I just finished reading the book, The Search to Belong, by Joseph R. Myers. It explores the 4 primary spaces that relationships happen in our lives.
1. Public: we connect to strangers through an outside influence such as a sporting event; there is little interaction beyond this event or location, but it is significant to our lives.
2. Social: we relate to others we have a connection with, we present "snapshots" of ourselves as we encounter others in a casual setting and relate briefly.
3. Personal: we develop friendships and share private experiences, feelings, and thoughts.
4. Intimate: we are "naked" and intimate with a few people in our lives, sharing our inmost thoughts and feelings without shame.
I do very well in the public setting because I love the energy of a large group where there is no need to engage with everyone. But, I naturally gravitate to the personally intimate spaces, and sometimes find the social setting frustrating because I believe that I need to have a deep and meaningful conversation in order to feel like the event was a success! That is a totally unrealistic expectation, and reading this book helped me understand why I have left so many group outings feeling deflated and overlooked. I was looking for intimacy in all the wrong places.
The other challenging point Myers makes is that we should be relating to God in all of these spaces and not trying to hurry everyone to the intimate place as if it were the only one of real value. Yes, I have done that. I sometimes introduce intimacy at inappropriate times instead of letting people encounter God and each other in all spaces. I forget that God made us to be social beings as well as communal beings.
Every space is valid and necessary for a healthy and whole community life. We only have the energy for a few intimate relationships, so I should not try to have that kind of closeness with everyone I meet. Being intimate with everyone means that there is no real intimacy! The ratio Myers gives is roughly this: for every 8 people in your public space, you will have 4 social connections, 2 personal friends, and 1 intimate relationship. A healthy and vibrant community is made up of a group who has connections on every level in harmonious balance, seeing God at work in all of them.
Yesterday, I participated in a group outing. There were about a dozen people, some coming and going throughout the day, as we celebrated Quebec's national holiday. We started with brunch, then played several games of Mafia (I nailed the part of the Doctor in one game - oh yeah!), then headed to the park for frisbee tossing, water balloon catch, and a pick-up game of soccer. After that, we went back to a friend's apartment for a rest and a drink, then headed downtown for dinner at a Thai restaurant. After the meal, we wandered around downtown Montreal for a bit, got some ice cream and drinks and sat by a fountain, talking and relaxing in the warm evening air. It was one of the best days of my life in Montreal.
Part of the reason was that I had prepared myself that morning by saying, "This is a social outing, Matte. Don't expect to have any deep conversations about people's inner thoughts. Just enjoy the day, play games, relate to others in an easy and friendly manner, and take delight in every person that you interact with, no more expectations than that." And so I did. God was very present. His name came up occasionally in the conversation, we spontaneously prayed for a friend with a sore knee, and every time I ran and jumped and drank water and laughed at the silliness of someone and commended the skill of another, or saw other people do the same, I felt his pleasure.
Imagine that: God being present and alive in a casual social setting and that being as valuable as a Bible study or a time of worship! Yes, it's true!
This is me on my balcony just before heading out to celebrate Quebec with friends.