Preparations for the holiday season already are in full swing. And some of the colorful newspaper inserts suggest "Black Friday" will be advanced this year to create a "Black Thanksgiving!" The gift-giving pressure's on!
A study from 10 years ago reported the average American maintains some 200 relationships. That's a substantial number including various circles of relationships: family, religious, social and professional groups, volunteer organizations, service providers, etc. Perhaps our holiday stress is due to the sheer number of people in our circles we want to remember through our gift giving.
But the implications of this relationship study are more far-reaching. Obviously, because it's a secular study, there's no consideration of one's relationship to God. As people of faith who presumably strive to keep the commandment to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, every other relationship should be seen through the prism of our relationship to Our God. And we have the capacity to personally share this faith with about 200 souls!
There's more. When the relationship study was published a decade ago, its purpose was to illustrate the increasingly detrimental effect various social media have on the depth of human relationships. The study's conclusion was, with all our advanced technology, our relationships are becoming increasingly "superficial, non-substantial and inconsequential."
This is a sobering indictment! In all our twitters, texts and tweets, there's little if any substance, quality, or "soul" in a majority of human relationships. They're deteriorating into "virtual" relationships, void of personal human interaction and maintained largely by words, which, in case we need to be reminded, make up roughly only 7 percent of effective communications. If we don't know the circumstances and struggles of the person behind the words, can't hear the intensity of their voice or read the body language that accompanies their words or are unaware of the "heart" from whence they emanate, words are just bits (or bytes) of data that show little if any respect to "personhood."
In Christian theology, the relationship between the Persons of the Holy Trinity is profound and instructive. "In the beginning," God's will regarding relationships is clearly revealed after the creation of Adam: "It's not good that man should be alone." The coming of Jesus Christ into the world literally is the "personification" of God's will: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). The Gospels essentially document the myriad ways Jesus connected with people on the most intimate level and repeatedly note such connections were inspired by divine and redemptive love. "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). There's absolutely nothing superficial, non-substantial or inconsequential in this relationship!
There's little argument that gift giving is synonymous with Christmas. But are we concerned enough, caring enough, loving enough of the 200 or so souls precious to God among our circles of relationships to give them more than a crock pot, computer game or scented candle?
It's through real, deep, substantial human relationships that we move toward heaven and eternal joy: to the extent we acknowledge upon Whose gift-list WE are listed as beloved children of God. May we share the gift of some refreshing, cool water with someone today; to help satisfy their thirst for a truly meaningful relationship with the Living God.
- Kovalak is the pastor at Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Loyalsock Township.