Are your relationships transactional or authentic? The answer determines your ability to discover a life worth living.

Yesterday, I had a discussion with a banker. We met to discuss the community, the challenges and the hopes for the future. The gentleman shared his pride in the business he took from his father and grandfather. He told me about his succession plan to leave at the end of the year. He shared about his kids and their kids. It was really neat to hear him discuss the heritage. I then asked him about the church he used to attend. He told me of protestant parents who went to different churches but decided on a new one to call their own. He talked of 65 years of growing up in church,only to be disillusioned by the people. When I asked, how can I pray for you? He answered, I don’t know I’ve moved on. I was stunned. I loved his honesty. After a brief period of silence, I asked if I could pray for him right then. He said ok. I prayed aloud and when I finished and looked up, he had eyes filled with tears. It was a moment. I walked out wondering about the issues, this man’s faith and also the fate of so many families who have walked away from Jesus.

Every year since 1950, people have decided to leave the dominant faith in America. The interesting point is they are not publicly changing their faith. It’s just not a priority or value anymore. I often wonder ‘Why do people go to church or temple or the mosque while others don’t or won’t?’ I’ve heard people say:

  • People are busier these days.

  • There are more family activities on the weekends.

  • There are children sports on the weekends.

  • We only get two days off so why would I want to spend it in church.  

  • I get more out of reading my bible alone than I do going to a church.

  • I commune better with God when I’m in nature.

  • The local church seems more concerned with ancillary issues than fostering my relationship with God.

All of these comments are real; for some and excuses for others not to go to a gathering of Christians. However, the riddle remains unsolved of ‘why people don’t value having authentic relationships over transactional ones.’

A transactional relationship is a relationship based solely on what I get versus what I give.  They are often less than fulfilling and often lead us back to the question, “why have relationships at all?”

A recent secular internet article tried to answer this question of why relationships matter by stating they matter because they foster cooperation among humans:

So in the end, human relationships are important because the greater our cooperation, the more likely our genes will survive to reproduce and reproduce to survive. All the stuff about love and meaning may be something we like to agonize over, but in the end, it's not in charge. Our genes are in charge.

A second article from Psychology Today added that relationships are important because they feed our need to belong. They quoted a 1995 study that argued,

“the need to belong is a fundamental human need to form and maintain at least a minimum amount of lasting, positive, and significant interpersonal relationships. Satisfying this need requires (a) frequent, positive interactions with the same individuals, and (b) engaging in these interactions within a framework of long-term, stable care and concern. Despite the lure and excitement of changing romantic partners, the need for some stable caring interactions with a limited number of people is a greater imperative. Baumeister and Leary claim that human beings are "naturally driven toward establishing and sustaining belongingness." Hence, "people should generally be at least as reluctant to break social bonds as they are eager to form them in the first place." They further argue that in many cases, people are reluctant to dissolve even destructive relationships. The need to belong goes beyond the need for superficial social ties or sexual interactions; it is a need for meaningful, profound bonding.

And a third article from the Huffington Post article on the subject, Kelly Belamati offered,

“Relationships show us how to love and be love as well as who we want to be in life and who we don’t. Having serious trusting relationships allows us to truly be our true selves.”

All of three of these proposals about our need for relationships offer some truth:

  • We need relationships to feel we belong

  • We need relationships to bond

  • We need relationships to be our true selves.

However, the authors offer only the benefits to relationships, not the underlying reason for them.

I would like to suggest that we long for authentic relationships because in our pursuit of them, we are opened to the spiritual side of life.

The Jesus I read about was about introducing others to His Dad. He was all about relationship. He spent extensive amounts of time with God. He humbled himself to be a servant - an unconditional love of others. He modeled it for three years with 12 direct apprentices. He took them everywhere and showed them everything they would need to know before they asked. He demonstrated love in action equals relationship. It was the type of relationship that stimulated a desire to know more in the hopes of encountering a living God.

Missio Dei means the mission of God. Many believe this is the story behind the story. God’s will for us all is that all would come to know Him. The word “know” is not just information. It recognizes our need to grow in our understanding and experience of the relationship so we can discern when and where to get involved. An involvement that puts in play the words from James, “Don’t be just hearers of the word but doers.

Authentic relationship means living in a self sacrificing way. In doing so, we show unconditional love as the cornerstone of every good relationship. It’s as true for the people you meet, as the God you revere.

The larger question is how we can best live “unconditional love” as a lifestyle. Discovering this is what RENEW is all about.

Being able to be in relationship is a critical aspect of being successful and yet so many are terrible at being in relationships. We’re not talking about being an extrovert or an introvert. We are referring to the ability to demonstrate unconditional love for another in a way they feel valued, known and heard. Social media is a great advancement in the use of technology. It’s useful for keeping connected to those in your social circles but it doesn’t foster authentic relationship or personal growth, unless you consider emoji’s a growth area. Rarely, does a person share their most intimate thoughts online. They share what they want the world to hear or see. The motives behind a post or picture or a video are fascinating but you will never discover the truth about an individual without first talking with them, belly button to belly.

Trust is hard to develop electronically. We can argue about the power of teleconferencing but ask a person to close a multi-million dollar deal over SKYPE or ZOOM and my point will be made. Trust is formed when people gather and unconditionally love is experienced.

RENEW’s founded on the vision that to discover a life worth living you must first be in relationship with both God and others. Once either relationship begins, the authentic and compassionate nature of human beings fosters a greater understanding of the world around us.

Everything we do at RENEW is about fostering growing relationships. We gather around a table to eat because it lowers the barrier to interaction with others. We provide topic cards for an easy opening. We then move into a time we’ve called the “experience” so people can get themselves centered in the peace, joy and hope of this life. We offer music, art and a story to help everyone begin to think more critically before we break out into smaller affinity discussion groups. The experience is also about diffusing the tension of the world and infusing an everyday topic with a spiritual twist through the intersection of a spiritual and physical consideration. The final component is service. We encourage each person who comes to Renew to serve somewhere. It could be the neighbor down the block, the local mission or another non-for-profit. We recognize God works in these areas every day. He fosters our relationship with Him in these times and helps us to continue the expansion of our relationships so others might discover a life through living as well.

It really is the most basic of concepts. It’s easy to say and far more difficult to follow through because inevitably if it’s of God there will come a time when it gets hard. This is not a bad omen but a realistic one. It’s the moment the flesh (our will) begins to fight against God’s will. This is not the time to disconnect. These are the moments to walk in faith. As the folks in recovery say, “don’t quit before the miracle happens.” In the same sense, don’t stop the renewing of your heart, mind, soul and strength when the near future looks tough. This is when the real renewal begins because it reshapes your desire or prepares you for a better one.