking are no longer surface-level or factually-based: I am no longer asking "what", but "why". The lack of attention to the shallow opinions of others is not because I'm indifferent, but rather because I am focused on far more substantial things. Seasons of intimacy are characterized by lengthy conversations that dig into the core of who I am as well as who the other person is. It is a recognition of one another's strengths and weaknesses, a sharing of deep-rooted fears and far-fetched dreams, and a dumbfounded amazement due to the spectacular ways that the Lord moves in people's lives. It is an authentic vulnerability, which are two initially scary yet potentially rewarding words to put into practice. It is in seasons of intimacy with the Lord that I can see the work that He is actively doing in my heart. I am able to witness Him tearing away the chosen areas of sin, and growing my character. As I develop a more extensive and personal understanding of who Jesus is, He reveals to me who I am in Him, and I am more sensitive to His heart and His desires. Similarly, this is seen in my earthly relationships as friendships deepen and I am even more empathetic to those around me than I normally am.
Distance / Isolation
Not all seasons are happy ones. I am sure this isn't news to you, but sometimes it just needs to be said. There are times in my life that I feel utterly alone. I feel that no one understands me, that no one could ever know the depths of my soul; not even my Creator. Isolation is often a season of utter disparity as a human who is designed for connection becomes relationally distant. "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?" (Psalms 13:1). This is the constant cry of my heart in the seasons of isolation. This season is not only difficult due to an unmet need for intimacy. This is also a challange because it becomes easy to believe that I am doing something wrong.* Being reminded that I am not causing this distance between myself and the Lord has been a great comfort to me in the lowest times of my life. Sometimes, God is silent. Does this mean that He doesn't care, or that He's not there? Absolutely not. He does, however, work in different ways than we may want or expect. I've learned that He does not have to tell me His plans in order to proceed with them. There are times when I will feel like I am in the dark, and that is okay. Unfortunately, I have seen that in the times of distance from my God, I feel the same separation from the people around me. How can I possibly feel close to imperfect, unknowing people when I feel so far from a perfect, all-knowing God? It is in these times that I have seen love and commitment when I am far from deserving. Difficult as they may be, seasons of isolation can bring great things.
* I know that distance from God is due to sin in some cases, if not most of them. I am simply suggesting that not every period of silence is directly related to a sin that was committed.
From my perspective, there are clear parallels between the relational seasons I've described and the cyclical weather patterns that we see throughout the year. First of all, there is not a distinct moment that separates "winter" from "spring." Sure, we have a day that is technically the "first day of spring," but the changing of weather is a process. The temperatures gradually rise, the animals slowly make their way out of hiding, and the flowers bloom over the course of time. In the same way, the process of moving between seasons in my relationships tends to be most clearly seen in hindsight. I often do not realize that I am in a new season until the one preceding is long gone. The second way that releational seasons can be related to weather is in the random days of unexpected weather that is abnormal for the present season. You know what I'm referring to: the week in the middle of winter when you're able to comfortably wear shorts and a t-shirt, or that day in the middle of August when the temperature drops below 90 (though that may only be unexpected if you're in Bakersfield). My relationships with the Lord and with others have those brief, unexpected days as well. In the middle of a long season of isolation, I may catch a breath of fresh air with a few days of feeling intimacy once again.
The point I am ultimately trying to make here is that the seasons we go through are purposeful. I do not claim to know that purpose, but I do know that our omniscient God does. And not only does He know the purposes, He is with us through the good times and bad; whether or not we feel it. Additionally, from how I've seen the seasons of my relationship with the Lord manifest themselves in my relationships with my brothers and sisters, I have been able to more clearly see how my relationship with God profoundly impacts the rest of my life.
All of this is purely speculation, drawn from personal experience. Have you seen seasons such as these in your own life? I'd love to hear about your own observations!