Lately I have heard a lot of people sharing some pretty tragic stories about broken relationships. To be honest, it is really quite sad. The reasons behind these are many and varied. It ranges from disagreements over COVID vaccines to finances to politics, and the list goes on. Yet in the midst of all of this heartache another strange phenomenon has been occurring. People are realizing that they are starving for intimacy. The past year and half has kept people away from each other and so with this new fall season, people are longing for social interaction. So what are we to do? We long for social interaction, but when we get close to other people we tend to hurt each other, however unintentional it might be.
To illustrate this point, listen to this tale someone once told me about porcupines. When porcupines get cold, they tend to try and huddle up together. The premise is that they understand that huddling together can keep them warm.
However, the closer the porcupines get to each other, the more they begin to prick each other with their quills. So as they huddle together and begin to poke at each other, they have to pull away to avoid getting hurt. I am not sure how accurate this is with regards to the behavior of porcupines, but I can for sure see this in us as people.
I know lots of people who are afraid of conflict. They get very uncomfortable when they detect tension in the room. I know that I have a tendency to retreat from people who have “poked” me at some point; I have this fear that I might get poked again. However, I have also learned that you can’t hide from everyone. We need relationships. We need each other.
I have been reading in the Bible about Paul and his relationship to the Christians in Thessalonica. He didn’t get to know them very long before he had to leave; and his leaving was not under the best of circumstances. So it is fascinating to me to read about how he longs to see them. In Paul’s absence those friends could easily have turned on him given the persecution they faced. The people of Thessalonica could have listened to all the accusations that were being made against Paul. So when Paul writes, he has no idea what he is getting into. But he writes anyway, and he describes the people in Thessalonica not just as friends but as them being his hope, joy and crown. Those are words we don’t often use in describing our friends. We might understand how some people can be a joy to be around, but how can other people be our hope or our crown?
Those we are in relationships with can be a source of hope. I think of my children. They have great potential. I have hope for them, and it is exciting to think of the possibilities for them. Relationships can also fill us with hope by encouraging us, reminding us of our value, and us seeing their value.
It is also true that other people can be a source of joy in our life. This does not mean happiness but having a general level of satisfaction that comes from deep within. You can be miserable in a situation, but have joy that someone is there with you through it. Joy is the contentment in a relationship in the midst of good or bad.
As for the crown, I think that Paul is referring here to a spiritual element of teaching. He guided those around him as a father guides his children such that at the end of life, people look at the child and praise the father for what the child has become. When we invest in relationships, there is a sense in which those people become our crown – who they become as a result of our investment in them becomes a crown or reward for us.
We would better help our relationships with others if we could take a larger perspective on them. It would help if we could see those close to us not as thorns or quills, but as our hope, joy and crown. Sometimes we let the differences become so large, that we forget the differences are often really small. Friends and family can be a genuine source of hope in so many ways. They can also be a great source of joy. As for them being a crown, if your investment in them is done gently and with love, there is great potential of them also becoming a crown for you and others.
By Pastor Mark McCready,
Alma Bible Church