// other people are good for the soul

For a long time, people have told me that I am an introvert. It seems like an easy label, and I understand where they’re coming from. It means that I need time alone to process things, and that people tire me out sometimes, especially loud people. It’s okay, because Jesus was an introvert, too, allegedly, although I’ve heard him described as a socialist and a Tory and a whole range of other things over time, so I’m a little more sceptical than I used to be. There are personality tests, too, that tell you what sort of personality you have and what you’re like, the people you get on with and the people you find difficult.

According to these tests, I’m an “idealist”, apparently. It means I have big ideas and I’m disappointed when they don’t work out. You would think that knowing this might make relating to people easier, but it doesn’t solve that much, in fact. I still find the initial stages of friendships pretty hard, and kind of confusing. Small talk has never been my strong point. Sometimes I wonder if the reason that relationships with other people are so hard is that we forget that other people are made in the image of God. This makes them confusing, and mysterious, and incredible – even if it takes a while to work that out how that plays in practice. Turns out nobody is a simple stereotype if you get to know them.

When was the last time that being in a relationship with God was simple? Mostly, time with God is complex, and rarely straightforward – when He speaks, sometimes we miss the significance of what’s being said or sometimes we’re just too wrapped up inside our own heads to hear it. The moments when we experience Him are incredible, breathtaking for the most part, but also quite rare too. There are times when even just being with Him, sitting silently in His presence, is enough, even if we couldn’t express why if we tried.

And that’s God. He’s good at being Himself. Just imagine something of God translated into fallen people who don’t really know what to do with all they’ve been given…

You and I, we have mystery at our core. If you think about what it means to be made in the image of God, then it means that there is something deep and powerful about us that goes beyond easy categorisation. And it means that in conversations where there’s some level of connection, some level of real honesty, something of God is reflected. If that sounds a little wishy-washy, don’t forget that at the heart of Christianity is a God who exists in a just comprehensible but also totally baffling Trinity, one God in three relational persons. Surely you can’t expect human relationships to be simple.

So maybe we need to give each other the benefit of the doubt once in a while. It’s easy to pretend that relationships are a simple thing, but that’s another one of those persuasive lies that ends up being unexpectedly destructive in the end. It means that, when they get hard (as they inevitably do) we expect that everyone else around us has it sorted and then we get stressed out by the potential awkwardness of what’s about to happen if we confront whatever needs confronting. It’s no wonder that we’re not very good at tackling awkward situations if they’re abnormal things, is it? We haven’t had any practice, after all.

Honesty and our attempts to connect with other people are always going to be awkward at the start, and that’s part of the nature of what it means to be human. It’s not like we came with an instruction manual. But at least if we’re willing to accept that fact, then it might make us more sympathetic listeners and less insecure individuals. If we accept, say, that the people who we are sharing with find this all stuff just as confusing and difficult as we do, then, even if their advice is skewed or just plain wrong, we won’t find ourselves writing them off as counsellors immediately. And if, as counsellors, our advice is ignored, then we remember that the world throws a million voices out at each of us, and it’s not like we ever had the monopoly on how things are done in the first place…

Maybe the reason that sometimes it seems hard to really know other people is that we don’t really know ourselves; don’t appreciate the sheer mystery of the person that looks back at us when we stare in the mirror, who refuses to be reduced to a stereotype, even if it would be faster if they would. That mystery at the heart of man is what makes all of our relationships so worthwhile, and so vital to life, and it’s well worth working at maintaining a sense of wonder when it comes to just how complex all these people who are made in the image of God are.

Because in the complexity of relating we affirm the beauty and depth of this gift that God has given us. The soul was designed for other people, and other people are good for the soul.

I just wouldn’t expect it to be all that easy.

What of value ever is?

    • Andy
    • May 1st, 2010

    Tom I love the thought about the mystery of God and the mystery of who we are. You cannot be stereotyped, if any stuff I have said about Myers Briggs just ditch it. Really proud of you

      • Tom
      • May 1st, 2010

      Hahaha, nothing personal. Like George Clooney says in Up in the Air, “I’m like my mother, i stereotype: it’s faster.”

      But I don’t (honestly) think Meyers-Briggs is useless by any stretch of the imagination… it just draws lines that are a little too neat for me.

    • Rob
    • May 1st, 2010

    I think I agree.

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