"I think about relationships each time I prepare a message for a funeral. As the life of an individual unfolds and I hear a variety of stories from families and friends I am often moved to speak of a person as a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, a friend and so on attempting to name some of the many relationships in which the person was involved. Each one of these relationships was unique and comes with its own unique joys and sorrows and often needs to be addressed in different ways.
So it is with our relationship with God. In my own relationship with God I find I have difficulty relating to God on a personal level, this entity whom I cannot see or touch. And so my relationship with God tends more toward the intellectual and the practical rather than the emotional. My heroes of faith tend more toward Jacob who wrestled with God and the Syrophenician woman who debated with Jesus. The way I find trust and hope in my faith would differ from someone who admires Mary’s humility and obedience.
I wrote and then spoke these words pondering how I should be more understanding of the beliefs of others, recognizing we all have different stories, different needs, different personalities. Then, within minutes of these nice open hearted sentiments, something happened which accentuated the differences in belief between myself and some people I care about. Even with my focus on open-mindedness, still it felt a little heart-breaking. It made me feel lonely and misunderstood.
This renewed my understanding of why discussions about religion can become so heated and why many people can be extremely resistant to change or new ideas when it comes to faith. We all want to be understood. When our beliefs are similar, we understand each other and hear each other. We feel validated. When speaking with people whose beliefs differ greatly from my own (which, frankly, is most of the time) I often feel like I am speaking a different language. I sometimes feel dismissed or judged. It is all such a lonely and futile feeling.
Sometimes we talk about needing a sense of belonging. This may be true but it always strikes me as talking about people as though we are all children pouting because we didn't get picked to join a club. There is reason for wanting to gather with like minded folks which goes beyond a desire for popularity and strikes at the heart of how we see ourselves and how we connect with others. Hence, even when we approach a conversation about faith, or the lack there of, with open minds and open hearts, still it is a difficult task we undertake.
Let's be patient with each other.
Patience is not one of my strengths. But I will try.